When you envision the best professional athletes of all time, how do you see them? In their prime, probably, and wearing the uniform of the team they are synonymous with. Their name most likely is on the back of that jersey, but so is something else. We’re talking about numbers. The iconic athletes are also indelibly linked to a number, or numbers, they wore. We wanted to take a panoramic look across the entire world of sports to find the best athlete to wear every number. For these purposes, is the number they are most known for. That is to say, Michael Jordan did indeed wear 45, but who thinks of him in that number? This is tricky for the athletes who have worn a couple of numbers with semi-regularity — for example, Kobe Bryant. He’s remembered wearing Nos. 8 and 24. As such, we will give shoutouts to various athletes along the way. For now, though, we’re running from zero to 99 to find the best athlete for each number.
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0 – Russell Westbrook
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For this number, we’re including guys who wore 00, like Robert Parish. The Chief is a Hall of Famer, but Westbrook will be joining him someday. This was really a battle between Russ and his contemporary Damian Lillard. Westbrook has an MVP and averaged a triple-double for three season’s straight. Before he did that, it was an unthinkable feat.
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Speaking of averaging a triple-double, the last guy to do that before Westbrook was Oscar Robertson, who wore the No. 1. However, that’s usually a goaltender’s number, in hockey and especially in soccer. Basically every starting goalie in the world of soccer wears. No. 1 So with all due respect to hockey’s Terry Sawchuk, we’re going with the Italian soccer legend Buffon, who is arguably the greatest goalkeeper ever, depending on how you feel about Lev Yashin, who played in a different era of the sport.
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This was a real toss-up. We had to decide between Malone and some guy named Derek Jeter. So yeah, we know Yankees fans are upset with us. Both were great athletes and rightful Hall of Famers. Sure, Jeter’s defense was overrated, but the guy batted .310 in his career. And yet Malone, who entered the ABA right out of high school, won three MVPs and dominated the board during his career. He’s on top by a smidge.
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There was no debate here. Allen Iverson was a dynamic NBA player. Let’s not forget the world of auto racing, which brought us Dale Earnhardt. But Ruth is maybe the best baseball player ever. The Sultan of Swat mashed 714 home runs in a time when hitting 20 in a season was impressive. That’s with him starting his career as a pitcher! Nobody beats the Babe.
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This was a tough one. While we briefly thought about Brett Favre, this really came down to Bobby Orr and Lou Gehrig. Both had their careers cut short by their bodies giving out on them. Orr hurt his knee, while Gehrig tragically developed ALS, known colloquially to this day as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Playing alongside Ruth, Gehrig still won two MVPs and was on six title-winning Yankees teams. On top of that, Gehrig was the first player to have his number retired.
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Lots of options here. Kevin Garnett wore No. 5, as did Albert Pujols and Joe DiMaggio. We’re hitting the ice though with Lidstrom. If Orr isn’t the best defenseman of all time, Lidstrom is. In a 20-year career, all with the Red Wings, the Swede won a whopping seven Norris Trophies for being the top defenseman. Only Orr won it more times, and he did it during a time when there were fewer teams and a lot less competition for the award.
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Bearing in mind LeBron wore No. 6 for a few seasons in Miami, Russell wore it for his entire career — a career, mind you, in which he averaged 22.5 rebounds per game. Considered one of the best defensive players ever, Russell led the Celtics to a whopping 11 titles. We don’t worship the “rings,” but we do admire true dominance.
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Tough choices to be made here, mostly because we’re already a little tired of Yankees. However, we couldn’t deny Mantle. The Hall of Famer won three MVPs and made a whopping 20 All-Star Games. George Constanza thought “Seven” was a great name for a kid because of Mantle. So we apologize to two greats of their respective footballs, John Elway and Cristiano Ronaldo. Mantle still wins.
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8 – Alex Ovechkin
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Is this where to acknowledge Kobe? Bryant had some great years wearing No. 8, but it was also the number he wore his first couple of years in the league. If we are going to honor his career anywhere, it’ll be at 24. (Keep reading to find out if we did.) Ovechkin is still an active player who, hopefully, has a few more years left in his career. He’s already eighth in goals in NHL history and has led the league in goals eight times.
How can you argue with the guy known as “Mr. Hockey?” When you have a nickname like that, you’ve earned the right to be considered the greatest athlete to wear the No. 9. Not that this was super easy. Howe may have notched 801 career NHL goals, plus some more in the WHA, but Drew Brees could retire with a bunch of NFL records as well.
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This was really just a battle between soccer legends. Some may call this heresy. Pele wore the No. 10. So did Diego Maradona. However, we are of the belief that Messi, Barcelona and Argentina’s legend, is the best of the bunch. He’s done so many incredible things already, and he’s not quite done yet.
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11 – Larry Fitzgerald
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Fitzgerald has been around the NFL for a long time, all of which he’s been in Arizona, where sometimes he’s had terrible quarterbacks. In spite of that, the Pitt Panthers product is second in career receiving yards and receptions. He’s only sixth in receiving touchdowns. What a slouch! Mark Messier would also make a fine choice.
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This is one of those numbers where you don’t even have to think for a second about who you are picking. Brady and the No. 12 will forever be synonymous, even though he’s now a Buccaneer. With the Patriots, though, he won three MVPs and made 14 Pro Bowls. Oh, and he won six Super Bowls alongside Bill Belichick. But let’s shout out two other quarterbacks who wore 12: Terry Bradshaw and Joe Namath.
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Thirteen may be an unlucky number to some but not to a few all-time greats. Dan Marino wore 13 and had an amazing career even if he didn’t win a Super Bowl. Alex Rodriguez may have a bit of the taint of PEDs on him, but he would be a fine choice. Nevertheless, Chamberlain wore 13 throughout his NBA career. He wore it when he won four MVPs. He wore it when he scored 100 points in one game. That makes Wilt the Stilt the choice.
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Back in the day in soccer, starters wore Nos. 1 through 11. There was no fixed numbering until the ‘90s. One day, though, Cruyff decided to wear 14 and then tried to wear it whenever he could. Some leagues wouldn’t let him do it, and when that was the case he wore No. 9. That being said, Cruyff is a legend in the world of soccer and helped make “Total Football” a reality. Since the other choices at 14 weren’t incredibly obvious, Bob Cousy, Pete Rose, et al, we decided to honor Cruyff here.
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15 – Bart Starr
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Tim Tebow wore 15 in college, but it’s hard to honor a player with a number off four years of action. Maybe for some numbers, sure, but not for 15. It’s not the most exciting of numbers, but Bart Starr did lead the Packers to the first two Super Bowl wins of all time. Starr may not hold this title for much longer, though, as Patrick Mahomes wears No. 15 for the Chiefs, after all.
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Montana wore 19 when he moved from San Francisco to Kansas City, but he spent only two years with the Chiefs. Prior to that, he made seven Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams and won two MVPs. Oh, and he won four Super Bowls. Brett Hull had some great years wearing 16, but he wore some other numbers and also jumped around from team to team quite a bit.
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Rivers hasn’t been to a Super Bowl, and the odds are that he won’t do it at this point, even after joining the Colts. He’s still had an excellent career. Rivers has thrown for almost 400 career touchdowns and has made eight Pro Bowls. We also considered John Havlicek, who notably once stole the ball.
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This was not a hard choice and not just because of the quality of Manning’s career. There aren’t many great 18s in sports history, though we will shout out Dave Cowens quickly. Still, Peyton is one of the all-time great NFL quarterbacks. He twice held the record for most touchdown passes in a season, one he still holds as of this writing.
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If 18 was an obvious choice, 19 was a brutal one. Johnny Unitas wore the No. 19. So did Tony Gwynn while he won eight batting titles. However, we have to go with the man known as “The Captain” in Detroit. Stevie Y played his entire career in Detroit and finished career with 692 goals and 1,063 assists. As his career went on, though, Yzerman became an elite defensive forward, even winning a Selke. He was also the captain when the Wings ended their 40-year Cup drought.
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20 – Barry Sanders
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Detroit sports fans are going to be feeling pretty good here. We go from a Red Wings legend to the greatest Lions player of all time. Sanders is perhaps the best running back ever. His highlight reel is unparalleled. Even though he retired early, making him something of a trendsetter, he remains one of the all-time leaders in career rushing yards.
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For 20 years Duncan was a metronome in the NBA. Few players were as reliable while also being incredible on the court He’s the greatest Spur of all time and a 15-time All-NBA team member. Roger Clemens would have been a good choice, but he wore a couple of other numbers. Roberto Clemente almost made the cut as well.
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Sure, the NFL is a passing league now. That doesn’t mean being the all-time NFL leader in rushing yards isn’t amazing. Nobody has ever rushed for more yards than Smith. In fact, nobody is within 1,000 yards of him. We’ll give a shout out to the underrated Elgin Baylor, who also wore 22.
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23 – Michael Jordan
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LeBron James made a bold choice of wearing the same number as the man he was considered the heir apparent to. By the time LeBron retires, some may consider him the G.O.A.T. For now, though, there is only one choice at 23. Michael Jordan changed the NBA. He’s the face of basketball to millions to this day. Even though he wore 45 for a bit, LeBron also wore No. 6, so it all balances out.
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Sorry, Kobe fans. Also sorry to NASCAR fans who know that Jeff Gordon drove the 24 car during his sterling career. Bryant split his career between Nos. 8 and 24. Outside of his rookie campaign, Mays wore 24 his entire career. The Say Hey Kid won two MVPs and 12 Gold Gloves, and he made 24 All-Star Games wearing No. 24. Bryant and Gordon are all-time greats in their sports, but Mays is on their level — and maybe even better.
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Bonds didn’t wear 25 until he joined the Giants. The No. 24, which he wore in Pittsburgh, was retired for Mays, after all. However, just including his time with the Giants he had a .312/.477/.666 slash line with 586 home runs. He won five MVPs wearing No. 25 while also setting the record for most home runs in a season. There wasn’t much of a challenge to Bonds. Were we really going to go with Mark McGwire?
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26 – Rod Woodson
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Had Wade Boggs worn No. 26 his entire career, he may have been the choice. Even then, though, Woodson is one of the most underrated players in NFL history. Sure, he’s in the Hall of Fame, but the man was All-Pro six times and won Defensive Player of the Year once. His 71 interceptions are third all time in NFL history, and the league wasn’t super pass happy for his whole career.
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Too early? We don’t think so. Trout has been clearly the best player in MLB since his second year in the majors. He already has three MVPs and should have even more than that. When all is said and done, we might recognize Trout as the best player in MLB history. Given that, wouldn’t we feel weird to look back and see, say, Scott Niedermayer’s name here?
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This was a battle between two running backs, namely Faulk and Adrian Peterson. Peterson has more rushing yards anad rushing touchdowns, and he once ran for over 2,000 yards in a season. However, Faulk was one of the best receiving backs ever. He had 767 receptions for 6,875 yards and 36 touchdowns through the air. Peterson can’t compete with that.
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29 – Eric Dickerson
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Speaking of guys who rushed for over 2,000 yards in a season, Dickerson still holds the record for the most rushing yards in a season with 2,105. It was one of the four years he led the league in rushing yards. Had Ken Dryden, the legendary Montreal Canadiens goalie, played longer he would have been the choice, and also Satchel Paige was known to wear the No. 29 on occasion.
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Steph Curry is getting close to being the choice here. However, 30 is a goalie’s number, and we wanted to give the honor to one of the best goalies to ever man the crease. Sure, he benefited from the neutral-zone trap, but he also leads the NHL in career regular-season games played, wins, and shutouts. The longtime Devil picked up four Vezinas to go with three Stanley Cups.
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31 – Greg Maddux
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The No. 31 is also often worn by goalies, but none was going to overthrow the Mad Dog. While he had brief stints in other numbers, during the bulk of his career, including his time with the Braves, he wore No. 31. He also wore it when he won four-straight Cy Youngs. Enough said. Reggie Miller also did some great things in this number.
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This was a really tough one. Jim Brown played nine seasons in the NFL and led the league in rushing eight times and rushing touchdowns five times. Then again, he played only nine seasons. Even though contracting HIV cut Magic’s career short, he played 11 full NBA seasons, making the All-Star Game in all those campaigns. A point guard with the size to play center, Johnson was ahead of his time, and yet he still won three MVPs.
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33 – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
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Teammates back-to-back here. Abdul-Jabbar has more points than anybody in NBA history. He carried the Milwaukee Bucks to their only NBA title before joining the Lakers. There he added five more rings, and in his career he won the MVP a whopping six times. That’s enough to outduel Larry Bird, much to the chagrin of Celtics fans.
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Shaquille O’Neal wore No. 34 with the Lakers, and that was an incredible run. But he didn’t wear that number anywhere else. Payton wore it during his entire career with the Bears. Although “Sweetness” led the NFL in rushing yards only once, when he retired he led the league in career rushing yards, which he held onto until Emmitt Smith passed him.
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35 – Kevin Durant
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Be it with Oklahoma City or Golden State, or even his one year in Seattle, Durant has worn No. 35 the entire time. When he can finally take the court for Brooklyn, that will probably be true as well, though he did wear No. 7 in promotional photos. Durant is a truly modern player, as he’s a 7-footer who shoots threes with ease. He’s led the league in points per game four times, and the Hall will come calling when he retires. A couple of notable goalies, Tony Esposito and Mike Richter, also wore this number.
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The Bus rumbled his way to a career 13,662 yards in his career. He also ended his time in the NFL with a ring with the Steelers, though by that point he was no longer a Pro Bowl-caliber back. Bettis is in the Hall of Fame, as is pitcher Gaylord Perry, but Perry wore a few numbers in his career.
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37 – Dave Stieb
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Not a lot of great choices here, but Stieb was a solid player. After all, he made seven All-Star teams and won one ERA title. We considered Doak Walker, mostly for his college career as he only played a few seasons in the NFL. However, he retired in 1955, and that’s just a different era of football.
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We’re no fan of Schilling as a person, but this is about his skill on the mound. While he never won a Cy Young, he finished second three times and led the National League in strikeouts twice. Plus, there was the playoff heroics for the Diamondbacks and Red Sox. There is no other athlete really in contention.
The NHL doesn’t like to give the Hart Trophy to goalies. It seems voters feel that since goalies have the Vezina, the Hart should go to the non-goalie MVP. Hasek won six Vezinas, but on top of that he won the Hart twice. You know a goalie carried his team when that happens. Nobody was close to the “Dominator.”
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Yes, Sayers played only five seasons in the NFL, more or less. He was also All-Pro in all five of those campaigns. That was enough to get Sayers in the Hall of Fame. It’s also enough for him to represent No. 40 here, as the only real threat to him was Henrik Zetterberg.
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Nowitzki changed the NBA. He was one of the first 7-footers shooting threes. He also started the trend of NBA teams taking risks on European players, which gave us Pau Gasol but also Darko Milicic. Dirk is the best player from Europe in NBA history. Not even Wes Unseld can contend with the big German here.
Major League Baseball retired Robinson’s number across the league. Yes, a lot of that is because of what a trailblazer he was as the man who broke the color barrier. He was also an incredible player, winning Rookie of the Year and MVP during his career. Robinson is even better than the last player to wear his number, Mariano Rivera.
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Petty is simply known as “The King,” which may say it all. He was one of the first stars of NASCAR, and some still consider him the best driver ever. Petty is one of three drivers to win the NASCAR season title seven times, and he also won the Daytona 500 seven times. Once he won 10 races in a row. Troy Polamalu, who wore 43, was a great safety, but he’s not “The King.”
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This was not an easy one. Pete Maravich wore 44. So did George Gervin. However, as great as “Pistol” and “Ice Man” were at basketball, Hammerin’ Hank was even better at baseball. We all know Aaron was the lon-time home run king, and still ranks second. Did you know that he still has more RBI than anybody in MLB history, or that he’s third in hits? There’s more to Aaron than just his 755 homers.
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45 – Pedro Martinez
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Yes, Bob Gibson once had a 1.12 ERA in a season. That’s amazing, but that was in the era of pitching when the mounds were raised. Pedro didn’t pitch then. He actually pitched through the heart of the steroid era. Martinez had a 1.74 ERA in 2000. Frankly, that’s more impressive than anything Gibson did, and it was one of five times Pedro led the majors in ERA.
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46 – Todd Christiansen
Christiansen isn’t a big name, but he had some great years with the Raiders. Playing tight end, he twice led the NFL in receptions and made five Pro Bowls. He was also a two-time First Team All-Pro, so some thought he was the best tight end in the league in his time. Andy Pettitte was a good pitcher on some great teams, but nobody ever considered him one of the best at his job.
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47 – Mel Blount
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The Steel Curtain defense was famous for its vicious front seven, but it needed Blount back there in the secondary patrolling as well. He played for all four of the Steelers’ Super Bowl-winning squads in the ‘70s, and he was once named the Defensive Player of the Year — on a team with names like Joe Greene and Jack Lambert. He deservedly is in his sport’s Hall of Fame, unlike another guy who wore 47, Jack Morris.
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Richard Petty passed the torch of the best driver in NASCAR to Dale Earnhardt. Since Earnhardt drove the 3 car, and Babe Ruth wore No. 3, he didn’t have much of a chance. Eventually, Johnson would take the title of the top driver on the NASCAR circuit. Like Petty and Earnhardt, he won the NASCAR season title seven times. The competition was slim, so you could say Johnson lapped them all.
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49 – Ron Guidry
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Guidry’s name is forgotten in Yankees lore, which is fair given how many legends they have. However, he led the American League in ERA twice and won a Cy Young in 1978. On top of that, Guidry won five Gold Gloves. We want to briefly mention the underrated safety Dennis Smith as well.
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50 – David Robinson
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Mike Singletary was a formidable linebacker patrolling the field in the NFL. He was great, but he’s not “the Admiral.” Even though he didn’t start his career until he was 24, after fulfilling his naval duties, he put together a Hall of Fame career. Nobody was as defensively formidable as Robinson in his heyday. He made eight All-Defense teams to go with 10 All-NBA teams.
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51 – Randy Johnson
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While Johnson had a couple of seasons wearing other numbers, the Big Unit was the clear choice here. With his massive frame and vicious fastball, Johnson won five Cy Youngs and led the majors in strikeouts eight times. He’s second in career whiffs behind only Nolan Ryan, who played forever. One guy who was hard to strikeout? Ichiro Suzuki, who also wore 51.
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52 – Ray Lewis
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When the Ravens had the best defense in the NFL, Lewis was at the center of that. It’s rare for a middle linebacker to get a ton of awards love, but Lewis managed to be named Defensive Player of the Year twice. The Hall of Famer was an easy choice.
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53 – Don Drysdale
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While we don’t imagine a ton of baseball players clamoring to wear the No. 53, that’s not going to happen for any young Dodgers players. The franchise has retired Drysdale’s number after he spent 14 seasons in Dodger blue. He helped them win three World Series while also winning a Cy Young for himself.
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54 – Brian Urlacher
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We talked about how impressive it was that Lewis won Defensive Player of the Year twice as a middle linebacker, but Urlacher did the same thing. He was all over the field for the Bears and actually had 41.5 sacks in his career as well. Goose Gossage had a fine career in baseball, but as a relief pitcher, and we’ll go with a starting linebacker over a reliever any day of the week.
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55 – Derrick Brooks
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We have a run on linebackers. Larry Murphy is a Hall of Fame NHL defenseman, and he would have been the choice if he had worn 55 his entire career. Unfortunately for him, he spent half his career in other numbers. Brooks wore 55 for his whole NFL run, and he never left the Buccaneers. Like Murphy, he’s in his sport’s Hall, but he did it all in 55.
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56 – Lawrence Taylor
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Keep the linebackers coming! Not that we had any choice here. Taylor is considered by some the best defensive player ever. He was an unstoppable force. LT was named Defensive Player of the Year three times with the Giants. That’s something almost no other player can say.
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Shout out to Steve Heinze, the hockey player who wore 57 for the pun, but he’s no match for Santana. Injuries caught up to Santana and will keep him out of the Hall of Fame, but at his peak he was incredible. For three straight years, he led the American League in strikeouts and FIP, and in two of those seasons he won the Cy Young as well.
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58 – Derrick Thomas
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This was a battle of three linebackers: two in the Hall of Fame and one headed there. That future Hall of Famer is Von Miller, who should be the preeminent 58 eventually. Jack Lambert was also fantastic. Thomas, though, is underrated. He once had 20 sacks in a season and had 126.5 sacks in his career. Thomas’ numbers could have been even better, but he unfortunately died in a car accident after the 1999 season.
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59 – Jack Ham
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While Lambert, Ham’s teammate with the Steelers, didn’t quite make the cut at 58, Ham is an easy choice at 59. After all, he was named to the NFL All-Pro team for six straight seasons. The linebacker was a vital part of the Steel Curtain, and there wasn’t much of a challenge to him here.
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Otto Graham, the Hall of Fame quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, wore 60. Yes, really. The NFL was weird then. However, he wore it for only two seasons as opposed to four wearing No. 14 and also, four not wearing a number at all. Like we said, the NFL was weird then. So instead, we’re going with Theodore, who wore an odd number for a goalie. Sure, he made only two All-Star teams, but in one season he won not just the Vezina but also the Hart.
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Nash was not just a first overall pick, but the first pick in Columbus Blue Jackets history. He once led the NHL in goals scored and hit the 40-goal threshold three times. Injuries cut his career short, which is the only reason he didn’t end up with 500 goals. Josh Beckett wore No. 61 at times but not with the Red Sox.
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Kelce outdueled another NFL center, Jim Langer, for this honor. He’s spent his entire career with the Eagles, and he’s been named an All-Pro for each of the last three seasons. Kelce, and his massive beard, was also key in the Eagles winning their first-ever Super Bowl.
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63 – Gene Upshaw
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If you are of a certain age, you probably remember Upshaw primarily as an executive with the NFLPA. Before that, though, he had a long, successful career on the field. Upshaw spent 15 seasons as an offensive guard, playing well enough to make it into the Hall of Fame with the Raiders.
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64 – Jerry Kramer
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Offensive linemen maybe aren’t the most exciting players to talk about, but excellence should be recognized. Kramer played his entire career with the Packers, including winning the first two Super Bowls. Fun fact: Kramer also served as the Green Bay kicker for three seasons.
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65 – Erik Karlsson
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Karlsson toiled in relative obscurity when he was with the Ottawa Senators, but hockey fans still knew him. The Swede was the best offensive defenseman in the NHL, routinely racking up over 60 points. Once he led the NHL in assists with 66, unheard of for a blue liner. With all due respect to Gary Zimmerman, a Hall of Fame guard in the NFL, Karlsson is only 29 and on his way to the Hall himself someday.
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We didn’t have to think about this for a second. Lemieux’s 66 is one of the iconic numbers in NHL history. For years, there was a legitimate debate about who was better: Wayne Gretzky or Super Mario. Injuries and illness tamped down Lemieux’s numbers a bit, but he still won three Harts and six Art Rosses. Lemieux is the rare player who is considered one of the top-10 athletes in his sport but also makes you ask, “What could have been?”
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67 – Bob Kuechenberg
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There weren’t many names to consider for 67. It’s not a beloved number, apparently. Still, Kuechenberg made six Pro Bowls as a guard for the Dolphins, including on the legendary undefeated Miami squad.
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We’ve got two Penguins legends sandwiching a largely forgotten NFL guard. Of course, Jagr ended up playing for a bunch of teams in his career as he held on to add to his incredible goal total. The Czech sniper is third in career goals in NHL history, even though he took off a few seasons to go play in the KHL. If not for that, he might have become the third-ever player to notch 800 goals.
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You can be forgiven for not expecting much out of Allen when he was drafted in the fourth round out of Idaho State. Instead he became one of the best pass rushers in the league. He twice led the NFL in sacks, including a 22-sack season that almost broke the record. Allen currently ranks 12th in career sacks.
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70 – Rayfield Wright
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For the first two seasons of his career, Wright didn’t wear No. 70, but he wore it when he made six straight Pro Bowls and three straight All-Pro teams, all for the Cowboys. The long-time right tackle in Dallas made the Hall of Fame, and you can find him in the Cowboys Ring of Honor as well.
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Apparently Pittsburgh Penguins history is filled with great players who wear unusual numbers. When Geno was left off the NHL’s top 100 player’s list, it caused an uproar. We can see why. Sidney Crosby gets a ton of credit, but Malkin actually has two Art Ross trophies, not to mention a Hart and a Conn Smythe, in his own right.
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Carlton Fisk may be the most famous player to don No. 72, but it wasn’t until later in his career after he stopped wearing 27. Dierdorf, who you surely remember from his TV commentary work, wore 72 for the entirety of his career, which ended with him in the Hall of Fame. That’s what happens when you make six Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams.
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73 – Larry Allen
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Allen was known for his massive arms and incredible strength, which helped him become an elite offensive lineman. He spent almost the entirety of his career with the Cowboys, making six straight All-Pro squads. Allen was actually named to the Hall of Fame’s All-Decade team in both the ‘90s and the 2000s.
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Matthews had a lengthy career, playing from the time he was 22 until he was 40. In fact, the iron man offensive lineman played in every game for 14 straight seasons. He also happened to make 14 Pro Bowls, which got him into the Hall.
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75 – Joe Greene
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Should we have just called him “Mean” Joe Greene? When was the last time “Mean” wasn’t attached to his name? Probably before his iconic Coca-Cola ad. Some other excellent NFL stars wore 75, including Jonathan Ogden and Deacon Jones. However, Greene was the face of the Steel Curtain defense, being named Defensive Player of the Year twice.
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For a stretch, Hutchinson was probably the best guard in the league. He made seven straight Pro Bowls in the 2000s and was named to the All-Decade team by the Hall of Fame as well. P.K. Subban would have been a more fun player to go with, and early in his career when he was winning the Norris he seemed on pace. However, the last couple of years have been tough for the defenseman.
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77 – Ray Bourque
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Sure, Bourque wore seven until it was retired for Phil Esposito. He then turned to 77, though, and wore it for well over a decade, including when he won four Norris Trophies. He wore it for two seasons in which he had over 90 points. This was still an easy choice, as Bourque is an all-time NHL great.
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78 – Anthony Munoz
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The Cincinnati Bengals don’t have a storied franchise history, but they do have one of the greatest offensive tackles ever to their name. Munoz played 13 seasons, and the only seasons he missed the Pro Bowl were his first and last. The Hall of Famer was perhaps the best tackle of the ‘80s, which is something Cincinnati can take credit for.
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79 – Rosey Brown
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No NBA player has ever wore No. 79, which is kind of interesting, but a few football players have. The best of the bunch is Brown, who is a name from the past. Brown played tackle for the Giants from 1953 until 1965, being named an All-Pro six times en route to the Hall.
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80 – Jerry Rice
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Now that we are in the 80s, the decisions get a little bit trickier — although, this was still an obvious choice. Yes, Cris Carter was great, and so was Kellen Winslow. But Rice is the best receiver of all time to this day. His numbers blow everybody else’s out of the water, and even in this pass-happy era nobody has topped Rice’s numbers yet.
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81 – Terrell Owens
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Sometimes Owens’ personality overshadowed his play. So let’s give some love to T.O.’s work on the field. He led the league in receiving touchdowns three times and finished his career with 1,078 receptions. Owens was just recently inducted in the Hall of Fame, with plenty of highlights to fill his reel. Tim Brown was also a great receiver but not quite on par with Owens.
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Witten will never make the football announcing Hall of Fame, but he’s on his way to the NFL Hall when he finally retires. The tight end has 1,215 receptions in his career, which is fourth all time. That includes wide receivers, mind you. At this point he is no longer the player he used to be, but Witten can only add to his legacy at this point as one of the best tight ends ever.
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83 – Ted Hendricks
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Can you imagine a 6-foot-7’ linebacker? Or a linebacker who wears the No. 83? Well Hendricks was both. He’s been forgotten a bit by this point, even though he played on four Super Bowl winners and made the Hall of Fame. With his incredible length, Hendricks blocked 25 field goals in his career.
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Moss and Shannon Sharpe both wore No. 84, but both also wore other numbers. In particular, Moss wore No. 81 with the Patriots when he was setting NFL records. However, he did wear No. 84 when he was with the Vikings. In those seven seasons he had 574 receptions for 9,142 yards and 90 touchdowns. That’s good enough for us.
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For a guy who played basketball in college, Gates had quite the NFL career. Well, he could have been the first overall pick, and he still would have had a stellar career. The tight end made eight straight Pro Bowls and three straight All-Pro teams, and he had a 12-touchdown season after his peak. We do want to shout out Chad Johnson, in part because he changed his named to Chad Ochocinco in honor of his number.
For a player who made only four Pro Bowls, Ward had quite the career. He finished with 1,000 receptions, one of only 14 players to have done that so far, and he had 85 receiving touchdowns. Ward is also famous for his vicious blocks, which isn’t something every receiver is known to want to do.
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The hype surrounding Crosby before he was drafted was hard to live up to. And yet Crosby has done it. In the middle of his career he lost a few seasons to injury, but that hasn’t stopped him from putting up incredible numbers. Sid the Kid has won the Hart twice for regular season MVP and, just as importantly, he has won the Conn Smythe for playoff MVP twice as well. Another 87 with injury issues, Rob Gronkowski, deserves a mention, and not just because he has a WWE title to his name now.
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88 – Tony Gonzalez
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We feel comfortable saying Gonzalez is the best tight end ever. He helped change the position, showing that a tight end could be a de facto receiver out there. The longtime Chief once led the NFL with 102 catches, and he ranks in the top 10 in career receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. Michael Irvin was also a fine player who wore No. 88, and Eric Lindros may have been the choice if not for his unfortunate concussion issues.
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Mogilny was one of the first players to defect from the Soviet Union to play in the NHL, and he made his mark early. When he was only 23 years old he scored a staggering 76 goals in a season. Because of injuries, Mogilny played in only 990 games over 16 seasons, but the Russian managed 473 goals in that time. He was able to just beat out the wide receiver Steve Smith.
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Peppers came out of the gates with a bang, picking up 12 sacks as a rookie for the Carolina Panthers. Those were the first of 159 sacks he managed in his career, almost all of them coming while wearing the No. 90. Peppers was excellent for a long time as well, as he notched 11 sacks in 2017 as a 37 year old.
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Here’s how incredible Fedorov’s all-around game was. In the 1993-94 season he won the Hart with 120 points but also won the Selke for best defensive forward. It was one of two Selkes he won, and for a time he even played defensemen for the Red Wings. The Russian fell just under 500 goals in his career, but it didn’t keep him out of the Hall of Fame.
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92 – Reggie White
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A few excellent pass rushers wore 92, including Michael Strahan, who has the NFL record for most sacks in a season. Still, we can’t deny the Minister of Defense. White was the most feared pass rusher of his era, racking up sacks with gusto. While he led the league in sacks only twice, his 198 career sacks are second-best in NFL history.
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93 – John Randle
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This was a neck-and-neck battle between Randle and Dwight Freeney, but in the end the guy currently in the Hall of Fame gets the nod. He has more sacks, for example, with 137.5. For six years in a row he was named to the All-Pro team. Not too bad for a guy who wasn’t even drafted out of college. No, seriously.
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94 – DeMarcus Ware
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After his rookie season, when he had “only” eight sacks, Ware never failed to have double-digit sacks in a season in which he played at least 14 games. The Cowboy and Bronco led the NFL in sacks twice and tackles for loss three times. Ware was a scary force off the edge, making him the choice here at No. 94.
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95 – Richard Dent
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William “The Refrigerator” Perry was the beloved face of the Chicago Bears defensive line, but Dent was the true star of the bunch. While he was an All-Pro only one time, that year he led the league in both sacks and forced fumbles. The fact he wasn’t Defensive Player of the Year that season was baffling. That was only one season out of his Hall-of-Fame career, of course.
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96 – Cortez Kennedy
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We are on a bit of a run of terrifying defensive linemen, but that’s numbers in the 90s for you. Weirdly, in the one season he won Defensive Player of the Year he wore No. 99, but in every other season of his career he wore No. 96. His best year may have been in a different number, but the bulk of his Hall-of-Fame career in Seattle came wearing 96, so he’s still the choice here.
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We don’t think it’s too early to make the call here. McDavid is in only his fifth season, but he’s already the best player in the NHL. He’s won two Art Ross Trophies and one Hart already. McDavid is clearly going to be the kind of player who dominates the NHL for years at a time. In a few years this choice is going to be even more obvious.
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Mathis got overshadowed by Dwight Freeney, but he was a great pass rusher in his own right. He made five Pro Bowls and led the league in sacks once. Mathis also had a penchant for punching out balls, as he led the NFL in forced fumbles three times.
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99 – Wayne Gretzky
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We end where you knew we would. When Gretzky retired, and the NHL retired his number as a whole. Not that it was necessary to do that. Players had long ago decided to stop wearing No. 99, because it was a source of derision to don the number that Gretzky had made iconic. No player in NHL history has more goals, assists or points. His numbers may never be beaten. When you think “99” in sports, there is only one player who comes to mind: the Great One.
Published at Tue, 28 Apr 2020 18:32:01 +0000