All in the Numbers

There is power and history within a number, so how do some of our athletes choose theirs?

By Josh Chaskes

Chicago Bulls, number 23. 

New England Patriots, number 12.

FC Barcelona, number 10. 

They are so much more than shirts with numbers on the back. They evoke images of not just jerseys but people, places, and iconic moments that many sports fans will never forget.

That’s the power of a number. It can define an athlete throughout their entire career, and possibly even after retirement. However, the reasons behind the jersey numbers we see can vary.

Photo by Tyler Dolph

In soccer, the numbers have positional significance. A playmaking winger or midfielder fulfills the number ten role while a clinical, goal scoring striker might be described as a true number nine. Northeastern men’s soccer’s number nine and last season’s leading scorer, redshirt sophomore Timothy Ennin, believes he fits the bill, while adding some other attributes.

“I guess I have a mix of the number nine role, with holding up and making runs in behind, and then taking guys 1-v-1 on the wing,” Ennin said, “so it makes up both those roles, nine and then seven or eleven.”

Some players stick with the same jersey number all their lives, but Ennin only received the number nine upon coming to Northeastern. He doesn’t have a personal connection to it, but it can still be a motivating factor.

“I guess it comes with a purpose,” he said, “Knowing that I have that number on the back, I get the drive to keep getting better… I’ve got to keep improving to help the team out.”

Senior defender and teammate Adama Kaba doesn’t represent the position his number eight jersey normally stands for, generally that of an industrious box-to-box midfielder. He now plays as a right back, usually represented by the number two, and while he may have the skillset to play the number eight role, he’s happy with his current position.

“I wasn’t scoring as much in college so coming back to defense was a new position for me,” he said, “but I think it was good because of what I have in terms of my abilities.”

Kaba knows that jersey number and position, while they can overlap, don’t need to be joined at the hip as they may have been half a century ago.

Sometimes, what leads a player to a number might be just a cosmic coincidence. Freshman field hockey goalkeeper Sydney Rusnock has worn the number seven throughout her life, as it seems to be inexplicably tied to her.

I was born on January 7th, in room 7, at 7:07, and I was 7 pounds 7 ounces. Since I was born that was always kind of a lucky number for me.”

– Sydney Rusnock, Field Hockey Goalkeeper

Fittingly, she’s had the number since 7th grade, as that was the age when teams started allowing their players to pick numbers. The number became a kind of on-field identity for her, and she still has her high school number seven jersey. However, when coming to Northeastern, the number wasn’t available. How did Rusnock respond? She decided to wear it twice.

“2 to about 30 are reserved for the field players, so… 7 was actually available, but one of the other freshmen in my class who’s a field player got that number,” Rusnock said, “I was like, ‘Ok then, why not just be 77?’”

And so the story continues.

Most sports are team-oriented, but numbers help athletes carve out and retain their own identity within a team. They’re a small form of self-expression within the universal team uniform. By making a number their own, athletes can both blend in and set themselves apart, and possibly even become legends, adding their own jersey to all the iconic ones that came before.