How Justin Vogel Can Make Packers History
Rookie punter Justin Vogel has a chance to do something only three other Packers players have done since the Lombardi era.
If Vogel holds off any challengers added to the roster between now and training camp, he’ll be the first player since 1988 to wear the number 5 in a regular season game.
In a strange set of circumstances, Vogel would wear the most officially unofficially retired jersey in sports history.
Isn’t the number 5 retired?
Paul Hornung famously wore the number 5 for the duration of his Packers career, donning the same number he wore as a Heisman Trophy winner at Notre Dame.
When Hornung’s career ended in 1967, Vince Lombardi made a somewhat poorly worded announcement that probably has sparked the current confusion of the state of the number 5 in Green Bay.
On July 10, 1967, Lombardi announced that there would never be another number 5 “as long as I’m in Green Bay.”
If the legendary coach had finished his career in Green Bay, that statement probably would have been further clarified. But Lombardi stepped down as coach seven months later, then left for the Washington Redskins a year after that before succumbing to cancer in 1969.
Lombardi’s apparent ambiguity probably led to the number being issued a few times in the 1980s, most notably to Don Majkowski, who wore it for a few games in 1987 before switching to his more iconic number 7. Since 1988, though, nobody has worn the number in an actual game.
But maybe it has been retired
Here’s where it gets crazy. According to reporters present for Lombardi’s statement in 1967, there really wasn’t any ambiguity: Lombardi intended for Hornung’s number to be taken out of circulation for good.
Packers historian Cliff Christl cites then-Green Bay Press Gazette reporter (and future Packers public relations official) Lee Remmel as understanding that Lombardi was speaking for the entire Packers organization, not just giving his own thoughts on Hornung. Here’s Christl with some context:
"I might say in this connection," Remmel quoted Lombardi as saying, "we will not have a number five this year, and so far as I'm concerned, there will never be another number five in Green Bay."
Remmel then wrote:
"The 31-year old Golden Boy is the first player to be so honored in Lombardi's regime, now in its ninth season. The numbers of two other players, Don Hutson (14) and Tony Canadeo (13) (sic, actually 3), were retired by the late Curly Lambeau, founder and first coach of the Packers."
Reporters from other papers muddied the water a little bit, implying that Lombardi had intended for the jersey to be retired at a future date. But as Christl notes, the Packers were a lot more low key about retiring numbers in those days; even Tony Canadeo and Don Hutson barely were recognized when their numbers were retired:
The Packers admit in their media guide that they're not even sure there was ever an official ceremony to retire Canadeo's number.
Hutson's number was retired in a simple gesture by former coach Gene Ronzani just before the start of the second half of a game against the New York Yanks on Dec. 2, 1951.
Ronzani handed Hutson his jersey at old City Stadium and if either one spoke to the crowd in the process, it wasn't reported in the next day's Press-Gazette.
Will Vogel wear the number?
Although players have previously worn number 5 in the preseason, that’s been out of necessity due to the demands of a 90 man roster. Even though the Packers have retired relatively few numbers, sometimes there just aren’t enough to go around, forcing the use of a number that’s been at the very least semi-officially retired.
That said, if Vogel does make it all the way to the regular season as the Packers’ regular punter, it would mark a serious departure in protocol for the team if he’s allowed to wear the number in the regular season.
The Packers are extremely aware of their history, and the team has always been careful to acknowledge historical precedent whenever possible. It would be surprising of Vogel wore the number for Green Bay during games that count, but perhaps it’s worth getting used to the idea.