Island of Jersey – Part 3: Jersey numbers

Sure, the ball is a symbol, the helmet an archetype, but mostly for the American football fan, the supporter’s tool is the jersey. Ultra recent or vintage, tight or baggy, dog pajamas or exposed under glasses, the jersey allows you to celebrate your favorite player or franchise, and—under certain conditions—can be a fashion accessory.

But this is a long and complicated story, although its operations are very simple. For a few days, the island of Jersey takes you on a discovery tour.

Already Posted: Part 1: Swimwear, How Does It Work? – Part 2: Names of Players –

Numbers in text

American football jerseys place a lot of emphasis on number, which covers a large area, which is quite exceptional in professional sports. All teams have large numbers on the front and back of their jerseys, and most have smaller TV numbers on the shoulders or sleeves. Thus the players are continuously identified.

Beyond questions of referee or media identification, jerseys with the numbers 50 to 79 are prohibited – except with referee approval in an alignment – and these numbers are useful for passing games from a pass goal in front. More typically, they also allow the quarterback to shape his passes because he must touch his receiver “in the numbers.”

By Regulation (Rule 5, Section 1, Article 2 And Rule 5, Section 4, Article 3, Item 3), players are allowed to wear the numbers 1 through 99, but prior to the 1973 alignment, 0 and 00 were worn, as well as 100 (twice). The formalized numbers 01 through 09 are not used in professional football, but may technically be available.

Also, no two players can be on the court at the same time in the same number. So it does not theoretically prohibit two players from wearing the same number.

A story about status

The counting system in American football is based on a player’s “primary” position. Accuracy is important in the offense because of the difference between players who are qualified to catch a pass and those who are not.

NFL jersey numbers derive from the “single wing” systems of the 1920s and 1930s. College football. When the NFL and AAFC leagues merged (All America Football Conference) in 1950, no two organizations had the same traditions.

AAFC players were allowed to keep their numbers, but due to the confusion created, the league standardized its system in 1952. As a result, some players like Otto Graham or Norm Van Brocklin were forced to change numbers in their careers.

Mandatory credit: Darryl Norenberg-USA TODAY Sports

i’American Football League With a few exceptions, the 60s have broadly the same numbers as the NFL. After the 1970 merger, the new NFL implemented a standard system in 1973, with a retention rule for veteran players. The last time defensive end Julius Adams took advantage of this rule was in 1985.

Since 1973, five changes have been made to the rule:

– In 1979, defensive backs were allowed to wear numbers 90 through 99 and centers 60 through 79.

– In 1984, linebackers could wear numbers 90 through 99, following the development of 3-4 safeties and edge rushers.

– Since 2004 recipients between 10 and 19 are allowed to respond to the shortage of jerseys in 80.

– Since 2010, defensive linemen may have numbers 50 through 59.

– Finally, in 2015, numbers 40 through 49 could be assigned to linebackers, this time to check players who play hybrid safety-linebacker positions.

Additionally, exceptions are granted if a player changes position during his career or if a team does not have a number. However, the league denies accommodations on an individual basis. In 2006, Reggie Bush was denied the right to wear his collegiate number 5.

Position numbers
QB/K/P 1-9 10-19
RB 20-29 30-39 40-49
WR 10-19 80-89
TE/H 40-49 80-89
OL 50-59 60-69 70-79
D.L 50-59 60-69 70-79 90-99
LP 40-49 50-59 90-99
DB 20-29 30-39 40-49
LS 40-49 50-59 60-69 70-79 80-89 90-99

Available story

A player joining a franchise can claim any number as per his convenience and position. Usually, the team will accept his request if the shirt is available.

Over the years, some owners have chosen to use or retire numbers to honor former players who shined with their team. The league recognizes this practice but does not encourage it, as a club may be forced to “re-introduce” a shirt if necessary to equip a player. When a team decides to reuse a retired jersey following the signing of a big free agent or the drafting of a big prospect, the whole process of “knowledge” often occurs among young and old. Not to offend anyone. So recently, Joe Theismann (QB, Redskins) asked Dwayne Haskins (QB, Ohio State) to meet with him before letting him wear his three-decade-unused #7 in Washington.

A player may come into a team that has already been assigned “his” number. This often leads to negotiations between the owner and the newcomer with recovery or possible compensation. In recent years, there has been a trend towards amicable agreements for charities to pay opponents.

(Sources:, NFL,,, Mitchell & Ness,, Uni-Watch, Thumper300zx, kirbyfortyfour,,, Uniform Database, (NFL Jersey Fan Paradise,, Ebay, Wikipedia)

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