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What Do Jersey Numbers Signify in Team Sports?

Ever wonder if the numbers on the backs of athletic uniforms have any significance? Is it the player’s lucky number? Are digits assigned arbitrarily? Where do these numbers come from?

Historically, in many team sports, a player’s number would refer to his position. In 1916, the Cleveland Indians were the first baseball team to don numbered team uniforms, and in 1924, soccer players in the National Challenge Cup took that trend a step further. They gave their soccer team uniforms numbers based on field location, with the goalkeeper wearing number one, the defenders wearing two through six, and offensive players wearing seven through 11.

Over time, the numbers and their matching positions shifted a bit, but remnants of the original system do stand true today. There are several universally agreed upon numbers that will forever be associated with a particular role. For instance, the number one jersey is worn by the starting goalkeeper on most modern soccer times. Number seven belongs to a team’s strongest winger or second striker.

Number 10, however, is the most emblematic number for soccer team uniforms, given to the central attacking midfielder positioned just behind the forward. Many legendary players have worn this number, including Diego Maradona and Edson Arantes do Nascimento, more widely known as Pele.

The National Football League has a unique team apparel numbering system. Like soccer, numbers for football team uniforms are associated with field positions, although in football, players are given a range. For instance, a quarterback must wear a number between one and 19. A wide receiver can wear a number between 10 and 19 or between 80 and 89. No two players on a team can wear the same number.

In baseball, numbers were once assigned in relation to a player’s position; however, that is no longer the case. Over the years, numbers have become the source of emotional attachment and superstition, causing players to stick with their personal preferences. For instance, Johnny Neves always wore the number seven because it is his last name spelled backward. David Wells wore number three in honor of his favorite player, Babe Ruth.

If you play a team sport, have you ever thought about why you wear the number you do? Is there any significance? Let us know how you feel, and get in touch the next time you need help designing custom team uniforms.

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