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The Importance of Jersey Numbers in Sports (Vol. 2)

I will wear whatever number they want me to wear, if that's 15, I'll wear 15. If that's 95, I'll wear 95. I don't really care just as long as I can wear a Denver Broncos jersey." -- Tim Tebow shortly after the 2010 NFL Draft

The arrival of rookies and free agents every offseason in Denver causes a jersey number shake-up. Many stories have been noted (as well as missed) over the years concerning the Broncos' jersey numbers, from Boss Bailey paying Kenny Peterson for #97 to Knowshon Moreno wearing #27 in honor of Darrent Williams. This offseason was no exception for jersey number transactions.

Since 2006, the Broncos have drafted six Wide Receivers: Brandon Marshall, Domenik Hixon, Eddie Royal, Kenny McKinley, Demaryius Thomas, and Eric Decker. Many skill players in college sports wear single digit or low numbers. For many receivers, that often carries over into the Pro's. While at Virginia Tech, Eddie Royal wore number 4, after being drafted by the Broncos he picked #3, as #4 was already taken. The No Fun League (NFL) then came along and pointed out Rule 5, Section 1, Article 4: ". . . numerals must be by playing position as follows: . . . 10-19 for wide receivers if 80-89 are all otherwise assigned." Royal was then forced to switch his number, he chose #19. The last Bronco WR to wear #19 for the Broncos was Brian Clark in 2006. A year before Clark, in 2005, Jerry Rice joined the Broncos, and wore #19 in the preseason before retiring. The Broncos would love if Royal had half the kind of career Rice had.

Similarly to Royal, Decker wore a low number in college that was not available in Denver, and was in accordance to Rule 5, Section 1, Article 4. His number - 7. Obviously that number is retired, as it belongs to the greatest Bronco of them all, John Elway. Fortunately for Decker though, number 87 was available, the number of his childhood hero - Ed McCaffrey. Remarkably, Decker wore number 7 in college, and was the 7th WR drafted in the 2010 NFL Draft, he also was the 87th overall player selected. Decker seemed excited about the number, writing on his facebook page:

“Ed McCaffrey wore the number loud and proud and I feel the obligation to do the same! Also being the 87th pick this year, it was meant to be!! Hope to see some of you all get that Broncos 87 jersey! :) ”

McCaffrey sent Decker a signed #87 McCffrey jersey shortly after selecting his number.

Unlike Decker, Demaryius Thomas' new number doesn't have as much significance to him.

"As for 88, I really don't have a connection with that number."

That's not to say there's no significance to the number,

"But they told me the last time a wide receiver wore 88 was when the Broncos won a championship, so that's good."

Thomas wore number 8 while at Georgia Tech, so he has probably adjusted to his new number easily. The last Bronco Wide Receiver to wear #88 in Denver was Sir Mawn Wilson in 1997, the year the Broncos won their first ever Super Bowl. The Broncos drafted Thomas in hopes of winning a few more with him contributing as the eventual #1 WR.

Former Broncos Domenik Hixon and Brandon Marshall wore numbers 12 and 15 respectively. Number 12 is currently worn by Matthew Willis, a young wide reciever who will be fighting for a roster spot in training camp, much like Hixon did towards the end of his stint with the Broncos. Brandon Marshall's #15 was vacated just weeks before the 2010 NFL Draft, in which the Broncos drafted Tim Tebow, who wore the same number during his Heisman winning college career at Florida. Denver is looking for Tebow to put up Pro Bowl numbers in the near future, much like his number's predecessor did, only this time, #15 will have a team-first attitude. We can't overlook Kenny McKinley, whose college jersey number was 11. Unlike Royal, Marshall, Thomas, and Dekcer, McKinley's number was avaiable when arriving in Denver, and permitted by the NFL to wear.

Jersey numbers aren't as important to some players as they are to others, but that's not to say every player doesn't have a favorite number. In Volume 1 of What's in a number, we looked at the numbers 22 and 9, worn currently by Alphonso Smith and Brady Quinn respectively.


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