In case you haven't heard, Peyton Manning is now the Denver Broncos starting quarterback. Earlier today, at his introductory press conference, it was revealed that Manning would wear the same number he wore in Indianapolis, #18; a number that has been retired for the Denver Broncos for nearly 50 years.
When the Denver Broncos were founded, the quarterback play was so dreadful that coach Frank Filchock urged Tripucka to suit up and become a player. He was markedly more skilled that anyone else at the position. On Friday, September 9, 1960, Tripucka connected with Al Carmichael for the very first touchdown in AFL history. Tripucka was also the first pro-football player to eclipse 3,000 yards passing in a single season.
It was in gratitude for Tripucka's play that Broncos founder/owner Bob Howsam retired the #18 in 1963.
Prior to today's press conference, Tripucka encouraged Manning to wear his retired number. Regardless of what Tripucka said to Peyton Manning, #18 should never have been unretired and I'll tell you why after the jump.
Here we find ourselves looking almost fifty years into the past and there we see someone that many of us have barely heard of who, for the reasons above, was deemed the permanent owner of #18. By today's standards, some would say that those accomplishments alone weren't enough to justify retirement of a jersey number. However, we have to separate ourselves from today's perspective and look back at the state of the Broncos franchise in 1963.
As most know, the Broncos were a dreadful franchise that struggled mightily to sell seats and to stay financially solvent. Those Broncos were one of the poorer teams in the AFL and there were numerous times when the franchise could have folded or moved to another city. Were it not for the play of Frank Tripucka (not to mention Austin "Goose" Gonsulin, and Lionel Taylor), there might not have been sufficient fan interest to keep the Broncos going. Bob Howsam understood how important Tripucka's contributions to the Broncos were and rewarded him with the highest individual honor that existed at the time for a player (the Pro Football Hall of Fame was little more than a construction project in 1963).
It's for this reason that I say it's not Tripucka's decision whether or not the #18 could ever be worn again. Frankly, it was a decision made by Bob Howsam and the Denver Broncos organization and here less than fifty years later it should have been the organization's responsibility to respect that sentiment. In letting Manning take #18, the Broncos are disregarding the wishes of the founding leadership as well as setting a nasty precedent for future generations that desire to reinstate long retired numbers.
Retiring a number means that it's off limits... Forever. It shouldn't matter who the player is that taking it. Just because Peyton Manning is going to be the one to wear it, there is no justification to renege on the honor Howsam bestowed on Tripucka. Doing so changes things. Last year during the lockout, MHR ran the "Greatest Bronco to Wear Series..." wherein Frank Tripucka was deemed the greatest Bronco to wear #18. Now, that designation could be in doubt. Because it's Peyton Manning, there are many who would now say that the greatest Bronco to wear #18 is now Manning... and he has yet to take a single snap.
By retiring his number, Howsam put Tripucka on a historical pedestal and now he's going to have to share that honor with one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. It's not what the Broncos of 1963 intended and it's not right. The precedent has been set. We need only to wait a few generations before the heroics of #44 and #7 become little more than footnotes in Broncos history before they become eligible to be used again.
Sure it's unlikely, but who's to say that 2130's equivalent of Peyton Manning won't come to the Broncos and want the #7? We're on record having unretired numbers before and now it's possible it will happen again.
To learn more about Frank Tripucka, click here.