Russ Loede mentioned in a comment on my previous column that the newly-signed Isaac Bruce was given consent by Jerry Rice to wear his #80 next season.
Bruce has sported the number since he entered the NFL 14 years ago. There have been numerous stories over the years regarding athletes’ infatuations with certain numbers, the loyalty they show to certain digits and the measures they will take to wear a specific number.
The San Jose Mercury News reported on Monday that Jerry Rice let Bruce know that wearing #80 was fine by him. Rice said that he has always respected Bruce and that it was only right for him to offer Bruce his number, the same way Steve Largent offered Rice his #80 when Rice signed with the Seattle Seahawks.
The problem is that the #80 49ers jersey is synonymous with Rice. Bruce, no matter how well he plays in his tenure with the 49ers, will never replace that. The number isn’t just important to the player; it’s important to the organization. Even though a jersey number is an individualized manner of identification (jersey numbers were created to identify players), the jersey that the number rests on represents something greater.
The jersey, the 49er jersey, represents the glory that the franchise has experienced. It represents the five Super Bowls the franchise has won, as many as any other. And Rice was apart of three of those teams. He holds virtually every significant receiving record and is widely regarded as the greatest ever at his position.
Despite short stints with Seattle and the Oakland Raiders, Rice is distinctly a 49er. His jersey number, 80, is representative of his greatness, but, more importantly, his team’s legacy.
For those reasons, Bruce should respectfully decline Rice’s offer and find one of nine other numbers in the 80s.