Continuing with the players that made the numbers famous, let’s pick it up with….
#16: Joe Montana. There’s Whitey Ford in baseball and hockey is well represented with Bobby Clarke, Brett Hull, and Marcel Dionne. Football also has George Blanda and Len Dawson but there was none better than Joe Cool. A respectable quarterback at Notre Dame, Montana became a great one with the 49ers.
#17: Surprisingly, there is not a standout quarterback to ever wear this number. But it wouldn’t have mattered because my choice over any of them would have been John Havlicek. Many people forget that Hondo was also drafted to play pro football but it was with the Celtics that he made his mark. Wasn’t flashy — just always made the big play, either offensively or defensively.
#18: It is my humble opinion that those of us who enjoy sports and those of you who particularly like watching professional football are very lucky to be watching the quarterback who just may be the best of all time playing right now. Even though he played his college ball at Tennessee, I have to admit that Peyton Manning is the best to ever take a snap. That, of course, is saying a lot just when you consider the names mentioned before but before his playing days are through, he will probably own the records for every meaningful quarterback stat there is. Enjoy him while you can because before you blink an eye he will be gone like…..
#19: John Unitas. The best quarterback I watched as a youngster, Unitas led the Colts to victory over the New York Giants in the 1958 NFL Championship game in what many call The Greatest Game Ever Played. Unitas finished his career with over 40,000 yards passing and still holds the record by passing for a touchdown in 47 straight games. I can still remember those humped shoulders and those high top cleats. Bob Feller and Lance Alworth also wore #19 but no one compared to Johnny U.
#20: Here’s another number that I struggled picking a winner in. Runners up were Lou Brock, Frank Robinson, and Tony Stewart but it came down to Mike Schmidt and Barry Sanders. If Sanders had not cut short his career by taking early retirement, he would probably get the nod but because of his outstanding career as the third baseman for the Phillies and one of the best power hitters baseball has ever seen I’ll go with Schmidt.
#21: Wow! Here’s another tough one. Here are just a few of the great ones who wore #21: Roger Clemens, Tim Duncan, Warren Spahn, Dominque Wilkins, Stan Mikita, Kevin Garnett, and Ladamian Tomlinson. But the best of all of these was the great Roberto Clemente. He was poetry in motion both in the outfield (the best arm baseball has ever seen in right field) and on the basepaths. We all know the story of the tragic end to his life but what he did between the foul lines will not be equaled for a long time. He even has a bridge outside of Pittsburgh’s stadium dedicated to him.
#22: Baseball has Jim Palmer, hockey has Mike Bossy, basketball has Elgin Baylor but football has Emmitt Smith. Another player that always made it hard for me to root for since he played at hated Florida as a collegian and the equally hated Cowboys as a pro, Emmitt transcended that to become one of the best backs to ever tote the pigskin.
#23: Nobody even comes close. Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan.
#24: The “Say Hey” Kid, Willie Mays. He almost gets the choice as easily as Jordan did at his number but you do have to vaguely consider Kobe, Moses Malone, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Jeff Gordon. Mays was the best all-around player I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. Wish he had been a Brave instead of a Giant.
#25: It is a shame that his name has become so tainted and stained with performance-enhancing accusations. Before he felt the need to cheat, Barry Bonds was on pace to become one of the greatest of all time just on his own physical skills and talents. He still gets the nod cause guess who else we have to consider at this number- Mark McGwire. How ironic!
#26: Not a big selection at this number. You’ve got Rod Woodson in football and Billy Williams the former Chicago Cub, so my selection goes to one of the best pure hitters the game of baseball has seen and that’s Wade Boggs. Boggs hit to all fields and while he never hit for power, I think it is very ironic that his 3000th hit was a home run.
#27: Eddie George and Vlad Guerrero are runners up but I’m going with what would be a pretty good pitcher-catcher duo. Juan Marichal throwing to Carlton Fisk when he was with the Red Sox. That’s two #27’s you can rely on.
#28: Marshall Faulk. His 6,800 yards receiving are the most for any running back and he ran for over 13,000 yards.
#29: Gotta go with another great hitter, Rod Carew. But some might make a case for Satchell Paige whose greatness was hidden in the Negro League for so long. Eric Dickerson and hockey’s best goalie ever, Ken Dryden also wore #29. And, oh yeah, a pretty good pitcher for the home team Braves named John Smoltz also qualifies.
#30: Is there any choice here other than Nolan Ryan? The only man to pitch seven no-hitters and amass over 5,700 strikeouts, he far outshines Martin Brodeur and Ken Griffey, Jr. And before you write in and tell me I made a mistake, I realize that Ryan did not wear #30 when he played for the Rangers and Astros but he made the number great enough as an Angel.
Next week, we pick up with #31 and I’ll give you a hint, it’s a former Atlanta Brave.
Randy Blalock is a columnist for the Barrow Journal. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.