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John Madden’s Numbers Game

Before he became synonymous with video games, former NFL coach John Madden authored several books. Reader Barry Brite recently informed me that one of those books — 1989’s One Size Doesn’t Fit All — has a chapter devoted to an interesting concept: Madden had a habit of instinctively assigning football uniform numbers to non-football athletes and other celebrities, basing the numbers on the people’s style, presence, and character.

I remember Madden occasionally talking about this concept on the air when he worked as a broadcaster, but he explained the concept more fully, and applied it to many more examples, in his book. Many of the celebrities he referenced now seem a bit dated because the book came out more than 25 years ago, but the basic concept is still interesting. Barry has been kind enough to scan the relevant pages for us to see — dig (for all of these, you can click to enlarge):







Like I said, many of the examples now seem dated, and Madden (and/or his ghostwriter) probably went on a bit too long in an effort to pad out the chapter. But the basic idea is an interesting one. What football numbers would you assign to public figures today? For that matter, what number do you think applies to you, and why? What number do you think would be good for me? Discuss.

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Baseball News: Here’s something I didn’t know: The logo on the Big Red Machine-era Reds jerseys was chain-stitched. I love chain-stitching, but that was such a new-school uniform — seems odd for to have such an old-school detail (from @chk9418). ”¦ Princess Day jerseys yesterday for the West Michigan Whitecaps. ”¦ With Johnny Cueto being traded yesterday from the Reds to the Royals, someone at CBS Sports had a little fun putting Cueto in a KC uniform (from Andrew Cosentino). ”¦ Cleveland Cavs-themed jerseys this Saturday for the Lake County Captains. ”¦ Serious stirrup action yesterday for Cleveland starter Danny Salazar. Here’s how it looked from several different angles (from David Feigenbaum). ”¦ Rockies OF Brandon Barnes has a new purple glove emblazoned with a cross and “The Goon.” ”¦ Hall of Fame induction notes: There had been some question regarding which Astros cap logo would appear on Craig Biggio’s plaque. Turns out it was the most recent one. Meanwhile, Pedro Martinez wore two crests as sleeve patches on his suit jacket — one Dominican and one American. ”¦ Charleston Rainbows throwbacks on tap today for the Charleston RiverDogs. As they’ve done in the past, this design is being worn to coincide with Charleston’s LGBT pride festival. … Two teams in the Alaska League played a red vs. red game last night (from Garrett Mansfield). … The Brazos Valley Bombers wore “international jerseys” last night, featuring lots of national flags. ”¦ Lots of high-cuffed players yesterday for the Mariners, which meant lots of gorgeous striped socks (from Tim Dunn). ”¦

Pro Football News: The Steelers are inviting former players to their training camp to celebrate their 50th camp at St. Vincent College. Interestingly, the jerseys they’ve given to some of those players appear to have the NIkelace, which the team hasn’t worn in the past. Could that be a change for this season? I’ll try to find out (good spot by Brian Skokowski). … The Arizona Rattlers — that’s an arena team — wore blue ribbon decals yesterday to support foster families (from William Bristow).

Basketball News: Reader Chris Perrenot’s mom spotted Robert Horry at a restaurant the other day. Check out Horry’s license plate. ”¦ Joe Namath’s high school basketball team had seriously striped socks. That’s Joe holding the ball and wearing No. 24 (from Douglas Ford).

Soccer News: This is pretty cool: a world map showing the uniform outfitters for national soccer teams (from Amanda Punim). ”¦ FC Dallas midfielder Rolando Escobar had inconsistent number fonts on his jersey the other night. ”¦ 1860 Munich had to wear their opponents’ socks for yesterday’s match vs. Heidenheim, because the ref felt that Munich’s normal light and dark blue striped socks were too similar to Heidenheim’s dark blue jerseys (from AJ Zydzik). … The Japanese team Vissel Kobe went BFBS for the club’s 20th anniversary. The jersey features the Kobe skyline on the front and map on the back (from Yusuke Toyoda). ”¦ Also from Yusuke: Barcelona was fined by the UEFA after fans displayed the Catalan flag and nationalist messages at the Champions League Final in May.

Grab Bag: Under Armour doesn’t make golf shoes (yet), but someone on eBay is selling Under Armour football cleats that have been converted to golf spikes (from Chris Perrenot). ”¦ Everyone else can ignore, but those of you who were fans of my 1990s zine, Beer Frame, may appreciate this. ”¦ The Penrith Panthers wore early-1970s throwbacks for their recent game in the National Rugby League competition against the Canberra Raiders (from Graham Clayton). … NASCAR driver Kyle Larsen is sponsored by Target and has a patch on his racing suit that looks like a Target employee name tag (from David Firestone). … Also from David: “The big story comes from the NHRA, where it was announced that the Pro Stock division in the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series is being redesigned for 2016, and its most distinctive feature, the hood scoop, will be removed.” … A bit of jersey-precedence protocol confusion on the final day of the Tour de France (from Ryan Cousineau). ”¦ Sensational article/slideshow on classic American roadside signage (big thanks to H.B. Donnelly).

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What Paul did last night yesterday afternoon: There used to be dozens of kosher Jewish delis in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. As of a few years ago, there were only three of them remaining, and now it’s down to two. My friend Ed and I set out yesterday to check them out.

Further details and photos below:

Eduardo Hugo Gil and I went to the Bronx earlier today to check out Liebman's, one of two remaining kosher Jewish delis…

Posted by Paul Lukas on Sunday, July 26, 2015

Comments (67)

    For me, my number is 13. I think it’s perfect for me. It was my first little league number. I got it because I was the last one to pick up my uniform. But I also like it because it goes against the superstitious grain. I got a customized Capitals jersey and put 13 on it. I’ll use it again when I get a chance to get a Nationals jersey.

    I think that in my first years playing youth ball, jerseys were numbered by size. The littlest kids always seemed to have low numbers, and as a tall kid, I was always in the teens. I wore variously 12, 14, 16, and 19 over the years. Nothing ever really stuck as like “my number” for me playing actual youth ball. But as a budding type geek, I developed a thing for the number 4. I love the shapes of it; it’s the letter most likely to look good even in a terrible font. And I have a weird thing for reflective, as opposed to radial, symmetry, and so I much prefer even numbers to odd. So these days, when I have a choice of number, I go for 24 if it’s available. In football terms, my personality is probably more like a RB or DB, so 24 probably fits on the Madden Test.

    “NASCAR driver Kyle Larsen is sponsored by Target and has a patch on his racing suit that looks like a Target employee name tag”

    Indycar driver Scott Dixon has the same thing.


    Graham Rahal was wearing a firesuit that replicated the Stake and Shake server look at the Indy 500.


    Actually, Pedro was wearing one Dominican crest and one USA crest.

    13 was always my favorite number, too. Wore it every chance I could in Little League, and even as an adult in company softball leagues.

    Pedro quoted about the patches:

    “I wanted to make sure I recognized both sides,” he said afterward. “I wanted to give America the same props I have the Dominican Republic because without America, I wouldn’t be standing in Cooperstown, N.Y., being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Through baseball, I appreciate so much the opportunity America offered for me.”

    I always liked the number 2. But I’m a slightly above-average-sized guy, and not a sterling athlete.

    Great topic today, one I have thought about as well.

    My fave number is 29, the number I wore as a goalie. A true traditional North American goalie number but the most uncommon of them all, and the only one in the 20s. I think this sums me up, existing on the fringes of normal.

    For Paul, I have always questioned the use of 7 in the Uni Watch logo. Way too obvious, a hotshot number, flashy, fast, but lightweight. Not at all Uni Watch IMO. I’d put Paul down as an 8, a classic number with substance but no flash, serious but unaffected.

    I seem to remember someone, maybe Charles Schultz himself, assigning the number 2 to both Snoopy and Katherine Hepburn in an interview many years ago on the exact same topic. Anyone else remember this?

    I have always questioned the use of 7 in the Uni Watch logo. Way too obvious, a hotshot number, flashy, fast, but lightweight.

    I’ve always liked seven. It’s a prime number, and it was worn throughout my youth by Ed Kranepool (who, I assure you, was not a hotshot, flashy, fast, or lightweight).

    How did the Uni Watch logo with number 21 come about? Always wondered about that too.

    Scott Turner, who came up with the concept and execution for that design, used 21. Simple as that. I was (and am) fine with it.

    21 is perfect: Especially with older block number fonts, those two digits are often only very subtly different from font to font.

    My favorite number is 44, for Hank Aaron and Willie McCovey. I just like the way it looks.

    I was really chuffed to see the Yoken’s sign in the exhibit of classic roadside signage. My sister and I used to read the sign in sing-songy voices to keep time with the neon animation.

    I’ve always been partial to ’54’ for football, and because HS baseball teams in the ’80’s didn’t have numbers that high, it was ’14’ for baseball. So now for my favorite teams I always look for those two numbers. D’Andre Levy for the Lions, David Price (for however long) for the Tigers.

    Numbers & my two children. My daughter is an ice hockey goalie and she wears 70. My son hasn’t settled on his hockey number (3 seasons, 3 numbers: 8,74,90) His current team only lets skaters have 2-19, so he is choosing 13. His soccer #. (He plays keeper).

    Best number I wore was in youth league soccer when I had 0.
    They were handing out uniforms and they were two short. I was given a blank jersey and told to take it to the nearby uniform supply shop where they would add a number and logo. At first I was kind of mad because I felt I was one of the best players on the team and should not have to get my own uniform. When I got there they asked what number I wanted. In a rare stroke of genius I asked for zero, and they complied. I was the only player in the league with that number and I wore it proudly.

    It led to a proud instance in my season when I was given a yellow card in a heated match for roughly elbowing another player. A parent yelled “He plays like his number!” I loved that moment.

    I’m number 2!

    I played little league baseball for several years with the same coach. He always took #1. From there the jerseys were numbered from smallest to largest. I was the smallest kid on my team for many years, so I wore #2 for many years.

    I am 51 now and still consider it “my number”.

    I often time cannot think of a number without thinking of a Font as well.

    There is only one font in my mind for 51, for instance.

    I suppose color comes next to me.

    These points taken into consideration, I’m nor sure what number *I* would assign you, Paul.


    I’ve had an affinity for 13 my whole life, and I can’t even explain why. I’ve always felt that, except for A-Rod, people who wear 13 are a little bit different. Though I don’t even know how. I kind of love how so many thirteens have popped in in the first few comments.

    (When 13 is taken, I’ve had good luck with 17, but I usually choose 31 (obviously) or 47 (after a teammate said I should be AK-47).

    THANKS for using my idea Paul. I think you’re a Number 2. Intellectual and quick thinking, fast but not threatening. A leader by example, but not in your face about it. In the middle of the action, but not demanding everyone’s attention.

    5. A girlfriend and I went to an a capella concert by The Trenchcoats, and as they sang a campy song about being a quartet, they kept holding up different numbers as they claimed how many fingers were four (which they nevrr got right). She and I decided “we have five.” Later, as a Music Teacher, whenever I passed out copies of music, the director’s copy became number 5.

    I had previously loved #22 for Will Clark, and #25 for Bonds, as a big Giants fan.

    My first number was 5, and I played SS/3B. After that, always had double digits. I was the biggest kid the next year, so I got 14; made me happy to have Pete Rose’s number and I played like he did.
    “My number” would be 10, more often than not, so I adopted it as mine. My uncle would tell me I had Ron Santo’s number, so I would call dibs every year. (Except the one year a shorter, fatter kid got it and I was “stuck” with 11.)

    I was a Mormon bishop for six years. Mormon congregations, or wards, are collected into administrative groupings called Stakes, which are roughly akin to diocese in the Roman Catholic church. Each stake is led by a stake president; bishops answer to a stake president. For a couple of years, my stake president was Gifford Nielsen, the BYU legend and former Houston Oiler. As a leader, Giff was very much the quarterback: charismatic, energetic, and totally in charge. Once, after a meeting where Giff did all the talking, I told him, “I think I’m going to start wearing a jersey with a big “63” on it, because I’m just a pulling guard around here,” which he thought was hilarious. He said something like, “I need you to get me to the endzone!” which was a very quarterbacky thing to say. Gifford also has enormous hands, which is

    …apropos of nothing, but shaking hands with him is sort of a remarkable experience.

    Every now and then, a completely random gem pops up in the comments. Thanks, Cort.

    It depends on the sport when it comes to numbers. Jersey number conventions (Soccer doesn’t deviate that much from national team numbers) and the general aesthetics of the individual sports (Hockey and Football tend to be boxy and conservative and they usually don’t serve justice to a number like 88). My numbers whenever I actually played in or generated myself in videogames when I was a kid were:

    Basketball – 41, 33, 4
    Hockey – 29
    Football- 15
    Baseball- 14
    Soccer- 16

    In reality, I look more like:

    Basketball – 4
    Hockey – 13
    Football – 23
    Baseball – 10
    Soccer – 6

    Madden’s numbering reminds me of English soccer, which used to assign numbers based on position. You still hear commentators say, “he is a classic #9” for a goal scorer. See


    For a primer.

    As a soccer coach, I assigned numbers for my players based on their skills, positions, and personalities. I explained each assignment to them. They may not have gotten the references, but it was a fun exercise. My daughter, who is a forward and goalie, got #12.

    I was 10 in Little League, then 11 and 13 in Babe Ruth. 13 felt like a good first baseman’s number to me.

    The one year in high school that I played soccer, the bigger jerseys were lower numbers. I was a forward and wore 1.

    54 in football. No reason other than the number looked cool (orange w/ white outline on black) when I climbed up the bleachers to choose my jersey in junior high.

    9 in baseball/softball. Again, it looked cool.

    I’d take #57 myself. The first job I ever had, every employee was assigned a number (for payroll purposes), and it was a small company that had only been in operations for 10 years. I was assigned that number. Subsequently, I found it in a number of other places (particularly the number of the only apartment I ever lived in, and it also popped up on the license plate I got on the first car I ever bought).

    74 is my number. In jr. high football the coach “assigned” numbers by calling each group of positions to step forward, and then he would start tossing jerseys with the appropriate numbers (per NFL numbering conventions). Whatever you caught, you got (I suppose you could trade if you could find a willing partner), and I caught #74. I can’t remember if I had a particular preference, but I was happy enough with 74. Next year, with a different coach, I once again had 74 “assigned” to me the same way. Figuring it was a sign, I stuck with 74 once we were able to choose our numbers at the high school. A few years ago my beer league softball team sprung for numbers on our t-shirts, so naturally I picked 74! The only other person with a number above the 20’s had 51 for Bernie Williams.

    Got a note from James Mickelson: “With regards to the Madden book, John Madden states that he gave 31 to Cliff Branch. Now I am not a Raiders fan but my memories of Cliff were always in a 21 jersey.”

    #11 works well for skinny kids and I always wanted it. I finally got it my seoncd year of basketball. I was really happy when laVar Arrington became a star at Penn State so I could finally get my own #11 jersey. it has also worked out to be a pretty successful # amongst DC teans, being retired by the Caps & Bullets, along with being worn by Mark Rypein & Mr. Walkoff.

    Paul… as a Mets fan the first number that popped into my head here was 86 for you.

    42 is my number since peewee hockey for everything. Then I read HH2GG and it solidified it for me.

    Jack Benny should be no. 39, for obvious reasons.

    For those of you who aren’t aware of this greatest of all comedians, he had a long-running gag of claiming that he was 39 years old. Jack maintained this through his radio career, at the end of which he was 62; and he continued this for most of his career in television, which went on for another decade after he stopped doing radio.

    The gag was so well-established that, when Walter Cronkite announced Jack’s death on the CBS Evening News in 1974 at the actual age of 80, he gave Jack a great tribute by deadpanning “He was 39 years old”.

    Ted Turner would be a #17. It’s too obvious.
    I wore 1, 3, 8, 10, 11, 12, 17 and 85, depending on the sport and/or position. Pitchers should wear double digits and goalies should wear 1. I originally chose 11 because Dwight Gooden and I have the same birthday and he wore 16. (He’s the only Met I ever liked.) Couldn’t get 11 by HS so I went to 12 for most sports.

    My first numbered jersey ever was 10 in youth basketball, where the numbers went from largest to smallest, and in baseball I always seemed to get 11 and 14. I was ecstatic to discover that Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, had 14 for the Cubs many years ago, and he became my favorite historical player.

    I also always liked number 7, having been born on the seventh day of the year (and it being my grandfather’s number when he played semi-pro just after the war), and got to wear it in link. You’re generally not allowed to wear a number over 30 in Japanese amateur baseball, so I can never get my other choice, which is 37.

    Question to true soccer purists: you often see numbers as high as 37, but is it too high to look normal if someone were to request it? My team might order uniforms (now we put on those replaceable bibs numbered 1 to 11) and I want to pick a number that I like, but that doesn’t offend the true aficionados.

    When I played little league baseball, our league applied the “smaller jerseys, lower numbers” thing across the whole league, from t-ball up to pony league… They bought jerseys numbered from 1-99, and the younger age groups got the lower numbers, while the oldest age group teams looked like a bunch of wide receivers and defensive lineman! Then you had the groups in the middle, who had 50’s and 60’s numbers, somewhat traditional for baseball, but only in the sense that those are the numbers they tend to give to the guys who aren’t expected to make the club out of spring training!!! Next time I visit my parents I’ll have to see if I still have any pictures from those teams, as Paul would love the green & yellow uniforms. They had green pants & tops, and yellow pants & tops. The pants had a cool white stripe down the leg, trimmed out in silver and the contrasting team color (ie, the green pants had yellow piping on the wide white stripe). The league would mix and match the color combos that they issued each team. One year I remember having tops and bottoms that were the same color, another year one was green and one was yellow. And of course, there were stirrups, green with yellow stripes!


    W – 43 (and what would be NOB? W. Bush?)
    Obama – 42 (first black President, first black Baseball player)
    Senator Chuck Grassley, IA – 99 (always visits all 99 counties in Iowa)
    Jeb Bush – 55 (Ozzie Canseco’s number – has to be the number of a famous brother, right?)
    Ted Cruz – 25 (same number as my favorite Cruz, Jose)
    Donald Trump – 100 (2 digits would not be enough)
    Bill Clinton – 69 (that one was too easy)

    Except that when teams come to the White House these days, they tend to give the President a jersey numbered according to his place on the list of Presidents. Accordingly, Obama is 44, GW Bush, 43, Clinton 42, etc. I hope Obama’s successor doesn’t dislike # 45…

    I’m pretty sure Reagan got number 1, as did George H. Bush. It’s only the last few administrations where they’ve been giving out the number of his presidency. I wonder if a traditionalist future president might not want to have 46 or 47 from a basketball team where it’s a semi-illegal number, or perhaps in an era when soccer gets big, might not want “his” number because it’s too high to look natural.

    Happy to report that the “Yoken’s” restaurant sign featured in the final static photo (and No.4 in the slideshow) included with the article on classic American roadside signage – the last link in today’s post – was lovingly restored and returned to its original location just 2 months ago in my hometown of Portsmouth, NH. The restaurant is long gone, but their iconic sign lives on. The neon-outlined tail and fins appear to move, as does the spot from the whale’s blow hole.

    Under Armour does make golf shoes already. Their golden boy, Jordan Spieth, wears them.

    My number would be 14, for my birthday, and for Pete Rose. Lately, I’ve been wanting a T-shirt or jersey with 68 on it, to honor the greatest Penguin ever.

    17: Birthdate, adoption date, driver’s license date, birthdate of first child…

    Weird that Madden didn’t assign 13 to any comedians. 13 to me is for quirky people who like to go against the grain (myself included). David Spade or Chris Rock would make good 13’s.

    Also last night’s episode of Ballers on HBO had a number related story. A receiver said he wears 18 because his father wore 81. His father was never around so he wanted to “flip the script” and not be like his father.

    This may come as a surprise, but I’m partial to 11 and 26. I think either could fit my personality as a specialist in certain things (11) or a jack-of-all trades who can do a little of lots of things (26).

    I also like the number 5 for single-digit applications. I often chose 5 in various intramural and rec leagues in high school, college, and into my “adult” years, especially in basketball.

    I don’t recall what number I wore for any of my youth league baseball or basketball teams. I’m sure I could find pictures that would refresh my memory, but that would require digging through boxes in my basement. What I do remember about my youth league teams is that my numbers were always I assigned to me and they were never numbers I would have chosen for myself. Consequently, they never left lasting impressions on me.

    In case anyone wants to watch a Redskins debate live, this is tonight’s meeting of the Goshen (Ind.) School Board — link

    Late to the party for a change.

    My first ever # was 78 in football and I love it to this day.

    My most odd # was 86 for hs soccer. Our jerseys weren’t ready on time so we had to wear the leftovers from the football team. Given the other use of 86, I love it.

    Basketball I had 55, 14 and 35.

    For baseball or hockey (or for soccer in ordinary circumstances), I love 13.

    Robert Marshall strikes me as a 47. Paul would be 11. Phil would be 34.

    I’m a 5… I am the youngest of 5 kids, and for some reason it was just sort of the family number. The only time I didn’t get it is when I played on a team with my older brother. Once he graduated, I inherited it. I love it so much, I named my business 5ive Engineering.

    See a few comments from little league with smaller jerseys – lower numbers.

    In kid’s hockey (atom/peewee) back when I was playing (70s/early 80s) it was the oldest(or possibly sometimes biggest) got the lower numbers. That’s why when I started around age 5 I got some number between 17-19. When I got to the older age group I think the highest I was given was 6. This is likely part of the reason I liked #2 as a kid.

    Not as particular now but favourite numbers now are usually 8, and 40. 8 usually as a hockey defenceman and 40 as a goalie and in slo-pitch as pitcher/utility. 40 feels right for the 3rd string goalie I am, and fits with an aging slo-pitch player well into his 40s.

    Wonder what number he’d give to Bo Derek…

    Mary Tyler Moore should have been a 10. She wore it every week.

    I’m playing catch-up on my Uni Watch Reading and I just now see you were in my neck of the woods Paul! Been living in Riverdale for almost a year now and Liebmans is my go-to for nights when the lady is out and I’m on my own for dinner and I don’t feel like cooking.
    Love those hot dogs and their cole slaw. Its one of the bright spots up in relatively quiet Riverdale.

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