NFL won't change numbering system for Bush

Updated: May 23, 2006, 7:41 PM ET
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

DENVER -- Reggie Bush lost the chance to be No. 1 on the eve of the NFL draft when the Houston Texans opted to sign defensive end Mario Williams on the eve of the draft, and on Tuesday, Bush lost the chance to wear his cherished No. 5.

"Nobody is comfortable with there being an exception made in the policy. Exceptions just create a problem for every team. There is almost no sentiment among the committee that there will ever be a change."
Rich McKay, NFL Competition Committee co-chairman

The NFL Competition Committee rejected the request by Bush and other players to change its uniform numbering system for the 2006 season, and committee co-chairman Rich McKay doesn't see enough sentiment to change it in the future.

After two 2½-hour conference calls, the committee informed NFL owners Tuesday not to change the numbering system. For more than 30 years, the NFL has tried to help fan identification by keeping the positions of players under a certain numbering system. Quarterbacks have to be between No. 1 and No. 19. Running backs have to be in the 20s, 30s or 40s.

Bush, who wore No. 5 at USC, at least got the topic on the table by going to the New Orleans Saints and saying he would donate a good portion of his royalties from jersey sales to Hurricane Katrina victims. Now, Bush, who has talked about wearing No. 25, will have to talk fullback Fred McAfee into giving him No. 25 or come up with a number in the 20s, 30s or 40s.

"Obviously, I'm disappointed by today's decision and I respect the NFL competition committee's judgment," Bush said in a statement. "The number five is special to me, but with proceeds from the jersey sales, I was trying to do something special for the city of New Orleans and the entire region.

"However, I am going to keep my pledge of donating 25 percent of my jersey sales to aid the Katrina relief efforts."

Bush can only wear the No. 5 in the preseason if there isn't a legal number in the 20s, 30s or 40s available. He will probably have to come up with a legal number because some are available in the current Saints inventory.

"Nobody is comfortable with there being an exception made in the policy," McKay said. "Exceptions just create a problem for every team. There is almost no sentiment among the committee that there will ever be a change."

Mike Ornstein, Bush's marketing agent, said, "I'm disappointed because there is a precedent for the league to make exceptions and I thought we made an extremely good case. But it's not a democracy. The NFL is the NFL."

McKay said the committee still will talk about the subject in another conference call, but there will not be any action on the numbering system until October at the earliest. It will take a real compelling case for the committee to change its mind. In other words, Bush will have a hard time getting a vote to change the rule even for the 2007 season.

More than 30 years ago, the NFL went to a uniform numbering system to help fans get acquainted with the players by their positions. The league refused to change the rule in the 1980s for former Seahawks linebacker Brian Bosworth, who wanted to wear the popular No. 44 he wore at Oklahoma.

The only exception made happened three years ago, when receivers started running out of numbers in the 80s because some teams retired enough jerseys in the 80s that there were not enough to accommodate teams with seven wide receivers. Receivers were then allowed to wear numbers between 10 and 19 if none were available in the 80s.

McKay said changes in the numbering system also create problems on special teams.

"When you start letting various players wear various numbers, you create real problems for the officials out of respect for special teams," McKay said.

Each year, the committee receives requests for number changes from teams and individual players, and it put a lot of thought into Bush's case. The Bush request was serious enough to draw five hours of conversation over two days. The committee looked at the impact on retired players at certain positions and how it would affect officiating.

In another decision at the owners meeting, the Kansas City Chiefs decided to table their request to expand the playoffs from six teams to seven teams in each conference. Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt has been pushing for expanding the playoffs field for many years and he will continue to keep the topic alive. He has the support of about six other teams, but he needs 24 owners to pass such a measure.

John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. Sports business reporter Darren Rovell contributed to this report.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

ALSO SEE