Bob Griese's number 12. Dan Marino's number 13. Larry Csonka's number 39. That is the extent of the jersey numbers the Miami Dolphins have retired.
When compared to a team like the Chicago Bears, who have retired 14 numbers, that is a small number. The Dallas Cowboys, Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders, Baltimore Ravens, and Houston Texans have not retired any. The Buffalo Bills announced on Wednesday that they will retire Bruce Smith's number 78, giving the franchise two retired numbers as he joins the number 12 of Jim Kelly. The Indianapolis Colts announced earlier this year they will retire Peyton Manning's number 18, which will bring them to eight retired numbers.
(On a side note, the Broncos could re-retire Manning's number 18, which was brought out of retirement when he joined the team, previously retired for quarterback Frank Tripucka - with Tripucka giving Manning permission to wear the number in a phone call from Manning in 2012, despite Manning saying he did not think he should wear it in honor of Trupicka's career - which would bring them back up to three retired numbers. In payment for wearing the number 18, Trupicka asked for one thing from Manning, a Super Bowl win for the Broncos. Good story you can read on Mile High Report.)
Which brings us back to the Dolphins. They honor players in three different ways, and players have to reach a certain mark to get into those three levels. There is the Walk of Fame, which the team began in 2012 and is in the Joe Robbie Alumni Plaza at the stadium's Gate C, surrounding the statue of Robbie, the team's first owner. There is the Honor Roll, which began with Robbie's name being inducted in 1990 and has grown to 27 total names (or teams in the case of the 1972 Undefeated Team) ringing the upper deck inside the stadium
Then, there are the three retired numbers, which fly on flags above the stadium
Even with the two prior levels of honoring, could Miami have a backlog of numbers to retire?
Is induction in the Pro Football Hall of Fame a pre-requisite for the Dolphins to retire a number? Technically, not, given that Griese's number 12 was retired in 1985 and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990 and Marino's number 13 was retired nearly immediately after he stopped playing, with the number no longer in circulation in 2000, with his Hall of Fame induction in 2005. (Csonka was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987, but his number was not retired until 2002.) And, there are plenty of Dolphins who have made it into the Hall of Fame, but have not reached the retired number level.
But, there is still a case for at least two retired Dolphins to not see their numbers ever worn again - and a third could be on the way.
The first possible number is Zach Thomas' number 54. Do you remember the fan explosion in 2010 when the team briefly gave that number to A.J. Edds? There were no available numbers in the 50s other than 54 for Edds, and the team was stuck with the NFL rules saying a linebacker has to wear a number in the 50s. The league gave the Dolphins the permission to move Edds to number 49, his college number, even though the number 54 is not retired and they did not have to grant the permission. In 2015, the league added number 40-49 into the linebacker eligible numbers pool.
Thomas is a borderline Hall of Famer in most analysts eyes - though Dolphins fans will probably tell you he needs to get into Canton. He was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection, a five time First-Team All-Pro selection, two time Second-Team All-Pro, was the NFL Alumni Linebacker of the Year twice, the AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year, and he has more tackles than any linebacker in the Hall of Fame (1,720 - 94 of which came with the Dallas Cowboys in 2008). Thomas was the too-small linebacker who became a dominant factor in the Miami defense for 12 years.
Thomas may or may not
be snubbed from make the Hall of Fame, but the team has unofficially retired the number, not assigning it to anyone since Thomas (other than the brief announcement of Edds' number and quick change). It is probably time to officially retire it.
There is an even stronger case for the second possible number, Thomas' brother-in-law, Jason Taylor's 99. While there is debate around Thomas, there should not be much debate of Taylor's position in the Hall of Fame. He may not be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, like Marino, but he should have a bust headed for Canton at some point. Sure, the NFL did not officially begin counting sacks until 1982, but since then, there are not many who can claim to be as dominant at Taylor - who sits sixth on the all-time list with 139.5 career sacks. In his 13 seasons with Miami, he tallied 131.0 of those quarterback take-downs with the Dolphins in 13 years in Miami (he also played one year with the Washington Redskins and one year with the New York Jets). Taylor also owns the NFL record for fumbles returned for a touchdown, scoring six times off of fumbles(all with Miami). Along with the sacks, Taylor recorded eight interceptions, with three touchdowns, 43 forced fumbles, 27 fumble recoveries, with the six touchdowns, and 710 tackles with Miami.
Taylor was a six-time Pro Bowl selection, a three-time First-Team All-Pro selection, a one-time Second-Team All-Pro selection, a one-time NFL Alumni Pass Rusher of the Yeam, a two-time AFC Defensive Player of the Team, a two-time NFL Alumni Defensive Lineman of the Year, a one-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and a one-time Walter Payton Man of the Year.
Like Thomas, Taylor's number 99 has not been worn by anyone since Taylor retired. The unofficial retiring of 99 should be changed to an official retiring.
Taylor and Thomas were inducted together - rightfully - into the Honor Roll in 2012.
The Dolphins need to get both of those numbers retired soon, because there is another number that should end up waving from a flag one day. The number 91, worn by Cameron Wake since 200, has a really strong case to end up retired whenever Wake retires. No one, other than Taylor, has sacked the quarterback as many times as Wake in a Dolphins jersey. He currently has 70 sacks, and is under contract for at least two more years with the team, meaning he will continue to climb up the all-time NFL leaders board.
To compare Taylor's 131.0 career sacks to Wake's 70.0, realize Wake has played less than half the games Taylor played with the team (204 for Taylor, 100 for Wake). That is how dominant a pass rusher Wake has become.
Wake has four Pro-Bowl appearances and one First-Team All-Pro selection in seven years with the Dolphins. He got a late start to his NFL career, having been cut by the New York Giants after a brief signing as an undrafted free agent playing linebacker, spending nearly two-years out of football (during which time, when he was working at a gym his name tag accidentally listed his middle name, Cameron, instead of his first name, Derek, and it stuck), then two years in the Canadian Football League where he moved to defensive end for the BC Lions, before coming to the Dolphins in 2009.
Wake should end up with a solid case for seeing the Dolphins retire his number as one of the greatest players in the franchise's history.
What are your thoughts on the potential retirement backlog? Vote in the poll and discuss in the comments.