By Fred Sommer
So what are all those letters and numbers that adorn our jerseys and keep uniform outfitters in business?
Well, usually the jersey number on one’s back has something to do with that person’s favorite player while growing up. Back in the day, everybody in Detroit wanted to wear number 9 for Gordie Howe (Mr. Hockey); everyone in Boston wanted to wear number 4, for Bobby Orr; in Toronto, number 27 for Darryl Sittler; in Philadelphia, number 16 for Bobby Clarke; and so on. But sometimes we can’t all be fortunate enough to wear that cherished number because someone else on the team has already laid claim to it. So we have to improvise a bit, like reversing the digits. The number 27 becomes 72, 16 becomes 61, etc. Single-digit favorites get repeated: 4 becomes 44, 9 becomes 99 (which is why the Great One wore 99– because of Mr. Hockey). You get the picture.
The Trouble With Double Digits
Other numbers also intrigue me. The number 1 is pretty much reserved for a goalie. You can understand why: Most goaltenders would strive to give up no more than a goal a game. So how do numbers like 30, 31 and 35, which are also favored by biscuit eaters, become the numeral of choice? Is it their aim to allow less than 30-something goals a game? That doesn’t seem very optimistic now, does it? I can’t help but wonder how those numbers were derived.
Honestly, I despise a jersey number in hockey that is beyond 35. It always seems like anyone who wears anything above 35 is either really low on the totem pole (in hockey terms, that means he sits on the end of the bench) or he is wearing a novelty. Brian Lawton, a 10-year NHL veteran, chose to wear 98. When asked about his jersey number his reply was, “I’m not as good as Gretzky!” Truer words could not be spoken.
Know Your A-B-Cs
Now, for the letters. Everyone should know what the “C” stands for on a jersey. That player is the captain. That little letter on the breast of his or her jersey carries the enormous weight of having to lead a team. Now that we got that out of the way, anyone know what the “A” stands for? If your answer is “assistant captain,” I am going to vomit; it does not stand for assistant. It stands for “ALTERNATE captain.” The player wearing the “A” does not help the captain. That is why the captain is the captain; he doesn’t need help. The “A” is there in case the captain is not on the ice; the alternate captain is the only other player who can discuss (argue) matters with the game officials. I don’t know where the “Assistant” thing came from but I shudder when I hear a player being announced over the PA system as “Assistant Captain.” No such thing.
On to the letter “B.” I think this only might exist in recreational hockey. The “B” stands for the person designated as the supplier of the universal post-game refreshment, beer. Depending on your perspective, this person can garner as much or more respect than someone wearing either the “C” or the “A.” In some leagues, Canadian beer (or better) is preferred. Heaven help the guy who wears the “B” if he brings lite beer or, perish the thought, non-alcoholic beer. This could be considered immediate grounds for being stripped of the honor of wearing the “B.”
What’s In a Name?
Finally, let’s discuss names on jerseys. Some rec hockey leagues require them on your jersey backs and some don’t. Players in those leagues where names are required and whose surnames are rather long might have the unenviable expense of paying the outfitter per letter. We have a guy on our team whose last name is “Mo.” He gets off cheap. Contrast that with another teammate, “Kathirithamby,” and this unfortunate soul has to pay over five times as much as Mo. He can blame their ancestors for not shortening it when they arrived at Ellis Island.
As you can see, there is nothing uniform about a uniform or jersey number. The only thing that is constant is our love of the game and the blood, sweat and tears that wind up on them.
Fred Sommer is Manager, R&D Engineer at a large pharmaceutical firm. He is proud to wear the letter C on his jersey.