This week the New York Jets finally released the rookie jersey numbers for their top three picks in the 2021 NFL draft.
The one that raised the most eyebrows was the No. 14 overall pick in April’s draft, Alijah Vera-Tucker.
AVT announced that he’d be sticking with No. 75, the same number he represented at USC. That in itself isn’t a surprise, but the larger question that was immediately raised is why is that number still available?
Where’s the Respect?
The No. 75 jersey number was made famous by long-time New York Jets star offensive tackle Winston Hill.
His jersey number should’ve been hanging in the rafters a long time ago.
Originally he was selected by the Baltimore Colts in the 11th round (No. 145 overall) of the 1963 draft, but chose to join the AFL instead as a free agent. That was the same year the New York Titans transitioned into the Jets as we know them today.
It didn’t take him long to prove himself as one of the best offensive linemen in all of football:
- Four-time AFL all-star
- Three-time All-AFL
- Four-time Pro Bowler
On top of his individual success, he reached the sport’s pinnacle winning the first and only world championship in Jets’ franchise history.
Hill was the blindside protector for ‘Broadway’ Joe Namath in Super Bowl III.
At the time of his retirement, Hill held Jets’ records for most consecutive career games (195) and consecutive starts (174), per the PFHOF.
He passed away five years ago at the age of 74 (April 26, 2016).
Time To Become an Immortal
Only five players in Jets franchise history have received the honor of their jersey numbers being retired (the year listed is when their jerseys were officially retired):
- Joe Namath, No. 12, 1985
- Don Maynard, No. 13, n/a
- Curtis Martin, No. 28, 2012
- Joe Klecko, No. 73, 2004
- Dennis Byrd, No. 90, 2012
Three of the five have already been enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. While Klecko has been on the doorstep for years and should already be in.
Speaking of getting in, Hill finally was immortalized by the National Football League as a part of the 2020 class. It took 43 years from the end of his playing career to reach Canton, Ohio.
When will he finally get his jersey number retired? What’s the hold-up?
“The Jets, aware of the Hill situation, haven’t ruled out adjustments in the future,” per ESPN’s Rich Cimini.
Although none of us should get our hopes up. That statement doesn’t sound like the green and white are in any rush to do anything at this moment.
Also, they just allowed their first-round rookie offensive lineman to select that jersey number. Most players once they select a number, they stick with it. So that number will seemingly be in circulation for the foreseeable future, especially if Vera-Tucker is as good as everyone projects him to be.
If the Jets were going to retire that number, they would’ve done it around the same time that Hill was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last year. It was the perfect excuse to do it right then and there. A huge opportunity missed.