Ex-Houston Texans star J.J. Watt ended his stint as a free agent on Tuesday by signing with the Arizona Cardinals, and an unexpected effect of the signing was that Pitt great and former Cardinals star Marshall Goldberg saw his number, 99, unretired by the franchise.
The move was intended to accommodate Watt, who has worn the number throughout his 10-year career, and it was approved by Ellen Goldberg Tullos, Goldberg’s daughter. Watt expressed his gratitude for the gesture after he was informed of the family’s approval.
“I want to thank the Goldberg family for their kindness in offering me the opportunity to wear No. 99 in Arizona, which was previously retired in honor of Marshall Goldberg,” Watt wrote in a message on Twitter. “I am humbled and honored to wear it and will do my best to make them proud and honor Marshall properly.”
Watt also broke down the process of how the option to wear Goldberg’s number came about and how he learned that he would be granted the opportunity at his introductory press conference on Tuesday afternoon.
“When I woke up, I saw the TMZ report," Watt said. "That’s how I got my news, and it said that somebody had reached out to her and she had given the blessing for me to wear 99 and that they would be honored if I would do that. I wanted to hear it from her directly. I wanted to have a conversation with her to make sure."
“We had a great conversation," Watt continued. "She was super sweet. She said that she believes her father would be honored, and she believes that he was all about the players. And so she said that she thought he would want me to wear it. I’m very honored and touched that they thought of me in that way and that I can do that, and I told her that I would do everything in my power to honor him and to make him proud and make his legacy proud.”
The move has been met with mixed reviews, with some upset over the decision and many Cardinals fans simply pleased to have won the Watt sweepstakes. But with that said, Watt noted that he plans to use this opportunity to share the spotlight with Goldberg and to ensure that fans are aware of his achievements.
“As part of this, I want to make sure that people know the name and are aware of Marshall Goldberg and everything that he did, including his time in the Navy in the middle of his NFL career,” Watt said. “I appreciate the family and I want to give a big thank you to them.”
Many modern Pitt fans are familiar with Goldberg through his banner at Heinz Field, which features his name and retired No. 42 from his college days in Pittsburgh. At Pitt, Goldberg was a star running back and a member of the team’s Dream Backfield of the 1930s, along with Dick Cassiano, John Chickerneo and Curly Stebbins.
Goldberg led the Panthers to back-to-back national titles as an underclassman in 1936 and 1937. The native of Elkins, West Virginia, was also recognized as a consensus All-American in 1937 and 1938 before moving onto a pro career with the Chicago Cardinals in 1939 and pausing that career to serve the U.S. Navy in World War Il from 1943 to 1945.
With the Cardinals, Goldberg became an NFL champion in 1947 and earned All-Pro status in six of his eight seasons in the league. He played as both a running back and a defensive back during the NFL’s iron man era and distinguished himself in the defensive backfield, leading the league with seven interceptions in 1941. After the 1948 season, Goldberg retired from the NFL and became a millionaire through his work in the world of business, as he took control of a machine parts company in Rosemont, Illinois, in 1965.
During his career, which was spent entirely with the Cardinals in their Chicago days, Goldberg also wore Nos. 42 and 89, but he wore No. 99 for his final three years in the league and for the team’s championship victory. Twelve years after his retirement, the franchise moved to St. Louis, where it would spend the next 27 years, and then relocated to the Phoenix area in 1988, where it remains today. And as a result, the team has been distanced from the fans most familiar with Goldberg’s accomplishments.
But with that said, Goldberg’s daughter sees positives in allowing Watt to don the number and believes that her father would have approved of his former franchise's decision.
“Dad was really honored when they retired his number, but also, he’s always respected other players,” Tullos told TMZ. “And, if J.J. Watt had the number 99 with him for a long time and it meant something to him, I think he’d be delighted to let him use the number.”
“My father passed away in 2006, and that was a while ago,” she told Kyle Odegard of AZCardinals.com in an interview. “Now J.J. is kind of bringing his number back to life.”