What's in a number?
As we approach Buffalo Bills training camp, some poor sap that was signed as camp fodder will be handed a jersey by the equipment manager. On that jersey will be a number that the player will have to wear, whether he wants to or not. An obscure defensive back will be forced to wear 49, and the equipment manager will utter the words that we all heard growing up: "The number doesn't make the player; the player makes the number."
This statement is false. You know it, and the players know it. It's the reason why they spend thousands of dollars and volunteer at teammate's summer camps in order to secure the number that they want.
Many of us played sports growing up, and you know as much as I do that the number on your jersey was as important as anything. If you look good, you play well.
There was nothing cool about the number 39 for a running back; sorry, Larry Csonka. If you were a big guy playing the line, the number 69 was the coolest possible number, and we all know why. For hockey and basketball players, 99 and 23 meant greatness.
What makes a number cool? Is it an aesthetic thing? Did an all-time great wear it? Or is there something in our culture behind it?
Today, I'm going to attempt to list the coolest numbers by positional group, and point to reasons why it's cool.
QB: 7, 13
Seven is by far the coolest number in all of football. It represents pureness. Not only is the number considered lucky, but it also signifies what all quarterbacks are trying to accomplish, seven points. Some of the best quarterbacks in league history wore the number: John Elway, Joe Theisman, and the best of the bunch, West Canaan Coyotes legend Lance Harbor.
No. 13 is considered unlucky. It's sort of a rebellious number, and anyone who wears 13 knows this, and is considered anti-establishment. Confident, assured players wear it. Dan Marino made the number famous in Miami in the '80s and '90s, but Steaming Willie Beamen from the Miami Sharks in Any Given Sunday, and Joe Kane from the ESU Timberwolves in The Program, took it to new heights.
RB: 32, 44
No number is more hated and beloved by football fans than 32. It was worn by NFL greats like Jim Brown, Marcus Allen, and Edgerin James, who all represented the number well. The one person that misrepresented the number most, and is genuinely hated by most Americans, is Spike Hammersmith from The Little Giants. Luckily, we had a player like O.J. Simpson that represented 32 well for the Bills. (On the field.)
44 is my favorite number. Something about it screams "badass". For the older crowd, many of you remember a great Syracuse running back by the name of Ernie Davis. He was the first African-American athlete to win the Heisman Trophy, and he wore 44. Davis was drafted by Washington and traded immediately to Cleveland to play with Jim Brown. He died of Leukemia at the age of 23, having never played in a NFL game.
No. 44 for a running back is quite intimidating, and no one wore it better than the great All-American running back and kick returner, Forrest Gump.
WR/TE: 88, 85
No. 88 epitomizes the wide receiver position. Like 99 in hockey, 9 in soccer, or 42 in baseball, 88 is usually reserved for the best players. Hall of Famers Michael Irvin, Lynn Swann, and future Hall of Famers Tony Gonzalez and Marvin Harrison all wore the 88, but as a kid, Deacon Moss from the Longest Yard and Rashid "Hot Hands" Hannon from the Little Giants made it famous.
Ochocinco (85) is one of the most well known numbers in the NFL thanks to Chad Johnson. Whether it was in sports or pop culture, everyone seemed to be talking about the man who raced horses, and change his surname to reflect his jersey number. Johnson's over the top personality and flamboyant style was nothing compared to the man who embodied the number, Rod Tidwell from Jerry Maguire.
OL/DL: 99, 69
Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp made it cool to wear 99; in fact, he made it cool to wear a lineman's number, period. No. 99 is usually worn by a defensive lineman (or in rare cases, by a linebacker), and it exemplifies a big guy in size, but with the attitude and the persona of a smaller guy. However, when I see 99, I think Jake "The Terminator" Berman from The Little Giants, and Steve Lattimer from The Program. Now those two wore 99 the best.
The best who ever wore 69 was a tenacious offensive guard that played for the University of Idaho. He was a two-time Pro Bowler, and a three-time Super Bowl winner. He is now a football analyst for ESPN, and is one of the best in the business. Loved by all, but most of all by Buffalo Bills fans, Mark Schlereth is the original No. 69, which symbolizes a fun and energetic lady's man, and Schlereth made it famous. However, Billy Bob from Varsity Blues made it iconic.
Is there any number more menacing than 56? Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor wreaked havoc wearing that number for the Giants. Taylor revolutionized the position with his great speed and pass-rushing abilities. It was a pretty popular number when Taylor played in the '80s and early '90s, but Becky "Ice Box" O'Shea from The Little Giants, Luther "Shark" Lavay from Any Given Sunday, and Daniel Bateman from The Replacements elevated the number, as well.
I know what you're thinking: 33? Seriously? It's more popular than you think. Even though you don't see it much on Sundays, I can guarantee you that you'll see it on Fridays. If you grew up in the rust belt states, or are a fan of high school football, 33 is most popular amongst high school cornerbacks. Unfortunately, they tend to play other positions or sports in college, but that number is sacred thanks to Stefan "Stef" Djordjevic from All the Right Moves.
This number classically represents every player that has ever played special teams. It is given to the the player who has no shot of ever playing on offense or defense - the underdog. It is the last number given out, and it is usually given to the player who will be cut first. Without doing any research, I'm sure it will take you awhile to name any player who has ever worn it. However, only on one occasion in history has this number had ever had any value: when Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger wore it for the Golden Domers of Notre Dame.
Of course, there were plenty of honorable mentions, but I leave it up to you to debate those in the comments below.