Two jersey numbers changed after cuts today: Perry Riley went from 53 to 56, and Jammal Brown went from 69 to 77. This kind of thing garners a lot of attention when it’s a newly-acquired superstar buying a number from some relative unknown on his new team (or when it’s a safety managing to sell his number twice in a single season), but minor tweaks like these generally go unnoticed by all by the most die-hard of fans.
Still, it obviously meant something if these guys went to the trouble — switching a number isn’t just about your jersey; almost all of a player’s gear is customized with their number — so I figured I’d ask what motivated the switch.
“This is what I wore in college,” Riley said, “that’s it. I mean, I wanted my number, but I wasn’t gonna go to the point of paying for it. It wasn’t that serious.”
This is his college number, and his Twitter account — @PR56 — still reflects that number choice. “Well,” Riley explained, “that’s why I kept my college picture up on Twitter. I was just gonna leave it at that, and then once I found out they cut Curtis [Gatewood], who had this number before, I just saw an opportunity and I asked [equipment manager Brad Berlin] and he said yes.”
London Fletcher, unquestioned leader of Riley’s position group, approved of the change. “He said 53 was ugly,” Riley said.
“You gotta be taller to play at 53,” Fletcher clarified, no doubt fearing the wrath of Marcus Washington and Marvcus Patton. “56 is better for him than 53.”
Riley tried to fire back with a, “59 is the ugliest linebacker number there is,” but Fletcher pretty much shrugged it off.
“I make it look good, though,” Fletcher said.
Riley tried again: “Might as well be wearing 60 out there.”
“Then I’d make 60 hot,” Fletcher said.
At the core of this banter, though, is a truth of the NFL locker room: some numbers are “good” and others … less so.
Take the case of practice squad wide receiver Terrence Austin.
After listening to Riley explain that he wasn’t willing to pay for 56, Austin (who wears 18) said that he would’ve offered kicker Graham Gano money for his college number 4 if the league would’ve let him wear it. I suggested that 14 might be available as a sort of wide receiver version of 4, and Austin looked at me like I had suggested he staple a live cat to his chest.
“Nah,” he said. “I don’t like it. I hate 14.”
“Yeah,” Riley added, as though this should be readily apparent, “18′s better than 14.”
Or take the case of today’s other number change, offensive tackle Jammal Brown. Brown switched to 77, which, he said, “was the number I had in high school before I switched to 55. I was in 55 my last two years of high school, but my first two years in high school I was 77.”
At the Saints, Brown wore 70, which presented something of a problem when he was traded to the Redskins, thanks to one Sam Huff. And that brings us back around to good numbers versus bad. “I guess they were trying to give me the closest thing to 70 — I think 70 here’s retired or something,” Brown said, “so they were trying to give me the closest thing, and they gave me 69. Which is just not a good number.”
“It’s like the same number, but upside down,” Brown explained. “It’s not cool.”
And what makes 77 work?
“I’ve always liked double-digit numbers ’cause they take up more of the jersey,” he said. “Makes you look bigger, maybe like I’m ’bout 6’9″ out there.”
The crazy thing about all of this is that I totally agree in both cases. Riley’s 53 didn’t look right on his build, and Brown looks much more convincing in 77. There is no reason on Earth that this should be true, but it seemed that way to me even before I spoke to them.
And I wasn’t the only one to compliment Brown. “Coach Shanahan told me, ‘Nice number,’” Brown said. “[Offensive line] Coach Foerster was like, ‘Like your new number.’ So I guess that’s good.”
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