The NFL jersey number system must evolve with the game


A few years ago, I got into an argument with a friend after a Yankees game. After being forcibly marinated in team history for nearly three hours (go Orioles) the only line I could find to applaud one of the most legendary franchises in American sports history was how ridiculous it looked that their top player wore No 99.

It was a half-hearted and winding point about how the club were so full of themselves and pulled out so many numbers that they will have no choice but to have their future top players all wearing numbers hockey (no single digits are available anymore, the smallest available being 11. Numbers 15, 16, 20, 23, 32, 37, 42, 44, 46, 49 and 51 are also not available ).

It was also an unsuccessful point because I didn’t believe it. Aaron Judge looks great in number 99. It’s intimidating. It’s also a nice stylistic clash between traditional, simple uniforms and the kind of wild numbers you put on a Ricky Vaughn tribute jersey. Aside from the craft beer tent behind the right-hand bleachers, this seems like one of the few things the Yankees voluntarily embraced in the world that took place after their heyday in the late 1990s.

That’s a long way to say that if the Yankees can embrace that – a franchise so enamored with itself and its tradition that it could be its own Connecticut boys’ school – so does the NFL. There is no excuse.

At their next meetings, owners have the opportunity to vote on a change to the current restrictions on the NFL jersey number. A Kansas City Chiefs proposal calls on the league to allow running backs, full-backs, tight ends and wide receivers to wear numbers 1-49 and 80-89, linebackers to wear 1-59 and 90 to 99 and defensive backs to wear any number between 1 and 49. It looks like something that will get a small handful of yes votes and a tidal wave of no from the cigar-stained country club costumes running the place claiming a kind of false traditionalism, which will reflect, of course, their real lack of knowledge about the league they have inherited.

A ride through the Hall of Fame charter class shows Sammy Baugh, an accomplished defensive back, quarterback and punter who wore No. 33. Dutch Clark, a running back who wore No. 7. Red Grange wore # 77. Johnny “Blood” McNally wore # 57, 24, 20, 14, 35, 26, 55 and 15. And although that largely reflects the myriad of positions early players had to Occupy during barn days in both directions of the game, the fact remains that football traditions are rooted in certain choices of arbitrary numbers that do not always correspond to position guidelines.

The current list of proposed owners’ meeting rules is excellent. The Ravens’ brilliant overtime proposition, which would finally introduce some reason and analytical decision-making into the process, is on the agenda. Sky Judge, which would allow officials to get help from an individual seeing the game more clearly in the booth, is also, thankfully, being set up to be dismissed. The Eagles reaffirmed the Alliance of American Football-style rule that a team can forgo a side kick for a fourth and 15 attempts on its own 25-yard line.

All of these are destined to die on the vine because one of the popular kids will laugh at it as non-traditional and the rest of the crowd, determined to send it, will follow suit in hopes of escaping with a vote. fast and no frills.

Allowing players to wear a wider range of numbers, however, cannot be called a non-traditionalist. Andy Reid, who had played down the in-game kicking rule fourth and 15 in favor of being an “old man” admiring “the integrity of the game,” coaches the club who proposed to allow defensive backs and forwarders balloon with single digit jersey numbers. This might be the kind of muscle they’ll need to start turning the tide.

Presumably we’ll hear something about jersey sales; maybe that’s unfair for a kid who bought a Jalen Ramsey jersey (he said he would move up to number 2), although that point is also largely illogical. Seven of the 10 most popular jerseys sold in the NFL last year were quarterbacks that would not be affected by the proposal.

Numerical constraints are sucking up much of the game’s remaining lifespan. It’s time to loosen our ties and slowly start reducing the numbness. The ultimate goal, of course, is to look like a college game where really tall people have their bellies hanging out under their single-digit jerseys. For now, we’re going to take something that looks even slightly like what the Yankees have in Judge right now; a recognition that things don’t always have to be the same.


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