Continuing with our countdown of the greatest players who ever wore — let’s pick it up with a hometown hero who proudly wore….
#31: Greg Maddux. Perhaps, the most consistent pitcher baseball has ever seen for an eight year period from 1999 to 2007. Didn’t overpower you with heat like Nolan Ryan or Randy Johnson- Maddux just knew the art of pitching. Reggie Miller in basketball and Dave Winfield and Fergie Jenkins in baseball also wore #31.
#32: This may be the toughest number of all. Here are the candidates: Sandy Koufax and Steve Carlton, two of the best lefties to ever climb the hill; Julius Erving and Magic Johnson, both Hall of Fame basketball players and even though I think he is the most overrated big man to ever play the game, I guess you’d have to include Shaquille O’Neal; and, Franco Harris in football. But the best of them to me- the greatest athlete to ever wear #32 was Jim Brown. Not only was Brown a great running back in college, where he actually wore #44, and the pros, he also was an All-American lacrosse player. His finest 100-yard dash may have been the one he made in the movie The Dirty Dozen. Those of you who have seen the movie know what I’m talking about.
#33: Another number loaded with great ones. Larry Bird, Tony Dorsett, Patrick Roy, Patrick Ewing, and Sammy Baugh but my selection is the great Kareem Abdul Jabbar. The best all-around center ever to play the game. He was also a champion at both the collegiate and professional levels.
#34: Surprise! Hershel Walker. You had to know I was going there, didn’t you? I know it is a homer call over other greats like Walter Payton, Bo Jackson, Rollie Fingers, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Kirby Puckett but it’s my column and I’ll pick who I want.
#35: Nobody really stands out here. Tony Esposito, Rickey Henderson, and home town favorite Phil Niekro get mention but I guess I’ll go with Auburn grad, Frank Thomas. If I’m not mistaken, Thomas and Bo Jackson played at Auburn at the same time. That must have been one strong lineup. Not sure if I would put Thomas in the Hall of Fame, but he was good enough to win two straight MVP awards.
#36: Two good pitchers could be considered: Robin Roberts and Gaylord Perry, but the winner is Jerome Bettis. I’m surprised there have not been any more running backs with this number so, by default, I’ll give it to “The Bus.”
#37: This one will make all you old-timers, like me, happy.
Doak Walker could do it all on a football field, and he did. Playing in the days when players went both ways, Walker was a great offensive and defensive player as well as kicker. The “Old Professor”, Casey Stengle also wore this number.
#38: The people up the road in Columbia would scream if I didn’t choose George Rogers so, I’ll pick Curt Schilling. A pretty good pitcher, just ask him, and a two-time Series winner with two different teams.
#39: I don’t know about you but when I hear the word fullback I think of Larry Csonka. This bruising runner for the Dolphins in their heyday was the last of the run-first, block-second fullbacks. Dave “The Cobra” Parker in baseball along with Roy Campanella are runners-up.
#40: Others may have worn the number but none did so as gracefully as Gale Sayers. “The Kansas Comet” was poetry in motion. His 6 TD’s in one game still stands as a record and his career stats could have been far better were it not for injuries.
#41: I’m sure many of you would go for Tom Seaver, Jim Rice, Dirk Nowitzki, or Wes Unseld here but none of them was my hero growing up and I’m not about to slight him here. Eddie Mathews is my choice as the best to ever wear this number. I have in my possession one of his jerseys with the #41 on its back and I just might be buried in it.
#42: No other athlete has ever contributed as much or sacrificed as much as Jackie Robinson. He broke the color barrier in baseball and he is the only player to ever be honored by having his jersey number retired in every major league city, Robinson was also a fine running back and track star at UCLA. Ronnie Lott and James Worthy also wore #42.
#43: OK, I know that drivers don’t actually wear their numbers unless they crash, but who else could be picked for this number other than Richard Petty? No one tops The King.
#44: Henry Aaron. Hank Aaron. No matter how you say it, no one else is even close. Sure, there is Reggie Jackson, Willie McCovey, and Pete Maravich who wore #23 in college and even Jerry West, the model for the NBA logo but there is no one like the great “Hammering Hank.” The one and only true home run king of baseball.
#45: If anyone even begins to compare Pedro Martinez to the real champ in this category, Bob Gibson, I’ll laugh in their face. I realize Pedro has won 3 Cy Youngs but, c’mon, look at Gibbys’ stats. And, remember, this is the best athlete to wear the number and Gibson played with the Harlem Globetrotters while Martinez picked a fight with an old man.
We’ll start moving a little more quickly through the numbers as we move into the next set of numbers. Linemen, linebackers, and receivers are about all we have to choose from.
Randy Blalock is a columnist for the Barrow Journal. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.