If you’re a Falcons fan, certain numbers will bring up specific associations with players. For many people, No. 7 will always connect to Michael Vick, and it’ll never stop being weird to see someone other than Roddy White wearing No. 84. So how do players end up with their jersey numbers?
Devonta Freeman chose his number to honor his aunt, Tamekia Nicole Brown, who was just 24 when she passed away after suffering a heart attack.
“A lot of people don’t know, but my auntie, she passed away,” Freeman said. “She was 24 years old. I was 14 years old at the time, and she was one of my favorite aunties. She passed away at 24, and I was like, I always want to represent her and just leave some legacy with my dreams — I’m a football player, but I still want to represent her every chance — every time I could. And I love her. Rest in peace, my auntie Tamekia Nicole Brown. That’s why I wear 24.”
I spoke to several other Falcons players about the meaning behind their jersey numbers. Some answers, like Freeman’s, were poignant. Some were funny, and some were just plain practical.
Keanu Neal got No. 22 to honor his brother in a roundabout way
Neal’s brother, Clinton Hart, played for the Eagles, the Chargers, and the Rams. He wore No. 42, but that didn’t work out for Neal.
“I initially wanted 42, because of my brother, Clinton Hart,” Neal said. “He played in the league, and I had it in high school and going throughout college and everything. And Pat DiMarco had it when I got here, so I kind of got the closest thing to it — two plus two is four, and then … you know, I kind of just played it like that.”
Desmond Trufant’s No. 21 represents a little chip on his shoulder
Everyone knows that Deion Prime Time Sanders wore No. 21 for the Falcons, and that went into Tru’s decision. But that wasn’t his only reason to choose No. 21.
“Obviously, Deion Sanders, he wore it. So I just thought it’d be dope to be the same number as him,” Trufant said. “And I was the 22nd pick, too, so there were 21 other teams that passed on me. So you know, a little bit of that.”
Kemal Ishmael’s No. 36 helps keep Sean Taylor’s memory alive
I still remember the morning I woke up to find that former Washington safety Sean Taylor had been murdered in his home by intruders. Ishmael’s number was chosen, in part, to honor Taylor’s memory.
“Quite simple. Sean Taylor wore No. 36 as a rookie, and I was 18 in college, so 18 times two is 36. Easy choice,” Ishmael said.
Mohamed Sanu’s No. 12 is a play on his high school and college numbers
The former high school and college quarterback had to adjust, but his old numbers played into his current one.
“So I wore No. 2 in high school, No. 6 in college, so I was like, two times six,” Sanu said.
Vic Beasley’s No. 44 is just simple addition
Beasley was the No. 8 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. That drove his jersey number decision.
“It’s an interesting story. When I came in, there really was a certain choice of numbers — they didn’t really have many to choose from,” Beasley said. “I was just talking to Kevin Winston and whatnot. We were talking about random stuff, and we got around to the pick that I was, the eighth pick, and he was like, ‘Well, you know four plus four equals eight,’ and I was the eighth pick of the draft, so that’s really how it came about, honestly.”
Josh Harris says his No. 47 was meant to be
Long snappers aren’t getting priority when choosing jersey numbers, and Harris took the number the team gave him. But he found a way to make it meaningful.
“That’s the number they gave me when I got here my rookie year. So it was a little better looking than 61, which I wore in college. So it was pretty neat,” Harris said. “But no, they picked it. I tried to find some meaning behind it, so here you go — are you following me here? So I was No. 40 in high school, and then 61 in college. Six and one is seven, 47 — a combination of both. It was meant to be.”
Kaleb McGary didn’t have options beyond No. 76
But like Harris, the rookie found a way to make his number meaningful.
“It was, I think, the only tackle number available,” McGary said. “It was the only 70s number available. But on another note, a friend of mine, when he played football, he wore 76. So it was a very cool way to honor him a little, give him a little bit of love at the same time. Like I said, it was the only tackle number available, so a little hint from the man upstairs — ‘Hey, pick this one.’”
Ricardo Allen’s trying to create his own meaning with No. 37
Rico didn’t have much choice in his number, but he hopes he’s giving the number more meaning.
“Man, they kind of just gave it to me. So when I got here, this is the number that was given to me, and I was like — I didn’t like it at first, but now I’m like, man, I’m just going to try to make something out of it,” Allen said. “It was just a number they passed to me, and I was like, shoot, make something out of it, man.”
While some of his teammates have been able to find some special connection to the numbers they were given, that hasn’t been the case for Allen.
“I’ve tried that, like tried to make the numbers equal something,” he said. “Three times seven is 21, I wore that in high school and college, but no, not really … Hopefully I’ll leave a good standard with 37.”
No. 99 was not Adrian Clayborn’s first choice
When Clay arrived in Atlanta, he wanted a different number entirely.
“I wanted 94, but Tyson Jackson had it, and he’s a lot bigger than me, so I couldn’t. I just went to something else,” Clayborn said.
When the team takes the field against the Vikings on Sunday to kick off the 2019 season, we’ll all have a better idea of what those jersey numbers mean to these Falcons players.