Bush has asked rules committee for exception

5/14/2006 - New Orleans Saints

METAIRIE, La. -- A name is just a name. But a uniform number, especially one that a player has worn since he struggled to pull on his first pair of shoulder pads for a peewee league game, well, that's another matter entirely.

And if you are New Orleans first-round draft choice Reggie Bush, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, it is a very big matter, indeed.

At least for this weekend at the Saints' three-day mini-camp, the former Southern California tailback is permitted to wear his familiar uniform No. 5. But on the roster distributed Saturday morning by the Saints public relations department, a notation next to Bush's name under the column headed "number" ominously read "TBD."

That is shorthand, of course, for "to be determined." In the case of Bush and the Saints, who have asked the NFL for an exemption to its rule that limits the uniform numbers that players can wear at certain positions, the notation probably means "to be denied." But Bush, who participated in both Saturday practices wearing No. 5, isn't ready to concede that he might be forced soon to change to a uniform number in the 20s, 30s or 40s to comply with NFL rules.

"We'll have to see," Bush said. "They haven't turned us down yet."

Bush sat out the Saturday afternoon practice with a tight hamstring, a decision that coach Sean Payton said was a precautionary one.

"What we wanted to do was make sure it didn't turn into a two- or three-day thing," Payton said. "That was the deal. We wanted to be smart."

To Bush, the number is kind of like the "S" that Superman wore across his chest. But if the NFL rules against him, Bush said, it won't be the equivalent of kryptonite.

"I'm still me," he said.

The league's powerful competition committee, which will ultimately determine whether Bush can wear No. 5, met by conference call Friday but came to no resolution on the matter. The petition might be considered at a two-day league meeting which begins May 23 in Denver, but even that isn't assured. At this point, the competition committee hasn't drawn up a proposal or offered a recommendation.

At Saturday morning's practice, photographers scrambled to get shots of Bush in his uniform No. 5, cognizant of the fact he might not be wearing it much longer.

Bush is not the only player to seek an exemption this spring. Browns center LeCharles Bentley, who previously wore No. 65 during his four seasons with the Saints, has asked the NFL to allow him to don No. 00 now that he has moved to Cleveland.

Rather than acting on individual player requests for exemptions, the competition committee probably will consider changing the numbering system, at least for skill-position players. But such a change requires a three-quarters vote of the membership, meaning approval by 24 of 32 franchises, and there seems to be no groundswell of support for altering the rule.

Bush reiterated Saturday that he will donate 25 percent of his earnings from his uniform jersey sales to Hurricane Katrina relief efforts here. League players receive 6 percent from the wholesale value of their jersey sales.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.