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The NFL loosened up its jersey number restrictions this offseason and various players across the league are taking full advantage as they shake up the number they’ll don on game day. One of the jersey changes set to take place that actually would have been permitted under the previous set of rules can be found in Atlanta with receiver Russell Gage. He’s elected to switch from No. 83 to No. 14 heading into next season (the new rules allow receivers, running backs and others to wear single digits). That said, No. 14 wasn’t the pass catcher’s first choice.
Gage admitted on Thursday that he originally wanted to wear No. 10. As he noted, the Falcons blocked Gage from making that specific jersey swap, forcing him to go in a different direction.
“I wanted something different, something fresh,” Gage said of the change, via The Atlanta Journal-Consitution. “I actually tried to get 10, but it’s retired. I understand. I just wanted something fresh, something new.”
While Gage may be under the assumption that No. 10 — a number famously worn by Steve Bartkowski from 1975-85 — is retired, it technically isn’t. The Falcons do not officially retire numbers and instead place their legendary collection of past players in the Ring of Honor. That said, there are a few jersey numbers that the club has kept on the shelf since the legend has walked away. For instance, no player has worn No. 60 after Tommy Nobis, nor No. 31 since William Andrews.
To get one of those numbers formerly worn by a Falcons great, a player’s best bet is to have a heightened stature within the organization of one day being considered legend themself. But, that’s not a hard-and-fast rule, it would appear. There are members of Atlanta’s Ring of Honor that have seen their numbers worn after they’ve called it a career. For example, Cordarrelle Patterson wears Roddy White’s No. 84 and Duron Harrison wears No. 21, formerly sported by Deion Sanders.
As for Bartkowski’s No. 10, Scott Campbell was the last Falcon to wear it, from 1986-1990, and it’s been sidelined since. While Gage has blossomed into a reliable piece within the Falcons offense, his current standing may not have him on the track to properly take on such an important mantle in the team’s eyes.