Rookie Felix Jones inherits a jersey number that has been involved in 1,350 tackles for the Dallas Cowboys.
Is that really a good thing for a running back?
Take it from the man who wore No. 28 and made it famous for the Cowboys (1992-2004): It’s not the right thing.
Former Cowboys safety Darren Woodson saw his old jersey number scoffed up by free-agent running back Tyson Thompson in 2005. Now Felix Jones has it.
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“Are you serious? Already? Again?” Woodson said when informed that the Cowboys’ top draft pick now has No. 28, which hasn’t been out of circulation since Woody retired.
“That’s my number, that’s just how I feel.” Woodson explained. “It’s hard to swallow.”
The five-time Pro Bowler became the team’s all-time leading tackler during the ‘02 season. (Woodson didn’t play in ‘04 but remained on the team with a herniated disk before announcing his retirement that December; Thompson inherited and wore the number through ’07.)
Said Woodson: “I think it’s just natural for anyone who played his entire career with the same team, and did a lot for that team, to feel the way I do.”
And, apparently, he isn’t alone.
“Family and friends called me when they saw Tyson wearing my number that first year,” Woodson added. “They said, ‘What the heck?’ [Equipment manager] Mike McCord said he couldn’t do anything about it.”
The history of No. 28
Since the Cowboys don’t officially “retire” jersey numbers, equipment man McCord sets “aside” a select few. (I understand to get one of these out of lockdown, you need either a 17-digit passcode or a small keg of dynamite.)
No. 74 is such a number. Bob Lilly is the only Cowboy to ever wear it.
No. 8 and No. 12 are on the extinct list as well. They belonged to a couple of recent NASCAR team owners: Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach.
Conversely, No. 17 is not protected. Dandy Don Meredith’s jersey was worn by Quincy Carter (’01-03) ... followed by Sam Hurd (’06-present). Even Meredith can recognize that as an improvement.
Of course, not every jersey number can be held back or else there wouldn’t be enough to go around, especially in training camp when McCord’s grab bag runs close to empty.
Top-pick Felix Jones becomes only the sixth Cowboys player to wear No. 28.
“That’s what I thought,” Woodson said, “that the number wasn’t that popular.”
When Woodson arrived as a second-round pick in the ’92 draft, No. 28 had been worn by only a trio of running backs with short-lived Cowboys careers: Norm Granger (’84), Alvin Blount (’87) and Curtis Stewart (’89).
Now the number is passed around like a Gatorade bottle after practice — plenty of takers.
“Exactly,” Woodson said.
During his career at Arkansas, Felix Jones wore No. 25 — which belongs to third-year safety Pat Watkins — and not No. 28.
That makes it even worse.
“Exactly,” Woodson said.
How tough was Woody?
Darren Woodson, now an NFL studio analyst for ESPN, was one of the fiercest players ever to wear a Cowboys uniform — any position, any era, any jersey number.
He arrived at St. Edward’s in Austin during the summer of ’92 as a converted linebacker (Arizona State) who required no time to learn the ropes. He became a “Jimmy Johnson guy” from the get-go.
Woodson became a safety with cornerback speed. His footwork allowed him to take the slot receiver in nickel coverage, and he led the Cowboys in special-team tackles.
“Two weeks after that [’92] season,” said Woodson, “Jimmy called me in and said, ‘Listen, you should’ve been starting this past season. It’s your job to lose now.’ He knew I was [mad] about not getting to start as a rookie. Hell, yes, I was [mad].”
From the first minicamp, Darren Woodson was the starting strong safety on the defending Super Bowl champion Cowboys. Even a broken right forearm in the ’93 preseason opener (vs. Vikings at Texas Stadium) couldn’t stop him.
Johnson to Woodson: “Get your forearm healed. It’s still your job.”
James Washington again was a starter for the remaining preseason games and regular-season opener at Washington. But Washington (the player) injured his knee early in that game. And Woody — less than five weeks after surgery — was back on the field.
“I wasn’t even supposed to suit up that day,” Woodson recalled. “But I was in there in the first or second quarter ... and played pretty well, too.”
He never missed a beat through Super Bowl XXVIII in Atlanta, despite playing with a surgical plate in his right forearm (which remains there today) and a cumbersome wrap that restricted any hand movement.
He basically played one-handed. His 155 tackles were a team record for a defensive back — but he had no interceptions.
“I dropped about seven,” he said. “I couldn’t open my hand.”
On Oct. 27, 2002, Woodson surpassed Lee Roy Jordan (1,236) as the Cowboys’ all-time leading tackler. Woodson retired with 1,350.
However, his heroics that day — vs. Seattle at Texas Stadium — were overshadowed by Emmitt Smith’s much-anticipated passing of Walter Payton as the NFL’s all-time leading rusher.
On some teams, Darren Woodson had legendary status enough to get his jersey retired. But not on a team that doesn’t retire jerseys — or hold back quite enough.
More jersey guys
1 — Rafael Septien (’78-86), Cowboys’ all-time leading kicker (.717 on 162 of 226 FG attempts). Three players have since worn No. 1, including present punter Mat McBriar.
8 — Troy Aikman (’89-00), Hall of Famer and three-time winning Super Bowl QB. This jersey number is essentially retired.
11 — Danny White (’76-88), whose number has been worn by three more QBs — most recently Drew Bledsoe (’05-06) — despite ranking second or third in most team career passing records.
12 — HOF Roger Staubach (’69-79), a.k.a., Capt. Comeback. This is the 29th season since Staubach played ... and his number remains unissued.
20 — HOF Mel Renfro (’64-77), Cowboys’ all-time career interception leader (52). He was the third player ever to wear the jersey number. Nine more have followed. Very popular.
22 — Emmitt Smith (’90-02) ... followed “Bullet” Bob Hayes (’65-74). Three players wore this number over the 15 seasons between ROH Hayes and future first-ballot HOF Smith. Emmitt goes into the Hall in 2010. That should keep No. 22 in cold storage for awhile.
33 — HOF Tony Dorsett (’77-87) gets a reprieve from watching his No. 33 run up and down the field. Nate Jones (’04-07) wore it the last four years before jumping to the Dolphins.
40 — Bill Bates (’83-97), all-time fan favorite. At least his jersey number was kept in the “special-teams family” until Keith Davis (’02, ’04-07) signed with Miami. Untested free-agent CB Justin Phinisee wears it now.
43 — Cliff Harris (’70-79) ... followed Don Perkins (’61-68). This pair of Ring of Honorees occupied the jersey number for two decades. But since Capt. Crash’s retirement, three players have worn it — most recently Izell Reese (’98-01).
54 — HOF Randy White (’75-88) ... followed ROH Chuck Howley (’61-73). They kept a stranglehold on the number for nearly three decades. Eight players have worn it since, including Bobby Carpenter now.
55 — ROH Lee Roy Jordan (’63-76) made the number famous, but nearly a dozen players have worn it since. It now belongs to newcomer Zach Thomas.
70 — HOF Rayfield Wright (’67-79) has seen no fewer than seven players be assigned his number.
73 — Larry Allen (’94-05), a franchise second-best 10-time Pro Bowler and a future HOF. What if Big LA doesn’t want someone to wear his old jersey number? Well, maybe that’s why no one has.
74 — HOF Bob Lilly (’61-74), an 11-time Pro Bowler ... “Mr. Cowboy” himself. Jersey number is as retired as a Cowboys jersey number can get.
76 — Flozell Adams (’98-present) ... followed John Niland (’66-74). These two OLs have gone to 10 Pro Bowls between them.
88 — Michael Irvin (’88-99) ... followed Drew Pearson (’73-83). HOF Irvin and “Original 88,” kept the number between them for most of three decades. But since 2000, three Cowboys players have worn the jersey, including Antonio Bryant (’02-04) who threw a sweaty one at Bill Parcells.
Doing a number
Remember Curvin Richards? Jimmy Johnson cut him when he fumbled in the final game of the ’92 regular-season at Chicago.
The next day, Swervin’ Curvin was gone, used as an example of what the Jimster would and would not tolerate.
Two days later, Cowboys safety Thomas Everett traded in his No. 31 for Richards’ old No. 27.
Explained Everett: “I’ve worn that number for 10 years [at Baylor and with the Pittsburgh Steelers]. It’s nothing against Curvin.”
It never is.
But while the jersey-number game is one with very few rules ... it must be played carefully.
Or else feelings can be hurt.