Not this season and perhaps not ever.
Atlanta general manager Rich McKay, co-chairman of the competition committee, said Tuesday that the committee had recommended against Bush's request for his college number.
The decision was made by the committee after two conference calls. It was never discussed by the owners.
"Nobody is comfortable that an exception be made to the policy and no one is confident that there will ever be a change," McKay said at the NFL owners meetings, adding that it might come up again, but certainly not until after the 2006 season has started.
Under NFL rules, running backs are required to wear numbers between 20-49. Since 1973, the only major change was made last year, when receivers were given permission to wear numbers in the teens because teams were running out of 80s due in large part to an increase in receivers and tight ends on rosters.
|The league makes Bush's No. 5 jersey a collector's item. (Getty Images)|
Bush had pledged to donate 25 percent of his take on jersey sales to the New Orleans-area recovery from Hurricane Katrina if the league allowed him to wear No. 5. He said Tuesday he'll stick to that pledge despite the NFL's rejection of his request.
"Obviously, I am disappointed by today's decision but I respect the NFL Competition Committee's judgment," Bush said. "The No. 5 is special to me, but with the proceeds from the jersey sales I was also trying to do something special for the city of New Orleans and the entire region.
"We have not decided which number I will wear for this coming season, but that decision will come soon."
Bush's second choice appears to be 25, currently worn by veteran special teamer Fred McAfee, who has indicated he would be willing to give it (or sell it) to Bush. Players often change numbers to accommodate others, often selling the rights, as New York Giants punter Jeff Feagles did two years in a row - first trading No. 10 to Eli Manning in 2004, then No. 17 to Plaxico Burress last year.
Feagles got a vacation for his family to give Manning his number. Burress paid for an outdoor kitchen in Feagles' Arizona home.
Other number exchanges haven't been as amicable.
When Clinton Portis joined the Washington Redskins two years ago, he bought No. 26 for $40,000 from safety Ifeanyi Ohalete. Portis paid $20,000 up front but declined to pay the rest after Ohalete was cut by the Redskins and picked up by Arizona.
Ohalete then sued and the issue was solved before a trial when the two sides agreed on a lump-sum payment of $18,000 to settle the matter.