When Ross Travis introduces himself to Chiefs fans in public, he tells them his name. And when they ask what jersey number he wears, he tells them. And that’s when things get interesting.
“I’m like ‘88,’ and the instant reaction is ‘Ohhhh,’ ” Travis said with a laugh. “I’m like ‘Yeah, I’ve got a lot to live up to.”
No. 88, of course, was worn by tight end Tony Gonzalez, who starred for the Chiefs from 1997 to 2008 and is widely considered to be a shoo-in for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
And while the 6-foot-7, 235-pounder Travis has yet to catch an NFL pass, the Chiefs’ tight end — who has impressed this preseason with his size and athleticism — is not scared of the legacy of the number. In fact, when Travis re-signed with the Chiefs’ practice squad last September, he asked to switch from No. 89 to Gonzalez’s old No. 88.
“When I first got here, I had 89 — I didn’t like 89,” Travis said with a laugh. “I saw they had 88 and I took it. It really just helps me keep my mind focused on the task at hand and what I’ve got to do. It makes me work that much harder, wearing a number that so many people take pride in around this area. It’s a lot to live up to and it really just reminds me how much I’ve got to work.”
If it seems odd that the Chiefs would allow a number that was worn by a surefire Hall of Fame player to remain in circulation — especially when several other tight end numbers, like 81, 82, 83 and 89 remain available — remember that the club has already retired 10 numbers (cutting the pool of wearing numbers from 99 to 89) and teams often have 90 players in camp for most of the offseason.
Several teams that have already retired a bunch of numbers — like the Bears, who said they will not retire the numbers of former stars like Brian Urlacher and Mike Singletary — have become a bit reticent in recent years to take any more numbers out of circulation, and the same might logically apply to the Chiefs.
When asked if he’d be okay if the club wanted him to switch numbers at some point, Travis said he would be. But in the meantime, he’s going to embrace the expectations of wearing No. 88.
“They know I’m going to put in work and work hard,” Travis said of the Chiefs’ coaches and front-office personnel. “If they want to change it, that’s up to them. But I’m going to wear it with pride, that’s for sure.”