NFL Players, By the Numbers

Prior to 1973, any NFL player could wear any number he chose, regardless of what position he played. Celebrated examples included Sid Luckman's No. 42, Otto Graham's No. 60, Sammy Baugh's No. 33, and John Hadl's No. 21, all of whom played quarterback, and linebacker Mike Curtis, No. 32. And who could forget Jim Otto and Ken Burrough and their double zero?

But on April 5, 1973, this came to a halt, when a mandatory jersey numbering system was adopted, compelling quarterbacks, placekickers, and punters to wear No. 1 through No. 19; running backs, cornerbacks and safeties, 20 through 49; centers and linebackers, 50 through 59; defensive linemen and offensive guards and tackles, 60 through 79; and tight ends and wide receivers, 80 through 89. 90 through 99 were barred, as was 00; however, players who were active prior to 1973 were not required to change their numbers to conform to the new system — which is why Philadelphia's Harold Carmichael was allowed to keep his number 17 until he retired in 1984.

Some revisions were made later, with 90 through 99 brought back for defensive ends and outside linebackers (this is how Reggie White got to wear No. 92), 10 through 19 was approved for wide receivers, and 40 through 49 was authorized for inside or middle linebackers (see Alex Anzalone of the Saints).

For some reason, college football never bothered to do this — so that DeSean Jackson, who was able to rock No. 1 at the University of California, had to change his number to 10 when he was drafted by the Eagles in 2008 (Jackson, whose white No. 10 jersey was seen in the 2012 movie "Silver Linings Playbook," was forced to switch to No. 11 first at Washington and then at Tampa Bay because a teammate already had No. 10 in both cases, returned to No. 10 when he returned to the Eagles this year).

The same scenario has arisen this season, involving both the same team and the same position: Greg Ward, who wore No. 6 during the preseason and then was relegated to the practice squad, was promoted to the active roster last week — but under the rules he was forced to change his number, sporting No. 84 in the Week 12 loss to Seattle.

The ostensible reason the NFL made this change was to make the officials' jobs easier. But maybe if a referee can't tell a tight end from an offensive tackle, he should be doing something else for a living?

And that in turn points up another issue: the vast majority of NFL officials do have other jobs — such as insurance salesmen and the like, during the offseason. But make officiating a year-round job, with the offseason being used by the refs to study game films, etc. to sharpen their craft, and the entire quality of officiating can be elevated.

Of course, this would involve paying the officials more. But with the owners counting on untold riches from an extended regular season — maybe even 17 games played over 20 weeks (the CFL went to playing 18 games over 21 weeks in its just-concluded season) — they can well afford it.

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