Numbers Game

Sports are full of numbers. Fans always want to be able to see the scoreboard and pour over box scores in the next day's newspaper. Athletes are judged based on how many home runs they hit or how many touchdowns they rush for. Most noticeable, though, are the numbers that the players wear on their backs.

Why do uniforms have numbers?: Uniforms have numbers so that fans and reporters can easily identify players. Before games were on TV, many sports fans didn't know what their favorite players looked like. When they got to a game, they were able to pick out each player based on the numbers on their jerseys. Football players wore certain numbers based on their position. In football, players who play certain positions on the offensive line are not allowed on certain parts of the field. Based on their numbers, the referees were able to easily identify these players and call penalties. In baseball, teams started wearing uniform numbers in the 1920s. These numbers typically corresponded with the players' spot in the batting order. The leadoff hitter would wear number 1, the second hitter would wear number 2, and so on.

Superstitions: Today, many athletes at all levels can be very picky about what numbers they wear. Many athletes consider certain numbers lucky, and continue to wear them every season. For this same reason, many players avoid wearing number 13. Players consider the number unlucky and don't want to wear it. Athletes will sometimes honor their heroes by wearing their numbers. LeBron James grew up wearing number 23 because of Michael Jordan. James still wears 23 to this day.

Famous numbers: Some players wear numbers for so long that they become a part of the player. Great players not only become famous themselves, but can make their numbers famous. When hockey fans hear the number 99, they immediately think of Wayne Gretzky. In pro basketball, No. 23 will always be associated with Michael Jordan. Jackie Robinson's 42 is one of the most important numbers in baseball. Most football fans remember that Lawrence Taylor wore number 56 with the New York Giants and John Elway wore number 7 with the Denver Broncos.

Retired numbers: If a team wants to honor a former player, sometimes it will retire the player's number. This means that no one on that team can ever wear that number again. The New York Yankees have retired many numbers, including great players like Babe Ruth (3), Lou Gehrig (4), Joe DiMaggio (5), Mickey Mantle (7) and Yogi Berra (8). The Boston Celtics also have a large amount of retired numbers, including Larry Bird (33), Kevin McHale (32) and Bob Cousy (14).

Uniform numbers have become an important part of the sports world. From Little League to the big leagues and from Pop Warner to the NFL, just about every athlete competes with a number on their back. And they all mean something!

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