COMMENTARY | As a long-time follower of the Chicago Bears, I have experienced my fair share of lows and lows. The Dick Jauron era. The Dave Wannstedt era. Rashaan Salaam. Rex Grossman. But never in my years of keeping up with this team have I seen something as terrible as recent events.
On Tuesday, April 9, the Bears announced newly signed linebacker James Anderson -- who has worn No. 50 his entire career -- will be allowed to wear the same number in Chicago. In case you aren't aware, the last Bear to patrol the gridiron in the No. 50 was Mike Singletary, who retired in 1992. That's been no accident; for 20 seasons, "Samurai Mike's" jersey was untouchable.
Well, fast forward to the upcoming season. At the start of the 2013 campaign, the Bears will (unofficially) "un-retire" a number worn by a legend and, subsequently, should be untouchable.
Mike Singletary played 12 seasons in the NFL, all in Chicago. From 1983-1992, he went to 10 straight Pro Bowls. Starting in 1984, he was voted first-team All-Pro seven times in an eight-year stretch. He started 172 games for the Bears, the fourth-highest total in team history, trailing only Walter Payton (184), Olin Kreutz (183) and Brian Urlacher (180) among offensive and defensive players. He was the 1985 defensive player of the year and led a defense which all defenses in the history of professional football are measured against.
How do the Bears choose to reward Singletary's production and loyalty? By assigning his famed No. 50 to a free agent acquisition with a one-year contract. Anderson may be a fine linebacker, but he's no Samurai. Chicago woefully erred in its decision to assign Singeltary's No. 50.
NFL rules limit linebackers to wearing numbers in the 50s and 90s. The Bears have retired Nos. 51 (Dick Butkus) and 56 (Bill Hewitt). The team, for obvious reasons, has not assigned No. 54. Take out No. 50, and Chicago has 16 non-retired numbers available to assign to the linebackers on its roster.
Would San Francisco assign Joe Montana's No. 16 or Jerry Rice's No. 80? Of course not. Would Miami allow another player to wear No. 13? Not a chance. Those numbers were worn by some of the greatest players ever to take the field. Teams should reward the loyalty shown by these players by returning said loyalty and leaving their numbers in the rafters.
What's next? The Bears run out of numbers for running backs and assign No. 34? Well, that's an unlikely scenario ... about as unlikely as the team allowing another player to wear No. 50.
Doc Hopkins has followed Chicago sports for decades. He has worked in sports media over 10 years and has been published in the Chicago Tribune. Find him on Twitter @SupermanHopkins or leave him a comment below.
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