NFL players' uniform numbers become part of their identity, as much as their running style or throwing motion. Which player represents his number best? Chris Burke names the top player who wore Nos. 00-49.
Can you picture Joe Montana dropping back to pass without seeing the No. 16 pop off his bright red 49ers jersey? Do you ever recall Walter Payton breaking loose on a run and not have his No. 34 pop into your mind?
Jersey numbers are oftentimes an afterthought, arbitrarily handed out to a player with little rhyme or reason. For the greats of the game, though, those numbers become part of their identity—a characteristic every bit as recognizable as a running style or throwing motion.
Much of this probably relates to how most of us experience the game in our youth. Aaron Rodgers wears No. 12, so every Wisconsin kid who dreams of someday slinging passes at Lambeau wants those digits on his or her jersey. A similar story no doubt has unfolded for Troy Polamalu's 43 in Baltimore or Peyton Manning's 18 in both Indianapolis and Denver.
So which names do we think of when it comes to each individual number? Below is the first half of our list, covering Nos. 00-49, honoring the greatest player at each spot (the best players ever to wear Nos. 50–99 can be found here).