In team sports, the squad number, shirt number, jersey number, sweater number, uniform number or simply a number is the number worn on a player's uniform, to identify and distinguish each player (and sometimes others, such as officials) from others wearing the same or similar uniforms. The number is typically displayed on the rear of the jersey, often accompanied by the surname. Sometimes it is also displayed on the front and/or sleeves, or on the player's shorts or headgear. It is used to identify the player to officials, other players, official scorers, and spectators; in some sports, it is also indicative of the player's position.
The International Federation of Football History and Statistics, an organization of association football historians, traces the origin of squad numbers to a 1911 Australian football match in Sydney.
In association football, numbers were traditionally assigned based on a player's position on the field, with the starting 11 players wearing 1-11, and the substitutes wearing higher numbers. The goalkeeper would generally wear number 1, then defenders, midfield players and forwards in ascending order.
Numbers being assigned to each player in a squad was initiated for the 1954 World Cup, where each man in a country's 22-man squad wore a specific number for the duration of the tournament. In 1993, England's Football Association switched to persistent squad numbers, abandoning the mandatory use of 1–11 for the starting line-up. It became standard in the FA Premier League in the 1993-94 season, with names printed above the numbers. Most European top leagues adopted the system over the next five years.
Very high numbers, the most common being 88, are often reserved and used as a placeholder, when a new player has been signed and played by the manager prior to having a formal squad number.
Australian rules football
In Australian rules football, players traditionally wear numbers on the backs of their guernseys, although some competitions (the WAFL is one example) may feature teams who wear smaller numbers on the front, usually on one side of the chest. The number being worn is usually not relevant to the player's position on the ground, although occasionally a club will allocate the Number 1 guernsey or an otherwise prestigious number to the team captain (such as the Richmond football club, which allocates Number 17 to its team captain in honor of Jack Dyer, who wore that number with distinction). Port Adelaide assigns Number 1 to the team captain. In these situations, it is usually customary for players who reliquish the captaincy to switch to another.
AFL clubs generally do not retire numbers (although Geelong temporarily retired the Number 5 between 1998 and 2005 after the retirement of Gary Ablett Sr.), but instead will often choose to give their more prestigious numbers to highly-touted draftees or young up-and-coming players who are shown to have promise and may share certain traits with the previous wearer, such as position or playing style. For example, as of 2010, Michael Hurley inherited the Number 18 jumper left vacant by the retired Matthew Lloyd, effectively keeping the No.18 guernsey in Essendon's goalsquare for another era.
Sons of famous players will often take on their father's number, especially if they play at the same club. Sergio Silvagni and his son Stephen, for example, both wore Number 1 for Carlton. Matthew Scarlett wears his father John's Number 30 at Geelong. In contrast, some sons of famous players also prefer to take on other numbers in the hopes that it will reduce the burden of having to fulfill high expectations. Notable examples of this are Gary Ablett Jr. at Geelong (who wore Number 29 instead of his father's Number 5) and Jobe Watson at Essendon, who passed up Tim's Number 32 in favour of Number 4.
Clubs will often feature retiring champions "passing on" their famous guernsey numbers to the chosen successors, usually in ceremonial fashion, such as a club function or press conference.
A system of assignment of jersey numbers was initiated in American football's NFL in 1952; it was updated and made more rigid in 1973, and has been modified slightly since then. Numbers are always worn on the front and back of a player's jersey, and so-called "TV numbers" are worn on the sleeve or shoulder. The Cincinnati Bengals were the last NFL team to wear jerseys without TV numbers on a regular basis in 1980, though since then several NFL teams have worn throwback uniforms without them, as their jersey designs predated the introduction of TV numbers. Players' last names, however, are required on all uniforms, even throwbacks which predate the last name rule. Since 2008, TV numbers have not been mandatory under NFL rules.
Some uniforms also feature numbers either on the front, back, or sides of the helmet (in pro football, these were most prominently worn on the San Diego Chargers "powder-blue" uniforms). Players have often asked the NFL for an exception to the numbering rule. In 2006, for example, New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush requested to keep the number 5 he wore in college. His request was declined, and he was assigned number 25 by the team.
Below is the numbering system established by the NFL, and in place since 1973:
- 1–9: Quarterbacks, kickers, and punters .
- 10–19: Same as 1–9, plus (since 2004) wide receivers only .
- 20–39: Running backs, fullbacks, cornerbacks, and safeties .
- 40-49: Same as 20–39, plus (on occasion) tight ends.
- 50–59: Linebackers and centers.
- 60–79: Offensive linemen and defensive linemen.
- 80–89: Wide receivers and tight ends.
- 90–99: Linebackers and defensive linemen.
Numbers 0 and 00 are no longer allowed, but they were issued in the NFL before the number standardization in 1973. George Plimpton wore 0 during a brief preseason stint at quarterback for the Detroit Lions. Jim Otto ("aught-oh") wore number "00" during most of his career with the Oakland Raiders. Wide receiver Ken Burrough of the Houston Oilers also wore "00" during his NFL career in the 1970s.
This NFL numbering system is based on a player's primary position. Any player wearing any number may play at any position at any time (though players wearing numbers 50–79 must let the referee know that they are playing out of position by reporting as an "ineligible number in an eligible position"). It is not uncommon for running backs to line up at wide receiver on certain plays, or to have a lineman or linebacker play at fullback or tight end in short yardage situations. In preseason games, when teams have expanded rosters, players may wear numbers that are outside of the above rules. When the final 53-player roster is established, they are reissued numbers within the above guidelines.
This numbering system originated in football's past when all teams were using some variation of the single wing formation on offense. When teams switched to the T-formation in the 1930s and 40s, the numbers were taken with them to whatever position evolved from the old single wing position. The system was first used in college football and was used only informally in the NFL until 1952; under the original, somewhat informal system, the backs were numbered 1–4, and the line 5–8.
Tailbacks or left halfbacks therefore had a number in the 10s. The blocking back, which evolved into the quarterback in the T formation, had a number in the 20s. The fullback had a number in the 30s and the right halfback had a number in the 40s. On the offensive line, the center was in the 50s, the guards were in the 60s, the tackles were in the 70s and the ends were in the 80s.
In earlier times, defensive players would wear a number that reflected their offensive position, as many players played both offense and defense. For example, quarterbacks and halfbacks would usually play in the defensive backfield and so had numbers in the 10s, 20s and 40s. Fullbacks were often linebackers and had numbers in the 30s. Centers and guards were linebackers as well and had numbers in the 50s and 60s respectively. Guards and tackles played the defensive guard and tackle positions and had numbers in the 60s and 70s respectively. Ends had numbers in the 80s: split ends would be cornerbacks and tight ends would be defensive ends.
The All-America Football Conference (AAFC) had a different numbering system with quarterbacks in the 60s, fullbacks in the 70s, halfbacks in the 80s, ends in the 50s, tackles in the 40s, guards in the 30s and centers in the 20s. When the AAFC merged with the NFL in 1950, the AAFC players kept their old uniform numbers which caused confusion and resulted in the NFL moving to a standard numbering system in 1952. This resulted in many established players having to change their numbers in mid-career. Most notably, Cleveland Browns quarterback Otto Graham had to switch from number 60 to number 14. Though the Hall of Famer was more well-known with number 60, the Browns ironically retired the number 14 in his honor while number 60 remains in circulation. His fellow Hall of Fame teammate, Lou Groza, was allowed to keep number 76 (also retired by the Browns) despite playing kicker until his retirement in 1967 since he was also an offensive tackle.
College and high school
In college football, a less rigid numbering system is employed. The only rule is that members of the offensive line (centers, guards, and tackles) that play in ineligible positions (those that may not receive forward passes) must wear numbers between 50-79. Informally, certain conventions still hold, and players often wear numbers in the ranges similar to their NFL counterparts; though the lowest numbers are often the highest prestige, and thus are often worn by players at any position. Kickers and punters are frequently numbered in the 40's or 90's, which are the least in-demand numbers on a college roster. The increased flexibility in numbering of NCAA rosters is needed since NCAA rules allow 85-player rosters; thus teams would frequently exhaust the available numbers for a position under the NFL rules.
Individual schools often have superstitions or traditions involving certain numbers. It may be a great honor to be given the number "1" uniform, for example, at the University of Michigan (worn by Anthony Carter, Derrick Alexander, David Terrell, and Braylon Edwards), or to be linebacker Number 55 at the University of Southern California. Perhaps most famously, Syracuse University historically reserved number "44" for its best running backs, including Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, and Floyd Little, finally retiring the number permanently in 2005.
One oddity of college football is that the same squad number can be shared by two (or more) players, e.g., an offensive and a defensive player. Usually one of the players is a reserve who rarely plays but there are exceptions: for example on the 2009 USC Trojans squad, the #2 is shared by All-American defensive back Taylor Mays and starting running back C.J. Gable. In the 2008 season #2 was worn by Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor and by cornerback Malcolm Jenkins. In the 2009 and 2010 seasons, the #5 is worn by South Carolina starting Quarterback Stephen Garcia and starting Cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore was also used as a Wildcat quarterback in games against Clemson in 2009 and Southern Miss in 2010. The player change, since both players wore the same number, caused some confusion among opposing defenses, but was legal, since both players weren't on the field at the same time.
One of the more unusual football uniform numbering anamolies took place in what has become perhaps one of college football's most iconic games, the 1984 matchup between University of Miami and Boston College. In this game, BC quarterback Doug Flutie bested the highly-ranked Hurricanes and their quarterback, Bernie Kosar, on the final play of the game, when he found his roommate, Gerard Phelan, in the end zone to steal the win for the Eagles. While that play, and the game, may be etched in the memories of every American football fan, what is little remembered is the unusual fact that both quarterbacks wore numbers higher than the standard 1-19; Kosar wore the number 20, and Flutie wore the number 22.
Canadian football follows the same general rules as American football, with some minor exceptions. In the original numbering system, offensive linemen wore numbers from 40-69 and numbers 70-79 were allocated to receivers. A rules change in 2008 switched numbers 40-49 from offensive linemen to eligible receivers. Any eligible player, whether he is a quarterback, running back, receiver, or a kicker, can wear any eligible number. Doug Flutie wore his Boston College number of 22 when he played quarterback for the BC Lions and No. 20 for the Calgary Stampeders. Currently, numbers 1-49 and 70-89 are eligible while 50-69 are not. Numbers 90-99 are generally worn on defense although in the early days of the Canadian Football League, 90s were common on offense. The number 0 is also allowed in the CFL. A defensive player can wear any number he chooses, regardless of the position he plays.
In rugby league each of the thirteen positions on the field traditionally has an assigned shirt number, for example fullback is "1". In recent times squad numbering has been used for marketing purposes in the Super League competition. In Super League each player is given a squad number for the whole season, the first choice starting line-up at the beginning of the season will usually be given shirts 1-13 but as interchanges (substitutions) occur during the game and injuries etcetera occur during the season, it is less likely that the number a player wears will match the position they are playing.
When included in the starting line-up, a player's rugby shirt number usually determines their position (or the other way round). Numbers 1-8 are the 'forwards', and 9-15 the 'backs'. Rugby union even has a position named simply after the shirt normally worn by that player, the "Number 8", although it is not necessary for the player in the "Number 8" position to be wearing the number eight on his shirt. Several clubs (Leicester and Bristol particularly) used letters instead of numbers on shirts, although have now fallen into line with the rest of the clubs.
The 1995-96 World Series Cup in Australia saw the first use of shirt numbers in international cricket, with most players assigned their number and some players getting to choose their number, most notably Shane Warne wearing 23 as it was his number when he played junior Aussie Rules for St Kilda Football Club. Other countries soon adopted the practice, although players would typically have different numbers from tournament to tourna, and it wasn't until several years later that players would consistently wear the same number year-round. Ricky Ponting (14) still uses the same number as in that initial season.
Player numbering was first used in the Cricket World Cup in 1999, where the captains wore the number 1 jersey and the rest of the squad was numbered between 2 and 15. An exception was that South African captain Hansie Cronje retained his usual number 5 with opener Gary Kirsten wearing the number 1 which he had also done previously.
Shirt numbers no longer remain exclusive to the short forms of the game, and navy blue numbers are now used on the playing whites in the Sheffield Shield to aid spectators in distinguishing players, but this innovation is unlikely to be used in Test cricket in the next few years. However, a recent fashion that has been taken up by several nations is the process of giving a player making his Test debut an appearance number, along with his Test cap, for reasons of historical continuity. The number is in the order a player makes his Test debut. If two or more players make their debut in the same match, they are given numbers alphabetically based on surname. For example, Thomas Armitage is Test player Number 1 for England. He made his debut in the very first Test Match, against Australia, on 15 March 1877, and was first in alphabetical order amongst that England XI. Ajmal Shahzad is the most recent test debutant for England, making his debut on 5 June 2010 against Bangladesh. He is Test player Number 650 for England. These numbers can be found on a player's Test uniform, but it is always in discreet small type on the front, and never displayed prominently.
American basketball leagues at all levels traditionally use single and double digits between 0 and 5 (i.e. 0, 00, 1-5, 10-15, 20-25, 30-35, 40-45, and 50-55). The NCAA and most amateur competitions mandate that only these numbers be used. This eases non-verbal communication between referees, who use fingers to denote a player's number, and the official scorer. In college basketball, single-digit players' numbers are officially recorded as having a leading zero. Teams can have either a "0" or "00", but they cannot have both.
The National Basketball Association has always allowed other numbers between 0 and 99, but use of digits 6 through 9 is less common than 0 through 5 since most players tend to keep the numbers that they had previously worn in college. However, with the increase in the number of international players, and other players who have been on national (FIBA) teams who change NBA teams and cannot keep their number with the previous team because another player has worn it or is retired, players have adopted such higher numbers (Patrick Ewing with #6 in Orlando). When Michael Jordan retired in 1993, the Chicago Bulls retired his 23; when he came out of retirement he had to wear 45 until they unretired his 23.
Players in FIBA-organized competitions for national teams, including the Olympic Games and World Championships, must wear numbers from 4 to 15. Under FIBA rules, national federations can also allow any numbers with a maximum of 2 digits for their own competitions; this rule also applies in transnational club competitions, most notably the Euroleague.
Ice hockey does not have any formalized uniform numbering rules. Historically, in the National Hockey League, starting goaltenders wore Number 1, the backup goalie wore Number 30, and the other players (the "skaters") wore low numbers (generally Number 2 to Number 29). It is still traditional for goaltenders to wear either Number 1 or numbers near Number 30 (in a range from approximately Number 29 to Number 50). Some well-known goalies with non-traditional numbers include José Théodore (Number 60), Braden Holtby (Number 70), Kevin Weekes (Number 80), and Ron Hextall (Number 27; Number 72 when Number 27 was unavailable). Evgeni Nabokov and Ed Belfour have both worn Number 20 in honor of their mentor (and in Belfour's case, a position coach at one time in his career), legendary Russian goalie Vladislav Tretiak.
In recent years, it has become more common for players to wear numbers in the 30s and above. This is due in part to many teams having retired lower numbers. The Montreal Canadiens, for example, have only two single-digit numbers left un-retired (6 and 8) and the Boston Bruins also have two single-digit numbers left un-retired (1 and 6).
A number of players have worn higher numbers up through Number 99 (though Number 99 itself is now retired league-wide in the NHL to honor Wayne Gretzky). For example, Jaromír Jágr wore Number 68 in honor of the year of the Prague Spring and his grandfather's death; Alexander Mogilny wore Number 89 to honor the year he defected to the United States from the Soviet Union; Sidney Crosby wears Number 87 because his birth date is August 7, 1987, written "8/7/87" in the U.S. date format; Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks wears number 88 because of his birth year, 1988; and Wojtek Wolski chose 86, representing his birth year of 1986, when he joined the Phoenix Coyotes, as the number 8 he wore with Colorado wasn't available.
Doubling of a single-digit number has occasionally been used for players whose numbers were unavailable. For example, Phil Esposito switched to Number 77 when he joined the New York Rangers where Number 7 was worn by Rod Gilbert; and Ray Bourque, who succeeded Esposito in wearing Number 7 for the Boston Bruins, switched to Number 77 to allow the Bruins to retire Esposito's original Number 7. That same season, Paul Coffey switched to Number 77 when he was traded from Edmonton to Pittsburgh. In addition, Gretzky wore Number 99 because Number 9, which he wore in tribute to Gordie Howe, was taken on his junior team. Going the other way, Todd Bertuzzi, who wore Number 44 for many years, switched to Number 4 when he was traded to the Anaheim Ducks in 2007, since Number 44 was already in use by alternate captain Rob Niedermayer. Jordin Tootoo wears number 22, as the numbers "two two" are pronounced the same as his last name. In a similar vein, Mike Commodore attempted to wear number 64, a reference to the famed computer when he was acquired by Detroit, but ended up wearing the more traditional 22. Sometimes numbers are even reversed. Scott Gomez wore the number 19 when he played for the NY Rangers (he wore 23 during his tenure with the NJ Devils) until he joined the Montreal Canadiens, who had retired that number in honor of Larry Robinson. Instead of changing to a completely different number, he chose 91 and finally switched to 11 for season 2010-11.
Number 84 was the final number to have never been worn in the NHL, until Canadiens forward Guillaume Latendresse first wore the number on September 29, 2006, although he has reversed the number (48) since joining the Minnesota Wild. The least-used number is 69, worn for two games in 2003-04 by Mel Angelstad of the Washington Capitals. The last player to wear a form of zero in the NHL was Martin Biron, who wore Number 00 with the Buffalo Sabres in three games in 1995-96. By the time he returned to the Sabres in 1998, the number zero, single digit or double digit, was not allowed anymore, forcing him to wear Number 43. Only three other NHL players have worn number 0 or 00: Paul Bibeault (0), John Davidson (00), and Neil Sheehy (0).
In most auto racing leagues, cars are assigned numbers. The configuration of stock cars, however, makes the numbers much more prominent. (Aerodynamic open-wheel cars don't have nearly the amount of flat surface that a stock car has.) Numbers are often synonymous with the drivers that carry them. Dale Earnhardt, Sr. is associated with the number 3 (although that number is actually associated more with its owner, Richard Childress, who has decided to take #3 out of reserve in the Camping World Truck Series when his grandson Austin Dillon races), while Richard Petty is associated with Number 43, Wood Brothers Racing with Number 21, and Jeff Gordon to the Number 24.
In NASCAR, numbers are assigned to owners and not specific drivers. Drivers that spend a long time on a single race team often keep their numbers as long as they drive for the same owners. When drivers change teams, however, they take a new number that is owned by that team. Jeff Burton, for example, has raced for 3 different teams, and had 4 different numbers in that time. In 1994 and 1995 he raced the Number 8 car, then owned by the Stavola Brothers. From 1996 to mid-2004 he raced for Roush Racing, and drove the Number 99 car. After leaving Roush Racing for Richard Childress Racing, he changed to car Number 30 (for the rest of the 2004 season) and now races Number 31 (also an RCR car). The Number 99 car he used to drive for Roush is now driven by Carl Edwards. When Dale Earnhardt Jr, having raced under #8 at Cup-level moved from DEI to Hendrick Motorsports he attempted to take the number with him. When that failed Hendricks was able to secure the #88 from Robert Yates Racing.
Formula One car numbers started to be permanently allocated for the whole season in 1974. Prior to this numbers were allocated on a race-by-race basis by individual organisers. From 1974 to the mid 1990s, the numbers 1 and 2 would be allocated to the reigning world champion and his team mate, swapping with the previous year's champions. Once numbers had been allocated, teams retained the same numbers from year to year, only exchanging for 1 and 2 when the drivers' World Championship was won. As a result Ferrari are infamous for having carried 27 and 28 for many years (every season from 1980 to 1989, and then again from 1991 to 1995), these numbers having originally been allocated to new entrant Williams in 1977 and passed to Ferrari when Alan Jones replaced Jody Scheckter as World Champion after the 1980 season. Numbers were reallocated occasionally as teams departed and joined the series, but this scheme persisted until the late 1990s; one team, Tyrrell, kept the same numbers (3 and 4) throughout this period for every season between 1974 and 1995.
The system was changed again in 1996. Numbers are now assigned annually, first to the reigning World Champion driver (who receives number 1) and then his team-mate (who receives number 2); after that the numbers are assigned to constructors sequentially according to their position in the previous season's Constructors' Championship, so that numbers are allocated (if the reigning champion is not driving for the reigning constructor's champion team) from 3 and 4, 5 and 6, and so on (skipping 13 with the seventh-placed team using 14 and 15). The only stipulation is that the World Drivers' Champion is entitled to the number 1 car regardless of the constructor's results; this is relevant when the winning driver's team failed to win the Constructors Championship, or if the winning driver changes teams after winning the championship for example, when Damon Hill moved to the Arrows team for the 1997 season. This situation happened again in 2007 when 2006 champion Fernando Alonso left Renault to join McLaren, earning him and his rookie teammate, Lewis Hamilton, the numbers 1 and 2; and again in 2010 when Jenson Button moved to McLaren from Brawn GP.
If a driver wins the World Championship but does not defend his title the following season, tradition dictates that the racing number 1 is not allocated; the reigning World Champion constructor then receives numbers 0 and 2. Damon Hill received car number 0 in 1993 due to Nigel Mansell's move to the CART PPG Indy Car World Series in the U.S., and again in 1994, this time due to Alain Prost's retirement. This tradition has not always been in place; Ronnie Peterson received number 1 in the 1974; although he didn't win the championship the previous year, due to Jackie Stewart's retirement, his Lotus team was allowed to keep Number 1 as they had won the constructors' title.
A similar system is used in many European-style championships at national and international level; the Champion receives number 1, and others are allocated by either by a driver's placing in the previous season (3rd place the year before equates to race number 3) or by the team's placing in the Team/Constructor championship. If the Championship driver does not return, the Championship team will be allowed to use #1.
While it is also the rule in the Indy Racing League that #1 can be used by the Champion Team (Rule 4.4B) from the previous season, the majority of champions since 1998 have ignored the tradition because of team or sponsor requests to keep their normal numbers in order to keep their team identity, similar to NASCAR. After the 1998 IRL season, Kenny Brack, who won the title driving for A. J. Foyt, did not carry #1, mainly out of deference to the tradition and identity of Foyt's #14. Buddy Lazier, who won the 2000 championship for Hemelgarn Racing, kept #91 after fans voted to keep the traditional Helmegarn identity of #91. Sam Hornish, Jr. never wore the #1 after any of his three championships — after the 2001 and 2002 seasons, Panther Racing kept its #4, which is associated both with its sponsor Pennzoil (the late 1970s Pennzoil Chaparral of Jim Hall carried #4) and Panther co-owner Jim Harbaugh (who wore #4 for most of his NFL career except with Carolina, where John Kasay had #4, so he wore #14 in honor of Foyt), and after the 2006 season, the Penske Racing #6 remained. In 2004, Tony Kanaan, driver for Andretti Green Racing's #11 7-Eleven sponsored car, won the championship and kept the #11 to keep the sponsor's identity with the #11. An exception to this was Scott Dixon, who opted to take up the #1 following his championship victory in 2003, only to suffer after the title, as the team never recovered from an offseason tire testing crash that killed his rookie teammate. When he won the championship again in 2008 he chose not to take up the #1 for 2009, citing the events of 2004 as his reason. Dario Franchitti, who won in 2009 and is competing in 2010, is not using #1, but instead keeping the Ganassi #10.
Other sports which feature players with numbered shirts, but where the number that may be worn is not relevant to the player's position and role are:
In water polo, players wear swim caps bearing a number. Under FINA rules, the starting goalkeeper wears Number 1, the substitute goalkeeper wears Number 13, and remaining players wear numbers 2 though 12. In road bicycle racing, numbers are assigned to cycling teams by race officials, meaning they change from race to race. Each team has numbers in the same group of ten, excluding multiples of ten, for example 11 through 19 or 21 through 29. If a race has squads of smaller than nine, each still uses numbers from the same group of ten, perhaps 31 through 36 where the next squad will have 41 through 46. Usually, but not always, the rider who wears a number ending in 1 is the squad's leader and the one who will try for a high overall placing. If the race's defending champion is in the field, he or she wears number 1. In floorball all players are required to have number between 1-99 on their jersey, but goalies are only players who can play with number 1.
Retiring a player's number is an honor bestowed on a successful player, usually after the player has left the team or retires from the game. His team will stop issuing the number that the player wore, and no other player from the team is permitted to use that number in the future (unless the honored player permits it). It is also bestowed on players who have either died or had their careers ended by serious injury. The first number retired by a team in a professional sport was number 6, retired by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1934 in honor of Ace Bailey.
If a jersey is retired and an active player is still wearing it, the player is usually permitted to wear the number for his entire career. For instance, when the Boston Bruins retired Phil Esposito's #7 in 1987, it was being worn by then-captain Ray Bourque. However, during the retirement ceremony, Bourque approached Esposito and pulled off his jersey to reveal a new #77 jersey underneath--"surrendering" his old number in Esposito's favor.
In rare cases, a number may be retired because of the player's endeavors in other fields. For example, former college football star Gerald Ford's number 48 was retired by the University of Michigan football squad by virtue of his future career as the 38th President of the United States.
It is also a common practice for teams to take certain numbers out of circulation without formally retiring them. However, it is generally understood in these cases that these numbers will not be worn again. For example, the Pittsburgh Steelers have not reissued the jersey numbers of several of their greatest players--most notably Terry Bradshaw's #12, Franco Harris' #32, and Joe Greene's #75. Although the Steelers have only formally retired one number in their history - Ernie Stautner's number 70 - it is generally understood that no Steeler will ever wear 12, 32 or 75 again. Similarly, with the exception of a pair of quarterbacks in the mid-1980s, the Green Bay Packers have not re-issued Paul Hornung's number 5 since his departure from the team following the 1966 season. The Dallas Cowboys do not officially retire numbers, but it is generally understood that Roger Staubach's #12, Bob Lilly's #74, Troy Aikman's #8, and Emmitt Smith's #22 will never be worn again in the regular season (though the Cowboys have occasionally used Lilly's 74 in the preseason).
In NASCAR, only once has a number been officially retired; that is in the Whelen Modified Tour, where number 61 is retired for Richie Evans after his death in 1985. NASCAR unofficially retired the number 3 in honor of the late Dale Earnhardt, Sr. after his death on the track at the 2001 Daytona 500. Earnhardt's old team changed to the number 29, and the replacement driver (Kevin Harvick) has driven the 29 car ever since. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. made two special appearances in a number 3 car in the Busch Series in 2002 and again in the renamed Nationwide Series on July 2, 2010 at Daytona, but otherwise the number 3 was absent from all three national touring series until 2009, when Austin Dillon drove a number 3 in the Camping World Truck Series. Dillon is the grandson of Earnhardt's longtime friend and car owner Richard Childress, and he drives for Richard Childress Racing.
Although the practice originated in, and is still mostly restricted to North American sports, some Association football clubs have started doing this as squad numbers have become common. AS Roma, AC Milan, Internazionale, Napoli, Manchester City, Lens, Lyon and Swansea City have all recently retired shirt numbers. The Swans retired the shirt number of Besian Idrizaj after he died in his sleep, of a suspected heart attack, at his family home in Linz, Austria. Manchester City, Lens and Lyon all retired the shirt number of Marc-Vivien Foé after his death on the field in the 2003 Confederations Cup; the Cameroon national team also attempted to retire Foé's number, but FIFA prevented them from doing so. FIFA also rejected an attempt by Argentina to retire the number of Diego Maradona. Some teams have also retired number 12 in honor of their fans, or the "Twelfth Man".
Jackie Robinson, the first African American player in the modern era of Major League Baseball, had his number 42 retired league-wide in 1997 (although those players who were wearing the number at the time were permitted to retain it for the duration of their careers — as of the 2011 season, Mariano Rivera is the only remaining active player wearing the number). In 1999, Wayne Gretzky's number 99 was likewise retired league-wide by the National Hockey League upon his retirement from the game.
In Finnish ice hockey, if a player's number is retired, family members (most notably his son, or son-in-law) can use the retired number if he plays for the same organization. Timo Nummelin had his number 3 retired by TPS, and later his son, Petteri Nummelin, wore number 3 for the team. Similarly, Italian AC Milan has promised to retire Paolo Maldini's number 3 once he retires, but with a provision that it could be used by his sons if either of them makes the club's first team squad.
- Competition number in individual sports
- Retired numbers in association football
- List of Major League Baseball retired numbers
- List of NHL retired numbers
- List of National Football League retired numbers
- List of National Basketball Association retired jersey numbers
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- ^ "Serie A - Ronaldinho plays numbers game". Eurosport. 22 July 2008. http://uk.eurosport.yahoo.com/22072008/58/serie-ronaldinho-plays-numbers-game.html.
- ^ Kelly, Cathal (22 February 2007). "The monarch of defence". Toronto Star. http://www.thestar.com/article/184399.
- ^ Shane Stokes (2011-05-12). "Weylandt’s race number retired from Giro d’Italia". VeloNation. VeloNation LLC. http://www.velonation.com/News/ID/8416/Weylandts-race-number-retired-from-Giro-dItalia.aspx. Retrieved 2011-05-13.
- English football's experiments with numbering
- Article in The Guardian about the Number 1 goalkeeper jersey
- Overcompetitive.com - tongue-in-cheek look at the traditions behind numbers 1 to 11 in football
- Baseball Hall of Fame, with uniform numbers
- Retired numbers for NFL franchises
- More than just a number? The importance of a squad number.
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