TAMPA – It seems silly, this argument about a football player’s number.
What does it matter if Ndamukong Suh wears Gerald McCoy’s discarded No. 93 for the Buccaneers this fall? Will it change the outcome of games? No. Will it change how you feel about McCoy’s past? Probably not. Will it change how you feel about Suh’s potential? It shouldn’t.
Will it change how you feel about the Bucs?
Ah, now that’s a more interesting question.
Unlike players, who come and go, an organization and its fans are together for the long haul. And fans count on a franchise to be the gatekeepers of history. To protect their memories, so to speak.
In that sense, it looks like the Bucs have just torched a scrapbook or two.
Late Monday afternoon, the question of whether No. 93 will be worn in 2019 seemed to be answered when Suh tweeted out a photo of himself wearing the number on the eve of mini camp.
For Suh, it seemed tacky to do this without acknowledging McCoy.
For the Bucs, it seemed utterly tone deaf.
This isn’t about feeling sorry for McCoy, although I wouldn’t blame him if he was miffed. This has more to do with respecting fans, respecting model players, respecting the game.
McCoy may not be on the fast track to the Hall of Fame, but he was Tampa Bay’s best player of the past decade and he was equally impressive as the team’s community ambassador.
So what does this say to other players about how the Bucs value them? What does it say to fans who have invested nine years of devotion in McCoy’s name?
Oh, I’ll grant you, this is a unique case. It’s not often that a player of uncommon skill is immediately replaced by someone with similar credentials.
But this doesn’t feel like it was handled with any forethought or sensitivity. If the Bucs were wrestling with this decision, the rollout would not have seemed so clumsy.
This feels like expediency.
It feels like new coach Bruce Arians and general manager Jason Licht are worried neither about the past, nor the future. They are concerned only about 2019, and if Suh is happier wearing No. 93 then “Pffffttt!’’ to everyone else.
And you know what?
If the Bucs go 10-6 and make the playoffs, then hardly anyone outside of the McCoy clan will care about this debate. But if the season goes sideways, this will not be so easily forgotten.
Because, whether you think he was irreplaceable or overrated, McCoy did enough to at least put a pause on the issuing of No. 93.
The Bucs have never issued an official policy about retiring jerseys. Basically, they seem to do it only when a player has a legitimate shot at making the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
So, yeah, it made sense to retire the numbers of Lee Roy Selmon, Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp who, have all been inducted in the Hall of Fame. And it makes sense that Mike Alstott, Ronde Barber and John Lynch have had their jerseys taken out of rotation because they still have a shot at the Hall.
As for players who are somewhere in between?
The Bucs went two years without issuing Paul Gruber’s No. 74 or Hardy Nickerson’s No. 56. They went three years before handing out Tony Mayberry’s No. 61.
Here’s another way of looking at it:
Only eight players have made at least five Pro Bowls in Tampa Bay history. Three had their jerseys officially retired, three more were unofficially retired and one went unused for two years.
None had their jersey handed out a week later.
After wearing the same jersey for nearly 10 years in Tampa Bay, No. 93 no longer belongs to Gerald McCoy. But it will not be his reputation that is potentially at risk.
Contact John Romano at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @romano_tbtimes.