Mention No. 57 to a Browns fan and anybody would tell you that’s Clay Matthews. It will be immortalized in the Browns’ revitalized Ring of Honor on Sept. 22.
Mention No. 82 and that’s Ozzie Newsome, you know.
Brian Sipe made No. 17 the hip number of the 1980s.
No. 32? The GOAT, Jim Brown, of course. The most famous of the five jersey numbers retired by the Browns.
But what about No. 6?
It may forever be remembered as the number of Baker Mayfield, who embarks on his second season seeking to write Browns history as the first quarterback to take the franchise to the Super Bowl.
The fact is, it is one of the least auspicious numbers in Browns history – if not in NFL history – one worn mostly by kickers and punters and a few quarterbacks of ill repute.
Bubby Brister wore No. 6. And Jay Cutler. And Marc Wilson. So did kickers Ali Haji-Sheikh and Luis Zendejas. None will enter the Hall of Fame without a ticket.
No. 6 has been worn by only one player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame – Cleveland-native Benny Friedman, who may have been the NFL’s first great quarterback in the beginning years of the forward pass.
In Browns annals, No. 6 was the property of only five players before Mayfield. Brian Hoyer was the best. The others: quarterback Seneca Wallace, kicker Travis Coons, receiver Remi Watson, and quarterback Lang Campbell.
Mayfield received No. 6 quite unceremoniously upon being drafted No. 1 by Browns GM John Dorsey in 2018. He wore it at Oklahoma and Texas Tech before that, so it was logical to keep it as his NFL career was born. There is nothing sentimental about No. 6 to Mayfield. He wore No. 11 at Lake Travis High School in Austin, TX.
“Fun fact – I never picked [No. 6], actually,” Mayfield said. “I walked on at Texas Tech and they gave it to me, and then when I transferred [to Oklahoma], they thought that was my number so they gave it to me.”
The history: What’s in a number?
Dorsey, who soaks up NFL history, said, “It’s the heart and soul of tradition.”
Dorsey visited Penn State once and was captivated by an essay on the meaning of jersey numbers written by John Cappelletti, the great Heisman Trophy winner. Cappelletti’s No. 22 was the only number ever retired by Penn State. Prior to that, coach Joe Paterno used to affix engraved plaques in the lockers of his players signifying the historical figures who wore the same jersey number.
Speaking for jersey numbers, Cappelletti wrote, “When you put us on, take a moment to think about those who have worn us in the past. Realize there have been athletes for more than 100 years who have worn the same number you wear today.
“Know that in our long history we have not only endured the rigors of the field but those of military conflict, financial depression, civil unrest, and political deception. We are still here for you. Understand the players who wore us were ordinary young men like yourself who went on to accomplish extraordinary things.
“They may have played at a different time but they had many of the same thought and feelings you have today. They played the game with a passion and desire that allowed them to accomplish what they could only dream of prior to putting us on. We represent all the blood, sweat, tears, failures and successes of those who have played before.
“We are not entrusted to you. Wear us with pride. Wear us knowing that with simple things like hard work and perseverance you can achieve anything you can imagine. We are not magical, only cloth. You give us life.”
When former Browns GM Ernie Accorsi outfoxed the NFL by acquiring Bernie Kosar via the little-known supplemental draft in 1985, he assigned Kosar No. 19 because he saw in Kosar a little bit of Johnny Unitas, the Baltimore Colts icon and one of Accorsi’s idols.
“I didn’t want to put the pressure on him to try to be another Unitas because I didn’t think there could be another one like him,” Accorsi said. “But out of a tribute to John. And, I was close to Unitas and told him that’s why I did it.
“He first said something to me about wearing No. 17 because he grew up with Brian Sipe. I said, ‘No, you’re better than that. If you insist, we'll give you 17 but I want you to wear 19.’ 1985 was only 12 years after Unitas retired, so he knew all well about him and he was fine with it.”
A new legacy: Accorsi has an appreciation of the relevance of jersey numbers as much as Cappelletti.
He tells the story of baseball Hall of Famer and renowned Browns fan Hank Aaron, who wore No. 5 as a rookie before he made No. 44 famous.
“I asked him why he changed,” Accorsi said. “He said there was too much pressure on No. 5 because of the enormous stature of [New York Yankees great Joe] DiMaggio.”
Accorsi explained the same thing happened with Mickey Mantle, who was originally assigned No. 6. After a trip to the minors, Mantle returned wearing No. 7. The Yankees did not want Mantle to feel the pressure of following legends Babe Ruth (No. 3), Lou Gherig (No. 4) and DiMaggio (No. 5).
When you think of NFL quarterback greats, the indelible numbers are Joe Montana’s No. 16, Bart Starr’s No. 15, Otto Graham’s No. 14, Dan Marino’s No. 13.
No. 12 was the province of Terry Bradshaw and Bob Griese and Jim Kelly and Joe Namath and Kenny Stabler and Roger Staubach.
No. 10 was Fran Tarkenton and No. 9 was Sonny Jurgensen. No. 8 was Troy Aikman and Steve Young. And No. 7 was John Elway.
No. 4 was Brett Favre, Mayfield’s idol.
But there is a large void at No. 6 and Mayfield has a chance to make it his own.
“I think it’s great that they gave Mayfield No. 6,” Accorsi said. “He can forge his own fame with that number and write his own career.”