Here’s how Brett Favre got retired No. 4 in the first place

Rick Cleveland
Rick Cleveland

Few athletes are more closely associated with their jersey number than Mississippi’s most famous No. 4 — Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer Brett Favre.

Favre threw for more yardage than any quarterback in NFL history. He was three-time league MVP. He is pro football’s all-time iron man and quarterbacked the Green Bay Packers to a Super Bowl victory about an hour from where he grew up in Kiln.

For today’s purposes, Favre also is one of a precious few famous football players in history who wore No. 4.

Think not? OK, name another.

Lou Gehrig and Ralph Kiner wore No. 4 in baseball. Bobby Orr wore No. 4 in hockey. Charles Barkley wore 4 when he played for the Houston Rockets. (Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer, the late, great Wendell Ladner wore No. 4 when he was an all-star in the old ABA.)

Football? Well, there was Byron Leftwich. And Adam Viniateri. Other than Favre, the No. 4 hasn’t been a particularly successful or sought-after football number.

No question, the two most famous No. 4s in sports history are Gehrig, the Iron

Brett Favre, football's 4.
Brett Favre, football’s 4.

Horse, and Favre, the Iron Quarterback.

Any baseball historian worth his notebook can tell you how Gehrig got his jersey number. When the New York Yankees began to put numbers on jerseys, the numbers corresponded directly to where the player hit in the batting order. Babe Ruth batted third, so he wore No. 3. Gehrig batted clean-up so he wore No. 4. Interestingly, the Yankees didn’t even wear numbered jerseys until 1929.

The story of how Brett Lorenzo Favre became No. 4 is a lot more complicated — and I think more interesting — than Gehrig’s story.

You see, Favre wore No. 10 when he played for the high school team coached by his father, Big Irv Favre, at Hancock North Central.

So when Favre reported to fall training camp as a 17-year-old freshman at Southern Miss, he asked for No. 10.

“Sorry, you can’t have that one,” the equipment manager said.

“Why not?” Favre asked.

“Reggie Collier was No. 10 at USM and no other player will ever wear that jersey again,” came the answer.

Being from the Gulf Coast, Favre knew all about Reggie Collier.

“I certainly could understand that,” Favre said recently. “Reggie was a great, great player. He deserved to have his jersey retired.”

So Favre asked what jersey numbers were available for quarterbacks.

“To tell you the truth, the only number we’ve got left for you is No. 4,” the equipment manager said.

“Well then, No. 4 it is,” Favre said and he took it.

Asked about it, Favre laughed. “To tell you the truth, I was happy to have any jersey at all. I was sixth or seventh on the depth chart when I got to Hattiesburg. I got the last scholarship that was available on the day before signing day. I thought I was going to either Delta State or Pearl River Junior College. I didn’t even know for sure I was going to play quarterback. I think they listed me as a defensive back.”

So the great Brett Favre, the most famous No. 4 in football history, got No. 4 by default. He wore it for a productive four years at USM and then for a remarkable 20 years in the NFL.

“No regrets. It worked out OK,” he said.

It did, indeed. No USM player will ever wear No. 4 again. No Green Bay Packer, for that matter.

6 thoughts on “Here’s how Brett Favre got retired No. 4 in the first place”

  1. There are not better writers I have read than you and your brother. Really enjoy reading every article whether it pertains to Ms State or not because of the way written. I feel like I am there. Obviously, you had a great teacher in your dad! Thanks!

  2. Rick has always been a great writer and have followed and respected his works for over 40 years. This story on Brett Favre is a good example. Keep rolling Rick and SMTTT AEKDB Dewey

  3. Rick:
    I am a son-in-law of the wonderful Robert M. (Bob) Hartley, Mr. Hartley to me. The most caring and humble person I’ve ever known. Up earlier than most and working later than most until August, 1997.
    I just read your article regarding Mark Richt… I have not read a more true column and one that is exactly right on point. I listened closely when Mr. Hartley would express his views privately on many issues and wonder now what his thoughts would be now. i am certain of what he would say, and that is Mark Richt has always been a coach who put God first. Maybe MS State should swap coaches, salary for salary, staff for staff. One thing about State people that can be said is they generally appreciate a coach who has good character and morals. The grass always looks greener on the other side. I hope Mullen will look at the greener grass in Starkville for his family and the great folks who love MS State and, like Mr. Hartley, see the blessings of being where he is.

  4. Ricky
    Your talent is yours alone however having known your Father who in his own right was an excellent sports writer the acorn did not fall from the tree. As you will recalled when your Mother passed you called and asked if I would be a pall bearer that was an extreme honor for me. She and your Dad were truly my friend at Southern. That is how I met you and Bobby when your Dad ask if I would baby sit for his two boys nine and ten.
    It has been a pleasure for me to have known the Cleveland family up real close.
    All the Best, my Friend
    Teno

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