What’s in a number? More than you think

What does it take to be No. 1?

Apparently more than whatever USC junior cornerback T.J. Bryant and sophomore wide receiver De’Von Flournoy have been doing this spring.

Lane Kiffin stripped the players of their jersey numbers (No. 1) last week because he felt they were not meeting the standard of the number set by former USC All-American wide receiver Mike Williams.

Williams caught 176 passes in his two-year Trojan career for a combined 2,579 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2002 and 2003. His 95 receptions in 2003 are the most ever in a single season by a USC receiver not named Keyshawn Johnson.

Williams’ time at USC was cut short by fluctuating NFL draft rules that blocked him from entering the draft or returning to college ball, but he clearly left his mark here at USC.

But, to steal a phrase from The 40-Year-Old Virgin, should Kiffin be putting his number on a pedestal?

Williams was a great wide receiver during his days as a Trojan, but I don’t see a No. 1 hanging in the Coliseum next to No. 3, 5, 11, 12, 20, 32 or 33. That’s because Williams’ number was never retired.

And last time I checked, numbers that aren’t retired are up for grabs.

For obvious reasons, Kiffin has close ties to Williams. The USC coach was in charge of wide receivers during Williams’ brilliance on the field and pushed Williams to earn All-American first team honors in 2003.

But it’s an uncertainty as to whether or not Williams was even the best Trojan wide receiver that Kiffin coached in his first stint at USC.

Kiffin also coached Dwayne Jarrett, USC’s first two-time All-American wideout in 2005 and 2006. Jarrett’s college career was so successful that he topped Williams’ 176 receptions and set his own USC record of 216. Jarrett also set the Pac-10 record for career touchdown catches with 39.

Block number · USC coach Lane Kiffin changed the numbers of junior cornerback T.J. Bryant and sophomore wide receiver De’Von Flournoy. - Carlo Acenas | Daily Trojan

But his jersey — No. 8 — seems to be used by players without any comment from the coaching staff.

And how about Jarrett’s partner in crime, Steve Smith?

Smith earned All-American honors in 2006 and has had by far the best NFL career of the trio. He’s arguably Eli Manning’s most valuable receiver on the New York Giants, and his 172 career receptions in the NFL blow away Williams’ career total of 44.

But Kiffin doesn’t mind players wearing Smith’s old No. 2 at all.

I don’t mean to downplay Williams’ achievements at USC. He helped bring Trojan football back to national prominence and ended his college career with a national championship, and was a vital piece to the great teams under Pete Carroll’s reign.

But should a USC football player have to earn No. 1 before he can wear it on the field?

Carroll didn’t think so, and neither do I.

After his glory days at USC, Williams tanked in the NFL. He was often criticized for being out of shape and unmotivated.

When Carroll, now coaching the Seattle Seahawks, invited Williams to camp this year for a possible comeback, Williams admitted that he, again, wasn’t in shape and had done “nothing important” in the past three years.

He likely won’t make the team.

That’s not really a role model you want to motivate players with.

A Trojan shouldn’t wear       No. 5, 3, 11 or any of the other USC Heisman winners’ numbers for valid reasons. Those numbers are retired. They are enshrined. Those jerseys represent the best in the college football world and should be untouched forever.

Williams’ No. 1 doesn’t fit in that category.

Bryant and Flournoy were reportedly informed of the decision via text message from an assistant coach, and both players were upset with the outcome.

I would be too.

“Soft Hands” runs on Tuesdays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail Jon at [email protected].

1 reply
  1. Danny
    Danny says:

    Although I agree maybe #1 was not the most valuable player number based on past performances, isn’t there a statement in the use of #1 as a reference to being the best? If this applied to being the best on offense that I think they should have to earn the #1 jersey just as the defense has to earn the #55 jersey. And although, #55 is representative of some of the best former defensive players, who BTW did NOT receive Heisman awards, the best of course on offense having already retired numbers, I would think the #1 jersey would be the ONLY appropriate “EARNED” jersey number for an offensive player.

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