CLINE: The numbers game

Todd Cline

Todd Cline

Parkview High School is holding a neat ceremony at Friday night's football game with Berkmar. The Panthers are retiring the No. 12 jersey. What makes the celebration unique is the school isn't retiring a certain person's number, but the number in general.

It's a neat concept and a great way to impart the importance of a team-first mentality in a me-first world. Instead of retiring the number in honor of a particular player, the idea at Parkview was to pass it on, inspiring each ensuing player to continue the legacy. That worked pretty well for the Panthers as the number was worn by many talented players, including Jeremy Muyes, Tim Gustafson and Jeff Francoeur.

"Every name of the back of the jersey is important, but it's the name on the front that counts," said Parkview athletic director Mark Whitley, who is also a longtime Panther football coach.

The ceremony got me thinking about those Parkview players I covered back in my days as a sports writer, and how the tradition of excellence started long before Francoeur burst into superstardom. Thinking of those players reminded me of many stories, of trips to Mt. Airy when you'd see a Muyres brother pass to another Muyres brother for a touchdown and of late Friday nights after games witnessing guys like Jerry Stewart and Robert Hill discussing with head coach Cecil Flowe what worked and what didn't.

That numerology is one thing that makes sports so great. In life, no one wants to be just a number. In sports, they just want to know which one they can be.

Just as the No. 12 is tied to Parkview's program, others jersey numbers are tied to certain teams and in turn many memories. The New York Yankees have too many to name, but there are men of a certain age who equate the No. 7 with Mickey Mantle. The affinity fans have for their favorite players' numbers was furthered in a famous "Seinfeld" episode where George Costanza said he wanted to name his firstborn "Seven" in honor of Mantle.

He was rebuffed, but friends decided to go with the name, a plot point that has likely been duplicated somewhere in real life by zealous fans.

I've never considered "Thirty-three" for a name, but it's always been one of my favorite numbers. Kareem Abdul Jabbar wore it for the Lakers and Tony Dorsett wore it while playing for the Dallas Cowboys. Those guys were my favorite players on my favorites teams when I was a kid, so if I had a shirt or jersey I wanted to have that number on it. In short, I wanted to be them.

That worked until I got older (and bigger). When I was old enough to wear real uniforms I quickly discovered that 33 was not a number for big guys. As a member of the freshman basketball team at my high school, the only uniform in my size was No. 55. I liked the double number, but the following year No. 44 opened up, and it's been my favorite number ever since.

They never retired my jersey (no matter how much I offered them to do so), but the number I wore keeps good company. Locally, a guy by the name of Hank Aaron wore it for the Braves and Reggie Jackson wore it for the Yankees. And as much as I liked Dorsett, I also liked the guy who blocked for him, Robert Newhouse, who just happened to wear -- you guessed it -- No. 44.

That shared number made me feel connected to those guys, like some sort of sports fraternity brothers. These days Jason Snelling wears those digits for the Falcons. And while I like the way Snelling plays, I'm sure the fact he sports my old number has a lot to do with him being one of my favorite Atlanta players.

So here's to the Parkview guys who have worn No. 12. And to the memories that come from all those other jersey numbers as well.

Email Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.