Photo by Pete Guion – Ultiphotos.com

Jersey numbers are complex. For those unfortunate few who never played a competitive sport, a jersey number has no significance, it is just a way to determine who is on the field.  For everyone else, a jersey number can lead to one of the biggest arguments between players that a team can have all season. 

Picking a number when a youth is first introduced to sport can be a significant moment in a player’s career.  It often signifies which famous athletes they look up to or which number they like the most. It is normal for someone to then keep that number as they continue through their sports career but changing it is not uncommon. As an athlete grows older that is when picking a number becomes more complicated. 

Not every player can have the same number. Ten years ago little league teams were feuding on who would get Derek Jeter’s #2, now it appears Bryce Harper’s #34 has taken its place. So what are they to do when their spot is taken? 

Throughout sports history it is expected for athletes to have a number that represents him or her, so over time his or her number begins to represent that athlete what he or she has done on and off the field.  It can be anti-superstitious (#13), lucky (#3/#7), the team’s leader (#10), or the team’s marque player.

Without any more banter, here is the second edition of the Washington D.C. Currents Numbers Talk.

#14 Lloyd Blake:

Current fans have watched the progression of Blake since he was a rookie back in ’14 (same as his number). Each year his numbers, statistical numbers that is, have improved dramatically from year to year. As a rookie he broke through on a loaded championship roster, recording six goals, 10 assists, and three blocks. This past year he became one of the faces of the Current, pacing the offense as the primary handler and leading the team in assists with 23 on the season. 

Although #14 wasn’t Blake’s first choice for a jersey number, he has held it all three seasons with the D.C. Current. His top choice was #17, the same number he played with at James Madison University. As mentioned in the last edition, four-year veteran of the Current, and fellow Hellfish alumni, Eric Miner holds seniority over that number.

His second choice was #14, his high school baseball number. 

“Pete Rose wore #14, and I am a big Cincinnati Reds fan,” Blake said.

As far as his choice for #17, “I think it had to do with baseball… maybe 14 was taken when I got to college so I picked one nearby.”

Famous athletes to wear the #14: Pete Rose, Oscar Robertson

#23 Gabe Webster:

In his second year with the team, Webster tripled his playing time and production. As a top defensive line player from Union College, Webster became an influential player on the field and made six blocks on the season while covering some of the top offensive stars on the east coast. In addition he tallied seven goals, the second most among D-line players. 

Growing up from Boston, he was naturally a fan of the Boston Celtics. In the 1990s the Celtics were in the roughest stretch of their franchise’s history (missing the playoffs for six straight seasons) and Michael Jordan was in his prime. 

“I gravitated towards [Jordan] because he was such an unstoppable force,” Webster said. “My dad actually stood in line overnight in downtown Boston at the Fleet Center in 1997 to get Celtics tickets for when the Bulls came to town.”

Jordan was one of the most influential athletes ever, not just in his generation. His influence spread not just to young basketball players but to athletes across the world. As many know, Jordan won six championships while on the Chicago Bulls, all of them wearing the #23. His incredible accomplishments are used as the benchmark as the ‘best basketball player in the world.’

“I always aspired to be like [Jordan]. That sets the bar pretty high, but I think it’s always good to have lofty goals. Because if I can’t quite reach that goal and fall to a [Scottie] Pippen-like level, I’m still in decent shape.”

For the record, Pippen also won six championships. 

Famous athletes to wear the #23: Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Bobby Nystrom, Don Mattingly

#0 Andrew Gravunder:

Gravunder just finished his rookie campaign with the Current. A product of Catholic University, Gravunder played a portion of his season on his alma maters’ home football stadium. A cool moment for any athlete, especially for those not on an NCAA regulated athletic team. 

Ultimate wasn’t the only sport Gravunder played growing up. In high school he took the chance to play on the school’s basketball team. His freshman year he suited up for the school’s junior varsity team for a game and there was a lone jersey remaining, #0. 

“Very fitting because it was my scoring average on the season.  The head coach also told me he would retire the jersey in the stadium rafters if I went off,” Gravunder said. “During the game, I got to play the last 15 seconds because my team was up 30 points. I hit a buzzer beater three in front of a full house getting ready for the Varsity game. I was probably too ecstatic for hitting a shot that didn’t matter in front of a cheering crowd shocked I actually made a basket, but I put in a lot of work for those 15 seconds that season.”

“I never made the varsity team and my jersey was never hung or retired, so I wear #0 in ultimate as a tribute to how those 15 second changed me. Maybe I’ll buy #15 from Peanut [Andrew Ferraro] next year.”

Famous athletes to wear the #0: Robert Parish, Jim Otto

#31 Chip Cobb:

Cobb is a familiar face to D.C. fans. In the franchise’s four seasons of existence, Cobb has played on the Current for three years, including the 2014 championship team. Known for his leadership and positivity on the sideline, Cobb has not been one to light up the stats sheet. 

That hasn’t stopped him from trying. When the 28-year-old takes the field his mentality is one of the most energetic and focused on the team. It matches the energy that his number represents.

“I picked #31 in honor of Dave Roberts,” Cobb said. ” When he got to the [Boston Red Sox], then-manager Terry Francona told him ‘Look, you’re not gonna’ play much, but one day, I’m going to put you in the game to steal us a base, and you’re going to win us a playoff game.’  And he did.”

This is extremely indicative of Cobb’s time with the Current.

For those who may not know, Roberts stole second base in Game Four of the 2004 ALCS. He pinch ran on first base for the Red Sox in the bottom of the ninth with no outs, his team down 4-3 in the game, 3-0 (elimination game) in the series, and the legendary Mariano Rivera on the mound. After the steal he would go on to score off of a single and the Red Sox would climb back to win the series and later, break the Curse of the Bambino with a World Series title. 

“To me, the number 31 is a reminder that, no matter what your job is, no matter what you’re asked to do, be ready to go when you number is called, and do it to the best of your ability.”

It will be one heck of a moment when Cobb is called to pinch-run. 

Famous athletes to wear the #31: Greg Maddux, Reggie Miller, Curtis Joseph, Mike Piazza

Check out our first instalment of Numbers Talk.

Want to find out how another player ended up with his Current number? Let us know who in the comment section and they could be featured in the next series!

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