What’s in a number? If you are a sports fan there are probably a lot of numbers that have special meaning to you.
I guess I’m a sports nerd when it comes to numbers. For example, if I am raising the volume on my televsion remote control and stop at No. 33. The first thought that pops into my mind is that that was Larry Bird’s number.
Yeah, I know, that may be a little weird to some of you – and not so much to those sports fans like me.
From an early age numbers become important to us. For me it was No. 4. I wore that number for my Boy Scout softball team at Nolan. I guess we become superstitious once we start wearing a certain number. We had a good team at Nolan and own a couple of area championships. So in future years I always wanted that number when possible.
Then one of my favorite college players of all time, former UK point guard Kyle Macy, wore No. 4 on his jersey. Of course we shared first names so that made the number even more special to me.
Growing up as a sports fan, you start to learn the numbers of your favorite players and the one worn by some of the best players in the college and pros.
Many of us grew up fans of the Big Red Machine of Cincinnati. I’m sure many of you were fans of Pete Rose and Johnny Bench. I also know that if I asked you what numbers they donned on their jerseys, you would quickly blurt out 14 and 5. Other Reds players like Tony Perez had No. 23 and Joe Morgan was No. 8.
I grew up a Boston Celtics fan from a young age and started following them in the late 1960s, but definitely really became a fan from the 1970s and on. My favorite player was John Havlicek who wore an unusual number for basketball, 17. But I will always know that “Hondo” was 17.
I knew Bill Russell was No. 6 and Dave Cowens No. 18, both two of my favorite players and former Celtic greats.
There are many numbers shared by great players in all professional sports. No. 33 was not only worn by Bird, but also by Kareen Abdul Jabbar and Scottie Pippen, so let the arguments begin who was the best to wear a certain number.
No. 32 was worn by Los Angeles Laker great Magic Johnson and also by former Celtic Kevin McHale and Utah Jazz legend Karl Malone.
Former WVU great Jerry West, who went on to become one of the greatest NBA players and is known as the “Logo” for the sport, wore No. 44 for the Lakers. That number has an even more special personal meaning for me, it was my son’s number when he played for the Williamson Wolfpack.
The number 44 has been worn by many “power hitters” icluding Hank Aaron, in my mind still the career home run king. Other notable examples include Willie McCovey and Reggie Jackson.
Of course there is the iconic No. 23 worn by Michael Jordan. How many youngsters bought the red and black Chicago Bulls jersey because of Jordan? His number is still popular and many athletes try to get that 23 on their jerseys.
You had those unusual numbers like the double 00 worn by Celtic great Robert “The Chief” Parish. Many players steer clear of No. 13 because of superstition, but many players have embraced No. 13.
Numbers 0 and 00 are no longer allowed in the NFL, but they were issued in the league before the number standardization in 1973. George Plimpton wore 0 during a brief preseason stint at quarterback for the Detroit Lions. Jim Otto (“aught-oh”) wore number 00 during most of his career with the Oakland Raiders.
Cleveland Brown great Jim Brown had No. 32 and is one of the many greats who was issued that number. The now infamous O.J. Simpson also wore No. 32.
When playing in Midget League or Little League sports, you didn’t always get your choice of numbers. The older kids on the teams usually got first choice, or you had to take what uniform fit you best and go with whatever number it was, whether you wanted it or not. That happend a few times for me.
The number 42 has been retired by Major League Baseball in honor of the great Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier. The number is worn by every player one day during the season.
You had the number 24 worn by arguably the best baseball player ever, Willie Mays. New York Yankee great Babe Ruth wore No. 3, while his teammate Lou Gherig donned No. 4. Ruth was No. 3 and batted third for the Yankees, whileGehrig batted fourth, thus wore No. 4.
Here is another interesting fact.
In his first career games, Cincinnati Reds outfielder Eric Davis did not have a jersey number. He was just called up to the team while they were on the road and they didn’t have a uniform with a number available.
This day and age players will even try to buy a number from another teammate when they are traded or signed with a new team. Sometimes the current player will sell the number, especially if the newer player has a big contract.
Of course most quarterbacks have a smaller number, usually between one and 19. Future NFL Hall of Famer Peyton Manning will always be known for wearing No. 18.
Many numbers in football come because of the position you play. Running backs and defensive backs are usually 20 to 45, linebackers 50-59, offensive lineman 50-59 and wide receivers and tight ends have numbers in the 80s, 80-89.
Players who come in from college try to get their old school number, but it doesn’t always happen.
There are many more iconic numbers and just too many to write about in one column.
You can see jersey numbers mean a lot to certain players.
So what’s in a number? In sports – it means the world to many players.
And to many sports fans also.
(Kyle Lovern is the Managing Editor for the Civitas Media Mountain District including the Williamson Daily News and Logan Banner. He can be contacted at [email protected] or at 304-235-4242, ext. 2277 or on Twitter @KyleLovern.)