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How proposed single-digit number rule change would impact Giants

Derrick Dillon at Giants training camp on Aug.

Derrick Dillon at Giants training camp on Aug. 14, 2020. Credit: Giants.com/Matthew Swensen

One of the rule changes proposed by teams for the upcoming NFL season won’t necessarily change the way the game is played so much as how it looks. Kansas City proposed that more players – defensive backs, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends – be able to wear single-digit numbers on their jerseys. For many of them who have had to adapt to double-digits in the NFL it would mean the possibility of switching back to the numbers they wore in college.

At least one Giants player was already excited by the possibility.

"Boy I hope the NFL passes that single digit rule," wide receiver Darius Slayton posted on Twitter.

Slayton wore 18 and 81 at Auburn and 86 now with the Giants.

Even if the new rule is passed, however, there won’t be much opportunity for Giants players to switch. Most of those single digit jerseys already are claimed, either by current Giants or historic ones.

Starting quarterback Daniel Jones is No. 8 and his backup, Mike Glennon, has No. 3. Kicker Graham Gano wears No. 5 and punter Riley Dixon 9. All four of them figure to make the team in 2021. Number 2 belongs to both kicker Ryan Santoso and quarterback/special teamer Joe Webb. Depending on who makes the roster and who sticks on the practice squad, we’ll see how that jersey plays out. The only player who currently has a single digit uniform issued to him who would be affected by the new rule is wide receiver Derrick Dillon, who wears No. 6.

As for the three remaining single digits, they’re off-limits to Giants players. They’re all retired … including the first number ever retired in pro football.

That belonged to Ray Flaherty, the Hall of Fame end who wore the No. 1 from 1928-35 (and who, it’s worth noting with the Final Four fast approaching, served as head coach of the men’s basketball team at his alma mater, Gonzaga, for one season, 1930-31).

Number 4 also is unavailable. That belonged to Tuffy Leemans, the Hall of Fame halfback and fullback who was with the Giants from 1936-43. The Giants celebrated "Tuffy Leemans Day" at the Polo Grounds toward the end of the 1941 season, presenting him with a silver tray, but if you were listening to that ceremony on WOR you never heard the end of it because the broadcast was interrupted with breaking news that Pearl Harbor had just been bombed. Yep, it was December 7, 1941. Most of those at the Polo Grounds that day didn’t know it until they left after the game, but apparently there was a somewhat frantic announcement at the stadium for William J. Donovan, the head of the Office of Strategic Services and a spectator in the building, to call a special number in Washington.

The other single-digit number retired by the Giants? Number 7. It belonged to their first MVP of the NFL, Mel Hein, who was a two-way player for them from 1931-45. Hein was known as "Old Indestructible." His jersey is retired not only by the Giants but by his alma mater, Washington State.

So while the new rule would technically open up options for running backs, receivers and defensive backs, on the Giants at least, there isn’t really much opportunity for the players to utilize it.

Of course, that’s not to say some numbers couldn’t change hands… along with some money. When Giants safety Jabrill Peppers, who wore No. 5 as a Heisman finalist at Michigan, tagged Gano with a news item about the rule change, the kicker wrote back: "Everything is negotiable."

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