Playing it by the numbers Uniform jersey game recalls 100 stars, 1,000 memories

Phil Jackman

July 15, 1992|By Phil Jackman

Jim Kusterer is a guy after any longtime sports fan's heart. Just the other day, Jim dispatched a letter stating, "I read an article by Joe Falls in the Detroit Free Press years ago in which he listed the numbers from 1-to-100, and next to each number the most famous popular athlete to wear that number on their nTC jersey. I think it would make an interesting article."

That's conjecture, Jim, but I will say it brings back fond memories of sitting in Tiger Stadium with Falls during a rain delay (or a dull ballgame) and composing a list, arguing heatedly most of the way.

For instance, invariably we'd get to the No. 9 and while I was shouting "Ted Williams," he'd be screaming "Gordie Howe." We soon determined a person's choice came down to what section of the country he came from, when he became a fan, what sports he favored and a bunch of other sometimes quirky criteria.

Jim Kusterer tossed out a bunch of numbers to get the ball rolling and he drew barely a disagreement from this corner: 3 -- Babe Ruth; 5 -- Brooks Robinson; 7 -- Mickey Mantle; 9 -- Howe; 12 -- Joe Namath; 14 -- Bob Cousy; 19 -- John Unitas; 21 -- Roberto Clemente; 32 -- Jim Brown; 33 -- Larry Bird; 51 -- Dick Butkus; 99 -- Wayne Gretzky.

Instantly, I knew ol' Jim didn't find use for a razor blade for the first time last week.

It's best not to procrastinate. Hear the number and, zap, let it fly. Here's one you can agree with, add to, subtract from, or whatever:

0 -- Frankie Brimsek (look him up), Johnny Olszewski; 1 -- Pee Wee Reese, Billy Martin, Bobby Richardson; 2 -- Nellie Fox, Charlie Trippi, Moses Malone; 3 -- Bambino, of course; 4 -- The guy who batted behind Ruth, Lou somebody, Bobby Orr, Bobby Doerr; 5 -- Brooks, Joe DiMaggio or Paul Hornung; 6 -- Bill Russell; 7 -- Der Mick, Bert Jones; 8 -- Yogi Berra, Carl Yastrzemski or Cal Ripken Jr.; 9 -- Thumping Theodore, Howe, Bobby Hull, George MacAfee; 10 -- Phil Rizzuto, Joe Fulks, Earl Monroe, Walt Frazier.

Note most of the low numbers go to baseball or hockey all-timers, because for years players wore only single digit or numbers rarely going much past 25 or so.

11 -- Jim Fregosi (don't ask me why), The Big E, Isiah Thomas; 12 -- Any winning quarterback in the Super Bowl for about 15 years; 13 -- Wilt Chamberlain; 14 -- Emil Sitko, Johnny Lattner, Gil Hodges; 15 -- Tommy Heinsohn, Bart Starr, Dave Johnson; 16 -- Whitey Ford, Frank Gifford, Brett Hull; 17 -- Cousy (at Holy Cross); John Havlicek; 18 -- Dave Cowens; 19 -- Unitas, although Dave McNally once said to me, "You know, it was awfully nice of the Colts to retire my number;" Bob Feller; 20 -- Frank Robinson, Tommy Mason.

Note a northeast Orioles, Yankees, Red Sox, Celtics bias is prevalent so far as background, environment and genes cast their influence.

21 -- Clemente, Dave Bing; 22 -- Ed Macauley, Jim Palmer, Bob Hayes, Allie Reynolds, Slater Martin, Bobby Layne; 23 -- Michael Jordan, Frank Ramsey; 24 -- Willie Mays; 25 -- K.C. Jones; 26 -- Boog Powell, Lydell Mitchell; 27 -- Frank Spaniel; 28 -- ; 29 -- ; 30 -- ;

31 -- Jim Taylor; 32 -- Sandy Koufax and Jim Brown yes, but Johnny Lujack, too, because his picture was on the cover of Sport magazine about a hundred years ago; Magic Johnson, O.J. Simpson, Billy Cunningham; 33 -- Bird; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; Dave "Boo" Ferriss, David Thompson; 34 -- Pat Harder, Earl Campbell, Walter Payton; 35 -- Doc Blanchard, Bill Dudley, Mike Cuellar; 36 -- Jackie Jensen (as a college football player); 37 -- Doak Walker (ditto); 38 -- ; 39 -- Hurryin' Hugh McElhenny, Roy Campanella; 40 -- Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch, Gale Sayers.

41 -- Glenn Davis, Tom Matte, Wes Unseld; 42 -- Jackie Robinson, Dick Kazmaier, Charley Taylor; 43 -- Richard Petty; 44 -- Any of those great running backs from Syracuse, Reggie Jackson; 45 -- ; 46 -- Billy Reynolds (Pitt); 47 -- Dickie Moegle (Rice); 48 -- Neil Worden (Notre Dame); 49 -- Bob Chappius (Michigan); 50 -- Donn Moomaw, Ken Strong.

51 -- Butkus; 52 -- Dick Szymanski; 53 -- ; 54 -- Don Drysdale; 55 -- LeRoy Jordan; 56 -- Jim Bouton; 57 -- Heinz; 58 --; 59 -- ; 60 -- Otto Graham.

61, 64, 65; 67, 68, 69 -- Who notices what numbers the guards are wearing until they get called for holding? 62 -- Steve Suey (Penn State guard in the '50s on Street & Smith cover); 63 and 64 -- Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston (or vice-versa); 66 -- Mario Lemieux; 70 -- The subject of the book "Fatso," Sam Huff.

71 -- Alex Karras; 72 -- The Fridge; 73 -- 75 -- Tackles; 76 -- Lou Groza (because he kicked field goals); 77 -- "The Wheaton Iceman," Rosey Grier; 78 -- Bubba Smith; 79 -- Lou Michaels; 80 -- Cloyce Box.

Note: numbers of linemen do not flow trippingly off the memory.

81 -- Andy Robustelli; 82 -- Leon Hart; 83 -- Stork Hendricks; 84 -- Tom Fears; 85 -- ; 86 -- ; 87 -- Ron Kramer (in college); 88 -- John Mackey; 89 -- Gino Marchetti, Otis Taylor; 90 -- George Webster.

91 to 95 and 97 -- All those guys in the defensive line for the Houston Oilers; 96 -- Bill Voiselle (who hailed from Ninety-Six, S.C.); 98 -- Tommy Harmon of Michigan; 99 -- Gretzky, George Mikan.

Then, of course, there's the only player to ever wear a fraction for a number, Bill Veeck's famed pinch-hitter, Eddie Gaedel. What was it, 1/8?

Take up the Kusterer Challenge, it's fun and doesn't cost a dime.

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