Uniform number (American football)

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The uniform numbers in American football are unusual compared to those in other sports. They are displayed in more locations on the uniform; they are universally worn on both the front and back of the jersey; and in many cases "TV numbers" are displayed on the shoulder pad or occasionally on the helmets. The numbers on the front and back of the jersey also are very large, covering most of the jersey. More important, certain numbers may only be worn by players playing specific positions; thus, the jersey numbers assist the officials in determining possible rules infractions by players.

Under current rules in all three of the most prominent levels of American football (high school football, college football and professional football), all players must wear a number between 1 and 99, and no two players may wear the same number on the field at the same time. In the past, players have used the numbers 0, 00 and in two special cases 100. (0 and 00 are still allowed and used in Canadian football.) Those who wear numbers between 50 and 79 are, by rule, prohibited from catching or touching forward passes if their team is in possession of the ball, unless explicitly indicated to the referee during a Tackle-eligible play. Other than this, the correspondence between jersey numbers and player positions is largely an issue of semantics.

National Football League[edit]

The National Football League numbering system dates from a large scale change of their rules in 1973, subsequently amended in various minor ways. Positions are allocated numbers as in the following table:[1][better source needed]

Number Range QB RB WR TE / H OL DL LB DB K P
1-9 Yes No Preseason[a] No No No No Preseason[b] Yes Yes
10–19 Yes No Yes No No No No No Yes Yes
20–29 No Yes No No No No No Yes No No
30–39 No Yes No No No No No Yes No No
40–49 No Yes No Yes No No Yes Yes No No
50–59 No No No No Yes Yes Yes No No No
60–69 No No No No Yes Yes No No No No
70–79 No No No No Yes Yes No No No No
80–89 No No Yes Yes No No No No No No
90–99 No No No No No Yes Yes No No No

Exceptions to this system do exist, but must be approved by the NFL in advance. The numbers used relate to the player's primary position - unless it conflicts with the eligible receiver rule, players whose primary position changes during a season, do not need to change their number.

Although the NFL does allow teams to retire jersey numbers, the league officially discourages the practice for fear of teams running out of numbers. As a result, a few teams do not retire jersey numbers.


According to NCAA rule book, Rule 1 Section 4 Article 1 recommends numbering as follows for offensive players;

Otherwise all players must be numbered 1–99, the NCAA makes no stipulation on defensive players. Two players may also share the same number though they may not play during the same down.

The lowest numbers are often considered the most prestigious, and they are frequently worn not just by specialists and quarterbacks but also by running backs, defensive backs, and linebackers. Kickers and punters are frequently numbered in the 40s or 90s, 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 larger rosters than the NFL; thus teams would frequently exhaust the available numbers for a position under the NFL rules. It is not uncommon for NCAA teams to have duplicate numbers, with an offensive player having the same number as a defensive one—this is allowed as long as both players are not on the field at the same time. Usually, one of the players will be a reserve who rarely plays, but this is not always the case: for example, the 2005 Texas Longhorns team had two key players who both wore #4: wide receiver Limas Sweed and linebacker Drew Kelson. The 2007 USC Trojans team had two key players who both wore #10: quarterback John David Booty and linebacker Brian Cushing. The 2008 Missouri Tigers both had key players wearing #1: safety William Moore and running back Jimmy Jackson. In the same season, the Alabama Crimson Tide had four numbers shared by two players each. In the 2009 season, the Ohio State Buckeyes roster also had numerous duplicate numbers: quarterback Terrelle Pryor and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins both wore #2, and running back Daniel Herron and linebacker Marcus Freeman both wore #1,[2] while USC had both running back C. J. Gable and safety Taylor Mays wearing #2. At Texas, both safety Earl Thomas and quarterback Colt McCoy both wore #12. In 2010 at the University of Illinois, both quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and linebacker Martez Wilson wore #2. In 2012, Notre Dame starting linebacker and team captain Manti Te'o and starting quarterback Everett Golson both wore #5. In 2013, Virginia Tech running back JC Coleman and defensive end Ken Ekanem both wore #4.

Perhaps the most interesting use of duplicate numbers was at South Carolina. Both cornerback Stephon Gilmore and quarterback Stephen Garcia wore #5. However, Gilmore also played quarterback for the Gamecocks, usually in the wildcat formation. During the annual end of season derby, Head Coach Steve Spurrier effectively rotated Garcia and Gilmore at the quarterback position, confusing the Clemson defense (and many fans). Because Garcia and Gilmore were never on the field at the same time, it was perfectly legal.

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, such as at the University of Michigan. The top performing walk-on at Texas A&M University will often be issued number 12, in reference to their 12th Man tradition. Syracuse University historically reserved number 44 for its best running backs, including Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, and Floyd Little,[3] finally retiring the number permanently in 2005.[4] The number 12 is also prestigious at the University of Alabama. It is usually reserved for top quarterbacks, although it was worn by 1930s lineman Bear Bryant, who became a coaching legend at Alabama. Since Bryant's era, it has been worn by Kenny Stabler, Joe Namath, Brodie Croyle, and Greg McElroy. At Ole Miss, the #38 worn by defensive back Chucky Mullins, who suffered a paralyzing injury in a 1989 game that ultimately led to his death in 1991, was given each season as an award to a defensive player who was seen as epitomizing Mullins' spirit. The number was retired in Mullins' memory in 2006, but it was an unpopular move, and the number as award was restored in 2010 with both offensive and defensive players eligible to win the award now.

Another notable exception was, during the 1963 season at West Virginia University, the college was able to successfully lobby the NCAA to allow a player, namely kicker Chuck Kinder, to wear the jersey Number 100 for the state's 100th anniversary. Kinder continued to wear this jersey until the 1966 season, when he was asked to stop wearing it by the new coaching staff due to all the questions they were receiving about the odd number. Similarly, University of Kansas kicker, Bill Bell, wore jersey number 100 in 1969 as part of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of college football.[5]

In 2013, Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner was given jersey number 98 to wear as part of the Michigan Football Legends program. Before 2011, the number had been retired in honor of Tom Harmon, a Michigan legend and father of actor Mark Harmon. Although it is unusual for a quarterback to wear a number higher than the 20s even at the collegiate level, Gardner, a redshirt junior at Michigan, will wear the number for the remainder of his career at Michigan. He wore number 12 (a more standard number for a quarterback) before being honored.[6]

High school[edit]

On high school and other lower youth teams, jerseys with different number ranges are different sizes, and since many of these teams do not reorder jerseys every year, players are often assigned numbers based more on jerseys that fit them rather than specific position.[citation needed]

Although previous editions of the National Federation of State High School Associations rule book indicated a recommended numbering system nearly identical to the NCAA's, later editions from approximately 2000 onward only indicate the bare minimum requirements: offensive linemen must be numbered from 50 to 79, while backs and ends must wear numbers either from 1 to 49 or 80 to 99.


  1. ^ Receivers are permitted to wear these numbers during the preseason when there are no numbers in the 10s or 80s available. For example, Victor Cruz of the New York Giants wore number 3 in the 2010 preseason but changed to 80 before the start of the regular season.
  2. ^ Defensive backs are permitted to wear these numbers during the preseason when there are no numbers from 20-49 available. For example, Tarell Brown of the New England Patriots wore number 9 in the 2015 preseason before switching to 31 after Justin Green's retirement. (He would wear 25 for the regular season.)


  1. ^ Football 101 - Uniform Numbering System
  2. ^ "What's the deal with duplicate numbers?". Birmingham News. Retrieved September 27, 2008. 
  3. ^ Syracuse University
  4. ^ "The Legend of #44". Syracuse University Athletics. Retrieved February 19, 2007. 
  5. ^ Stallard, Mark (2004). Tales from the Jayhawk Gridiron. Sports Publishing.  The anecdote featuring Bell's number 100, with a picture of Bell's number 100 jersey, can be found on pages 94–96.
  6. ^ Hinnen, Jerry (September 7, 2013). "Devin Gardner to wear No. 98 in honor of Tom Harmon". CBS Sports.