That good old sales pitch, "Ya can't tell the players without a program!" would seem, so far as football goes, to date back just more than half a century. In 1908 Karl Davis, at the time publicity man for the University of Pittsburgh, first put numbers on football jerseys. He quickly added to this service the refinement of switching the numbers each week—and so it is no shock to learn that Davis had the program concession. He thus became a double pioneer—in player numbering and in (the phrase had not been coined) "dynamic obsolescence." Both inventions have come a long way since.
Next week, as the biggest of all professional seasons opens and SPORTS ILLUSTRATED presents its professional football preview, some numbers have attained a "dynamic permanence" which would only have frustrated Davis years ago. Red Grange's 77 and Ernie Nevers' 1, to name a couple, hardly call for reference to any printed roster.
But this year 19 is the number that will take no looking up. Wearing it, as he sits for his portrait on next week's cover, is the Baltimore Colts' great Johnny Unitas. Last year there were those, notably New York Giants and their fans, who saw more of 19 than they really cared to. Some others will never see enough. For Unitas is a genuine superstar, the outstanding player in football today and key to the fortunes of the champion Colts.
The millions who will watch 19 are bound to see a lot of another number, 82. "He has," Tex Maule wrote (SI, Jan. 5), "a bad back and one leg is shorter than the other so that he wears mud cleats to equalize them. His eyes are so bad that he must wear contact lenses when he plays. He is not very fast and, although he was a good college end, he was far from a great one. His name is Ray Berry, and he has the surest hands in professional football."
September 27, 1959
Next week Ray Berry tells you how to catch a pass. The article, illustrated by Robert Riger, is part of the series of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S football instructionals, which already includes Y. A. Tittle on quarterbacking and Lou Groza on the place kick.
The pro preview also brings Maule's analysis as he takes a long look from the start of the new-born season down toward its end. And, finally—it's the last number I will call this week—there are 12 (twelve) Scouting Reports.