Perennial All-Pro Reggie White, one of the greatest defenders in NFL history, will have his number '92' retired by the Green Bay Packers Sept. 18. President & CEO Bob Harlan made the announcement Tuesday.
The Packers will honor White, who tragically passed away Dec. 26 in North Carolina, at halftime ceremonies during the first regular-season game at Lambeau Field, a 3:15 p.m. kickoff with the Cleveland Browns. His wife, Sara, and children, Jeremy and Jecolia, are expected to join Harlan to retire White's familiar '92.' Earlier, Jecolia, 17, is scheduled to sing the National Anthem.
The gesture was not spurred by White's premature death. In fact, Harlan last September met with White and told him of the team's plans to retire his number during the '05 season, mentioning the public display of retired numbers on the green façade of Lambeau Field's north end zone, where the club will unveil White's number at halftime of the Browns contest.
"He was very honored," Harlan said. "I told him to look up there and picture his name with the other numbers. I said, 'You know, we've only done this four times in our history.' And he said, 'I know, I know.' He knew how special this was."
Among the oldest major professional sports franchises, only the Chicago Cubs (3) and the Oakland Athletics (2) have fewer retired numbers than the Packers. Counting those that have won the most championships in their sports, the Packers have 17 less than the Boston Celtics (21), 12 fewer than the New York Yankees (16) and three fewer than the Montreal Canadiens (7). White contributed greatly toward Green Bay's NFL-record 12th world title in 1996.
Other retired Packers numbers include fullback Tony Canadeo (3), wide receiver Don Hutson (14), quarterback Bart Starr (15) and linebacker Ray Nitschke (66). All are Pro Hall of Famers.
White is eligible to join that Hall of Fame fraternity at Super Bowl XL festivities in February, when the Hall announces its Class of 2006. He would become the 21st individual from Green Bay enshrined in Canton. Only one other franchise, Chicago with 26, has more.
One of the most noteworthy free agent signings in sports annals, White joined the Packers in 1993 after eight seasons (1985-92) in Philadelphia and two (1984-85) in the United States Football League. Since his signing, no other NFL team has a better regular-season record than Green Bay (127-65-0, .661). Pittsburgh (119-72-1, .622) ranks second during the span, which parallels the current era of the NFL salary cap and unrestricted free agency.
Only five players before White have ever worn the No. 92 in a Packers league contest: defensive tackle Rich Dimler (1980); defensive ends Matt Koart (1986) and Ben Thomas (1986), tackle Steve Collier (1987) and nose tackle John Jurkovic (1991-92).
The last time the number was worn at Lambeau Field was Dec. 20, 1998, when White and the Packers defeated the Tennessee Oilers, 30-22. After the game, knowing it was probably his last in Green Bay, White lapped the field to say thank you and goodbye to the crowd. Those on the field that day expected to also be on the field Sept. 18 are Browns offensive linemen Joe Andruzzi and Ross Verba (both then with Green Bay) and current Packers Rob Davis, Brett Favre, Mike Flanagan, William Henderson and Ryan Longwell. Mike Sherman, now Executive Vice President and Head Coach, was also with the Packers that day, as an assistant coach.
Among an endless list of honors, White earned a record 13 consecutive Pro Bowl selections, posted a Super Bowl record three sacks in the Packers' XXXI win over New England, and left the game as the all-time sacks leader in Green Bay (681/2) and NFL (198) annals. In his final Packers season, 1998, he totaled 16 sacks, his most in 10 years.
Following his final season in Green Bay, on Oct. 10, 1999, Ron Wolf presented White his framed '92' jersey at a halftime ceremony. White had to struggle for composure for the better part of a minute before trusting himself to speak. When he did, he said in part, "I have been honored and privileged to have been a Packer and I will always be a Packer. There are no better fans than Packer fans and I want to say thank you, and God bless you."
Wolf, then Executive Vice President and General Manager, had prefaced his presentation by reporting to the crowd, "When we were recruiting Reggie White in 1993, Reggie sat in my office and I said, 'Reggie, you're already a great football player. If you come to Green Bay, you will be a legend.' "
While Wolf vowed never to re-issue White's number, any future roster - in theory - could have listed a '92'. Now, the Packers will take the next step and formally remove the number from circulation.
"In '99, Ron made a statement that he would never re-issue the jersey," Harlan said. "This is a much more involved procedure with several steps, including speaking to Reggie and taking it before the Executive Committee. It's something that we've only done four times before. It's a very formal process."
The Sept. 18 ceremony will include a video tribute to White and his legacy, and the unveiling of White's '92' beneath Lambeau Field's north scoreboard.
The ceremony is expected to move the annual Packers alumni gathering, normally held the weekend of the team's first regular-season home game, back one week. Now, alumni are expected to be recognized Sept. 25, meaning Gold Package season ticket holders from Milwaukee will be treated to alumni festivities at the Tampa Bay game, a noon kickoff.