Retiring a player’s number is one of the highest honors in sports.
Think about it. A team is saying a player mattered so much, it can’t stand the thought of someone ever wearing the same number.
It’s easy enough to retire numbers in some sports. Baseball only usually needs a dozen or two players on a roster. Basketball rosters hover around 10-12. So working around a retired number isn’t hard.
But college football — oh boy, is that difficult.
USF’s 2019 roster featured 106 players, so needless to say, a few offensive and defensive players wore the same number.
There are some players that mean so much to a program, though, that going against the logical move (not retiring their number) is really the only move.
While that can open up Pandora’s box if other deserving players don’t receive said honor, there are some that are obvious.
For USF, those numbers are consecutive, but also represent two distinct eras: Nos. 8 and 9.
No. 8: Matt Grothe 2005-2009
Matt Grothe holds the record for highest career completion percentage and the top two single-season records for highest-completion percentages.
There are many other places you can find Grothe’s name in the record book, but that’s not what this is about.
This is about the fact he helped put USF on the college football map.
Grothe’s redshirt freshman season of 2006 was USF’s second in the Big East, its sixth in FBS and just its 10th overall. He led the Bulls to some memorable moments that year, including three straight come-from-behind wins to start the season, as well as a road upset of No. 7 West Virginia to end the regular season.
But it was 2007 when Grothe made his mark — especially in Week 2.
Grothe threw the game-winning touchdown pass in overtime to defeat No. 17 Auburn on the road in what was USF’s first ever victory against an SEC team and, up to that point, its most iconic moment.
The next one wasn’t far off though — three weeks later, in the second quarter against No. 5 West Virginia at home, he somehow escaped a sack and found Carlton Mitchell for a 55-yard touchdown that, with the ensuing extra point, proved to be the game winner.
Two weeks later, after a 64-12 win against UCF, USF was No. 2 in the BCS poll. As silly as it may seem to think a one-week No. 2 ranking still matters more than a decade later, remember that this happened in USF’s third season in what we today would call a Power Five conference.
The Grothe era was the foundation of the program.
No. 9: Quinton Flowers 2014-2017
The years following Grothe were bad, though.
After Jim Leavitt was fired following the 2009 season, the next few years were not kind. Skip Holtz went 16-21 in charge and conference realignment saw USF wind up in the non Power remnants of the Big East, the AAC.
USF needed a renaissance, and it started Sept. 13, 2014, when Quinton Flowers made his first appearance for the Bulls, going 1-of-4 passing for 7 yards with two interceptions.
Hey, even the literal Renaissance wasn’t obvious until it was well under way. But USF’s was clear by Oct. 10, 2015, when the Bulls defeated Syracuse 45-24 in what was essentially Flowers’ coming out party. He completed 15-of-22, throwing for two touchdowns and accounting for 314 all-purpose yards.
“Quinton said, ‘Coach, let me go,’” coach Willie Taggart said at the time, according to the USF archives. “I said, ‘All right, I’ll let you go. Just do me one favor, if you don’t have the throw, run.’”
He ran that day and every day afterward, setting the record for most rushing yards by a Florida quarterback at an FBS school, surpassing Tim Tebow by 725 yards in 12 fewer games.
Much like Grothe, there are too many accomplishments to list, but Flowers’ 42 career, season or game records are all important.
The era he did it in makes it all the more important.
USF was dead in the water as a program. Legend has it that had the Bulls lost to Syracuse, Taggart would have been fired — and who would have wanted that job? Where would the program be now?
Flowers sparked an interest in the program that hadn’t been around since Grothe’s heyday. If you think fan interest and support was too low in 2019, take Flowers’ 21-4 record in 2016 and 2017 out of the equation. It’s hard to imagine a decade of mediocrity — at best — would have packed Ray Jay.
Flowers put USF back on the college football map in a similar fashion to the way Grothe put it there in the first place.
That’s why both should have their numbers retired.
Not just because of stats and records, but also because of their historical significance to USF football.