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What's In a Number?

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - There are no names on the back of Penn State jerseys.

There are no names on the front of Penn State jerseys, for that matter.

What gives a Nittany Lion football player an identity on the field is his number.  The large stitched numeral on the front and back of a college football jersey is how fans form a bond with a particular player.  When people see a number on a jersey, almost instantly, a particular player comes to mind.


In Penn State football lore, big plays, All-Americans, famous faces and history-rich names are associated with particular numbers.  Some numbers boast more tradition than others.  And every fan has his or her list of favorite numbers.  Take note of this next Saturday when the Lions take the field for the annual Blue-White Game.  Look around the stadium at some of the popular numbers fans like to see.

Historically, it is almost impossible to compile a list of famous numbers with so many great players to choose from.  Penn State's football tradition covers 125 years.  All 95 All-Americans warrant credit for the jerseys they wore on Saturdays in Happy Valley.

But here are a few of our favorites.

The No. 5 is a numeral made famous by the single season rushing leader in Penn State football.  Larry Johnson's storied Penn State career included a senior season for the ages in 2002.  The All-American became the first player in the Big Ten's storied history to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a single season (2,087).  Johnson led the nation in rushing with 160.5 ypg, but the image of No. 5 racing through open space to the end zone is crystal clear for thousands of the Nittany Lion faithful.  Sophomore cornerback Derrick Thomas will wear No. 5 in 2011.

Two back-to-back numbers near the top of the numerical roster include a who's who of Penn State football talent.  No. 11 will once again be featured on a linebacker in 2011 when rising sophomore Khairi Fortt takes the field.  But the man who put No. 11 on the Penn State map was a two-time All-American.  LaVar Arrington's dominance on defense in 1998 and '99 puts this number on the all-time list.  The 'LaVar Leap' will leave forever.  All-Big Ten standout linebacker Navorro Bowman also adds to No. 11's legacy.

The No. 12 jersey found its way to fame riding the coat tails of Kerry Collins as he carved through opposing defenses en route to a perfect season in 1994.  Penn State may never have a more dominant offense than the one No. 12 directed in '94.  Michael Robinson extended the legacy of the number by leading the Lions to an Orange Bowl season in 2005, but the face of No. 12 is Collins.  Stephon Morris and Kevin Newsome will wear No. 12 this season.

The lone Heisman Trophy winner in Penn State's storied history donned No. 22.  John Cappelletti's Heisman Trophy in 1973 stakes this number's place on Penn State's all-time list.  His 1,500-plus yard campaign in '73 sent the Nittany Lions to an Orange Bowl berth, and victory over LSU.  All-time leading rusher Evan Royster adds to the fame of this legendary number, which is currently open for 2011.

A trio of elite receivers gives No. 24 a storied resume among all-time great numbers.  O.J. McDuffie, Bryant Johnson and Jordan Norwood occupy three of the top seven slots on the all-time career receptions list.  All three wore the same No. 24.  Junior running back Derek Day and redshirt freshman Jonathan Duckett will don No. 24 this fall.

Linebackers dominate classic numbers in the 30s.  The No. 31 has a pair of two-time All-Americans attached to it.  Shane Conlan earned All-American status in 1985 and '86.  Conlan was the backbone of the 1986 national champion defense.  Two decades later, Paul Posluszny earned back-to-back All-American seasons wearing the same jersey.  Arguably the best linebacker in Penn State history donned No. 33.  All-American Jack Ham is the face of No. 33, but quarterback Rich Lucas also earned All-American status in the same jersey in 1959.

Although it has only been worn eight times, the No. 83 is a favorite among many Penn State fans of two elite receivers.  Kenny Jackson (1980-'83) and Joe Jurevicious (1993-'97) etched their place in Penn State's all-time receiving greats while wearing this jersey.

The next particular number may come as a surprise, but makes a strong case to be one of the best.  It sealed a national title in the 1987 Orange Bowl victory with an interception on a Vinny Testaverde pass.  Pete Giftopoulos ended Miami's pursuit to being labeled college football's greatest team.  The dramatic interception solidified Penn State's second national championship, and it was all thanks to No. 90.  Defensive end Sean Stanley has the honor of wearing it again this season.

Nearly all 99 numbers that Penn State players have worn boast a famous name or play.  A number gives a Penn State player an identity.  No number has been retired, so the legacy of every numeral will live on for many years to come.

So, which number is Penn State's all-time best?

Send me a Tweet @ GoPSUTony with your favorite Penn State football number.

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