I wrote some time ago that NFL teams should consider reserving certain numbers for awhile after a great player retires instead of simply retiring numbers of great players. The Bears, who will have 14 retired numbers once Mike Ditka's number 89 is officially put on the shelf, have announced that they will no longer be retiring numbers.
"If there is going to be a last one, there is no more appropriate one than 89," Bears owner George McCaskey said in a statement from the team.
Dan Hampton, a former great defensive lineman with the Bears, doesn't have a problem with the move to cease retiring numbers, telling the Chicago Sun-Times, "It’s simple math," Hampton said. "This is a franchise with so many great players. If everybody’s number got retired, it would diminish the honor in a way. I understand. The trap of it all is that if you played for the Bears, you’re one of many. If you played in Tampa, what is there, a handful of guys?"
Hampton is right in his assessment of retiring numbers. With only certain numbers available to certain positions, eventually the Bears would run out of numbers for one group of players, or the team would have to un-retire numbers, something that might seem insulting to the former great whose number is being un-retired. It's a PR disaster the team would just rather avoid.
With the Bears leading the NFL in retired numbers, it's unlikely that we'll see other teams jump on the no-retiring-numbers bandwagon, but eventually, most teams will get to the point that the Bears are at. There's only so many numbers in circulation, and teams need to have numbers available to current players. In the grand scheme of things, it's not a big deal, and teams will just find new and different ways to honor their former great players.