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Ode to Emmitt: Keanu Neal Changing Jersey Number w/ Cowboys

While the Dallas Cowboys have never officially retired a jersey number, some are clearly held in high esteem and not given out lightly or at all. Newly-signed Keanu Neal has worn the #22 since entering the NFL in 2016, but he will be changing numbers with Dallas due to the reverence of legendary running back Emmitt Smith.

No Dallas player has worn the #22 since Smith became the NFL’s all-time rushing yards leader while winning three Super Bowls with the Cowboys. Other numbers held in this regard are Roger Staubach’s #12, Troy Aikman’s #8, and Bob Lilly’s #74.

Despite his own history with the number, which includes a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2017, Keanu will be switching back to the #42 that he wore in college in Florida. The last significant player to don this number in Dallas was another defensive leader, former safety Barry Church.

David Helman on Twitter: “Keanu Neal wore 22 in Atlanta, so it was a good bet he’d be changing his number in Dallas.Per his Instagram, looks like he’s gonna rock the Barry Church. pic.twitter.com/3MUcim7zcd / Twitter”

Keanu Neal wore 22 in Atlanta, so it was a good bet he’d be changing his number in Dallas.Per his Instagram, looks like he’s gonna rock the Barry Church. pic.twitter.com/3MUcim7zcd

The Cowboys treatment of their hallowed jersey numbers has been different from most NFL teams. While there are “unofficially retired” numbers like the ones we just mentioned, others like #88 and #94 have been handed out to promote the legacy and lineage of great players at a key position.

Like Dez Bryant before him, CeeDee Lamb was given #88 last year to continue the legacy of great Cowboys receivers in Michael Irvin and Drew Pearson. When Randy Gregory joined Dallas in 2015, he was given DeMarcus Ware’s #94 as a vote of confidence in Gregory’s potential as the team’s next elite pass rusher.

It will be interesting to see how the Cowboys handle other sacred but more recently-used numbers such as Tony Romo’s #9 and Jason Witten’s #82. Giving either to another player would likely start a riot among Cowboys Nation.

Perhaps the greatest player in franchise history, Emmitt Smith certainly deserves every bit of respect and honor that the team wants to show. Credit to the Cowboys for recognizing that, and credit to Keanu Neal for making and embracing the change.

What do you think?

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Written by Jess Haynie

Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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  1. Jess just wanted to say I enjoy reading your articles more than any other. Usually pretty on point. It’s like you’re writing my thoughts almost every time. Keep up the good work. Your talent is much appreciated.

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