As trivial as a jersey number can be, they do carry a special meaning in sports. One look at a certain number and a specific player — along with their long list of accomplishments — starts firing up the memory bank and becomes as recognizable as their actual face. In New England, the No. 87 certainly falls into that category after Rob Gronkowski developed into arguably the greatest tight end in NFL history while sporting that number in Foxborough. While there’s certainly a case for the Patriots to retire No. 87, they did recently hand it out to former undrafted wide receiver Devin Ross during mandatory minicamp as he was going through a tryout.
As ESPN’s Mike Reiss points out, however, the club has since given Ross the No. 8 after officially signing him to the 90-man roster.
Again, this is a small footnote in what has been a busy offseason for the Patriots but certainly noteworthy, especially as it may be tipping New England’s hand as it relates to the club possibly retiring Gronkowski’s number one day. Would they have given No. 12 to a free agent quarterback when he was trying out for the team? Seems unlikely.
Outside of Tom Brady — who is a virtual lock to have his No. 12 retired at some point — Gronkowski isn’t far behind when looking back at the legends who’ve helped the Patriots to its six Super Bowl titles over the last two decades. When you talk about this dynasty, the conversation doesn’t last very long before bringing up the five-time Pro Bowler.
That said, Bruce Armstrong is the only player of the seven that currently have their numbers retired with New England to have overlapped with Bill Belichick during his tenure as head coach. Other than that, no Belichick-era player has received such an honor. Instead, their numbers have been put back into circulation with Ty Law’s No. 24, Tedy Bruschi’s No. 54, and Adam Vinatieri’s No. 4 being some of the recent examples that are currently being donned by someone else.
While his number isn’t officially retired, legendary pass rusher Andre Tippett’s No. 56 has been unofficially retired and out of circulation for quite a while. One could make the case that Gronkowski’s impact on the franchise warrants a similar treatment, so it’ll be curious to see how they operate after No. 87 briefly made an appearance this offseason.