Who Wore It Best? Ranking The Best College Football Players To Ever Wear Numbers 1–9
Go ahead, we dare you to do better than we did with our list of best single-digit jersey wearers… (do it in the comments section!)
By Ron Hampston / @Ron_Hamp
My love for the single-digit number in college football is outright preposterous. Outfitted in the single-digit jersey number oozes a great deal of swagger no matter the skill level of the player.
For players who are profusely talented, it allows them to play as if they have the attributes of a superhero.
I’m a firm believer that the NFL should allow players to wear any jersey number at any position, and I’d love to make my argument to with Roger Goodell over food and drinks. As recently as this year, Derrick Henry attempted to wear his well-known №2, but in the no fun league, he will wear №24 when the regular season begins.
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Henry isn’t the first to be spurned while attempting to bring his single-digit powers to the NFL, and he won’t be the last. Perhaps Charles Rogers, Reggie Bush and Peter Warrick would’ve had decorated careers if they were allowed to sport their college numbers. Probably not, but we can’t be 100 percent certain, can we? OK, maybe we can, but you get my point.
While the talk of a jersey number may sound simple, it’s often synonymous with a player’s success.
Would Charles Woodson have won the Heisman Trophy if he wore №43? Um, hell no. The powers of №2 helped propel Woodson into one of the best football players in college football history. Sure, his talent, skill and hard work played a (large) part, but that number helped put him over the top.
With reference to the some of the top college football players in history, let’s take a look at the best to sport numbers 1–9.
#1 — Larry Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh
Deciding the best player to wear №1 was a tough decision, until I realized how dominant Larry Fitzgerald was at Pitt. As soon as Fitz stepped foot on campus, he was arguably the best wide receiver in college football. In only two seasons, the beast of a wideout caught 161 passes for 2,677 yards. Unlike other stars who wore the number, Fitzgerald was the lone player on his team whom defenses keyed on, and to no surprise, he continued to put up insane stats.
Honorable mention: Warren Moon, Lawrence Phillips, Braylon Edwards, DeSean Jackson, Anthony Carter
#2 — Deion Sanders, Florida State; Charles Woodson, Michigan
It’s no coincidence that two of the best defensive backs the world has ever seen both wore №2 in college. While at Florida State, the legend of “Prime Time” was born. Sanders blanketed wide receivers and pranced past defenders whenever he touched the ball. In Tallahassee, he became a two-time consensus All-American and a Jim Thorpe Award winner in 1988.
Honorable mention: Cam Newton, Willis McGahee, Johnny Manziel, Tim Couch
#3 — Joe Montana, Notre Dame
Before Montana was given the nickname Joe Cool, he was the man on campus in South Bend. In 1977, Montana led the Fighting Irish to a national championship over the then №1 team in the country, the Texas Longhorns. Montana gave up his prominent №3 jersey when he was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers, but his impact donning №3 will never be forgotten.
Honorable mention: Keyshawn Johnson, Carson Palmer
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#4 — Plaxico Burress, Michigan State
Plaxico ruined my childhood for what he did to Ohio State in 1998. Under Nick Saban, Burress set the Big Ten and college football world on fire at MSU. Standing at 6–5, he presented a matchup problem for any defensive back in his way. With the combination of his size and speed, no record was safe as he tormented defenses each and every Saturday. In his last season in East Lansing, he broke the school single-season record with 66 receptions to go along with 1,142 yards 12 touchdowns, which led to him being named an All-American.
Honorable mention: Terence Newman, Santonio Holmes, Brett Favre, Devin Hester
#5 — Reggie Bush, USC
Reggie Bush is the most electrifying college football player that I’ve ever seen, and it’s not even close. He was a highlight waiting to happen whenever he touched the ball. Ranking 10th in NCAA Division I-A history with 6,551 all-purpose yards is a testament to his versatile skill set. Although Bush and the Trojans came up short to win back-to-back titles, his 2005 season will go down in history as one of the best ever. He won the Heisman Trophy that season, even if the history books have been rewritten.
Honorable mention: Edgerrin James, Donovan McNabb, Jameis Winston, LaDainian Tomlinson
#6 — Jerome Bettis, Notre Dame
Before he plowed over defenders in the NFL, Bettis steamrolled opponents in college. As he did in the pros, Bettis was a touchdown vulture, piling up 37 scores in three seasons. The Bus was a one-of-a-kind talent in college, and his swagger was something unusual in South Bend. Seeing a gargantuan running back wearing №6 all while spatting his cleats in the white tape is the reason he is on the list.
Honorable mention: Tyrone Wheatley, Robbie Bosco, De’Anthony Thomas
#7 — Michael Vick, Virginia Tech
There were several players more successful than Vick who wore №7, but this choice is for the culture. It’s crazy to think that it’s been almost 20 years since Vick flipped into our hearts. At Virginia Tech, he led the Hokies to the National Championship Game in 2000, losing to a star-laden Florida State team. Vick’s legend in college will forever be celebrated even though his time in Blacksburg was short.
Honorable mention: Eric Crouch, Tyrann Mathieu, John Elway, Joe Theismann, Danny Wuerffel, Jadeveon Clowney
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#8 — Troy Aikman, UCLA
The legend of Troy Aikman may have never become a thing if he would have stayed at Oklahoma. Aikman transferred to UCLA after a brief period, and the rest was history. In two seasons in the golden state, he completed 64.8 percent of his passes and threw for 5,298 yards and 41 touchdowns. On top of his ridiculous stats, he won the Davey O’Brien Award as the top quarterback in the nation and was named a consensus All-American.
Honorable mention: Steve Young, Marvin Harrison, Davey O’Brien, Napoleon Kaufman
#9 — Peter Warrick, Florida State
Tears are rolling down my face as I am writing this. Why? Because Peter Warrick is one of my favorite collegiate wide receivers of all time. Warrick was lightning in a bottle, and like Reggie Bush, he was a highlight waiting to happen. While at FSU, Warrick helped lead his team to a national championship and was also known as one hell of a bargain shopper. I wish things would have gone better for Warrick in the pros. I’m blaming his lack of NFL stardom on not being allowed to wear №9.
Honorable mention: David Boston, Bobby Boucher, Steve McNair, Jim McMahon
Single-digit numbers are one of many things that make college football awesome. Hopefully, the NFL will make a rule change for the better at some point and let players where any number they want.
in the meantime, we’ll celebrate those who don the single digit in the NCAA.
Originally published at www.thesportsfanjournal.com on August 30, 2016.