What is in a jersey number? They are the printed numerals that are on a player’s jersey. A quick means of identifying that player on the field. The individual is easily recognizable so that yardage, catch, penalty, or score is tallied correctly. But they are so much more than that. Certain generations of New England Patriots fans can remember moments and envision number 12, 87, and 3 on jerseys. Older fans have memories of 78, 57, and 73 when remembering both heartbreaking moments or fantastic triumphs. Still, others will fondly recall number 20, 89, and 79 especially when beginning a sentence with, “Remember that game…”
Will a young child today recall a time when #5, #29 or #34 made the game-changing play?
Bill Belichick allowed the 2018 Patriots rookie class to don their permanent numbers just prior to the first preseason game of this year. In years past rookies weren’t assigned numbers until at least the end of minicamp. This was seen as a motivational tactic to have them earn a roster spot. Of course the NFL saw something that Belichick was doing and put a stop to it. And naturally when getting told not to do something that is different and to get in line, he handed out the rookies numbers starting in the 50s. The NFL has rules regarding which positions can wear certain numbers. So everyone knew what was going on.
People began weighing in on what numbers they should get. There is a trend on social media and among football analysts about who will have a great career based upon their number. These takes are backed up by insane reasoning, including how good the number looks on a certain body type, if an all-time great around the NFL had worn it, or if it was one of the numbers that the mysterious TV show Lost featured. I will dive right in and add my thoughts on the Patriots rookie class. I will not be using any of those criteria. Instead, I will base their future New England greatness on how prestigious the previous wearers of that number were, or if there is room for someone to make his mark on the numeral. And there may be a few wild cards thrown in, as you’ll see below.
Danny Etling No. 5.
It’s amazing that on a team as storied as the New England Patriots that there is a single digit number with as little wear as this one. Etling shares the number with other Patriots such as Greg Davis, Pat O’Neill, and Fred Steinfort. In fact, the only ones I recognized was Shayne Graham, when he filled in for Gostkowski in his injury-shortened 2010 season, and Kevin O’Connell for a single season.
Greatness Verdict: Yes!! Patriots greatness awaits #5 and Danny Etling. No one has yet impressed the fan base wearing that number. And a youthful first name will propel him to what will undoubtedly multiple Pro Bowls!
Corey Bojorquez — No. 7
It was nearly the same single digit wasteland as #5 until I remembered that Jacoby Brissett wore this for his cup-of-coffee stint in New England. Why does this change the destiny of the number? When Brissett inevitably reaches free agency and steals the starting job from Baker Mayfield or Josh Allen he will lead his new team to Super Bowl glory. Aside from Charlie Gogolak, John Huarte and Hugh Millen, no one else held the number for more than a single season.
Greatness Verdict: Not this kid. Unfortunately with the dual strikes of being an undrafted punter and following in Brissett’s footstep it will not be Corey that we remember the 7 for on the Patriots
Braxton Berrios — No. 14
At first glance you could say that he has a shot at claiming this number. Brandin Cooks, Tom Yewcic and Zoltan Mesko are some of the more familiar names to put in that number. However, you simply cannot compete to a guy that played for 16 seasons at the games most important position. If not for injuries, Steve Grogan may well have his number retired and an underdog Super Bowl Victory under his belt.
Greatness Verdict: Almost, but not quite. For every Welker and Edelman that go on to make a name for themselves there are a dozen more slight, slot receivers that never do. And the added pressure of reminding fans of a painful Super Bowl memory doesn’t help.
Sony Michel — No. 29
Now we are getting into the critical numbers and players for the New England Patriots. The jersey number selection is becoming important in determining a players ultimate success. No. 29 has been worn by some young prospects (Shane Vereen, Sterling Moore), and some veterans on short stints with the Patriots (Chris Hayes, Myron Guyton). One of the greatest names ever for a football player ever in Earthwind Moreland as he spent a year wearing it in New England. Here’s where it gets interesting. Recent fan favorite LeGarrette Blount wore it for three seasons. Being a veteran journeyman that won his Super Bowl and moved on. That to me says that the number is ready for a home-grown running back to hang that number up.
Greatness Verdict: This one is easy. It will be in the rafters when Sony Michel hangs his cleats up. Having a fantastic name and being the perfect new age running back. He can be a featured name in the Patriots as they transition from the Brady Belichick Era to a possible Etling and Michel Era.
JC Jackson — No. 34
We have a dilemma here. This is an undrafted player that can be a star. Made some mistakes in college and one of the most professional teams in the NFL is willing to give him a chance. The only problem I see is that he chose a number that is filled with decent role players. Tebucky Jones, Sammy Morris, Prentice McCray, Ron Sellers, and Shane Vereen. The most notable name is the Boston Patriots DB Chuck Shonta. An eight year career in the 60s that saw him intercept QBs 15 times is not great but okay. There is a huge risk in wearing this number because as a CB it appears that its best times were in eras past.
Greatness Verdict: Not wearing this number! JC Jackson may be the next good undrafted cornerback, but not wearing #34. It saw its best days when double bar helmets and Pat the Patriot were things.
Look for Part 2 very soon when I dive into the rest of the Patriots rookie class.
All photos courtesy of Getty images unless noted otherwise.
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