A number on the back of a player’s jersey can be just that. A number.
Nothing special, nothing symbolic. Simply the number they were assigned when either being drafted or signed by a new team.
For others, though, that number is much more. It’s an identity, it’s something they relate to, and it’s a way to honor a player they idolized.
For Sean Davis, the latter is true.
Davis wore No. 28 his first two seasons with the Steelers, since No. 21 was taken first by Robert Golden, and then acquired by Joe Haden last season. But as the numbers turned this offseason, No. 21 became available, and Davis made the quick switch.
“I had to grab it,” said Davis. “That was my number since my freshman year of high school. It means a lot to me. When it became available, I had to get on it.”
What it means to Davis is the chance to honor his childhood idol, late Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor. Davis, who grew up in Washington, D.C., idolized Taylor, and like so many others was devastated when he was killed in 2007, when Davis was just 13 years old.
“Growing up in DC, watching Sean Taylor, idolizing him and the way he played, his style. I loved it,” said Davis. “I tried to emulate him in my play and hopefully I can continue to do the same.
“I am really proud to wear his number. I had been wearing it for eight years. Hopefully I can summon up some Sean Taylor talent wearing it. I am going to wear it with pride. I am going to play really hard in it.”
Haden made the switch from No. 21 to No. 23 this year, going back to the number he wore for seven seasons with the Cleveland Browns. Mike Mitchell wore No. 23 previously, and Haden couldn’t talk him into giving up his number when he arrived last year. But Mitchell was released this offseason, and Haden jumped at it.
“Mike Mitchell is one of the best dudes,” said Haden. “We have a great relationship. He was one of my best friends on the team. Since that happened, though, I was able to get my number. I have the number tatted on me and everything, so it feels good.
“I got my new number, I have a new locker. It feels good. It feels like home now.”
Haden didn’t just change numbers this offseason, but also his locker. He said he moved from one side of the locker room to the other, taking over the spot that used to belong to James Harrison.
“I got to pick my space,” said Haden. “I am with my guy AB (Antonio Brown). I have a lot of shoes, so they gave me two lockers. It feels comfortable.”
Davis and Haden aren’t the only ones who made number changes this offseason.
Mike Hilton went from No. 31, to the No. 28 that Davis previously had, while Cameron Sutton went from No. 34 to No. 20, which Golden wore after he switched with Haden.
“It was my high school and college number,” said Hilton. “When the opportunity came up, I had to go get it. I loved No. 31, but No. 28 is personally who I am. As soon as I saw Joe changed and Sean changed, I was like I have to go get it.”
Sutton was assigned No. 20 when he first arrived for rookie minicamp, but it was eventually given to Golden when Sutton was injured, and now that Golden has also been released, it’s Sutton’s again.
“I came in with it, so I just felt like it’s going back to it. It was available,” said Sutton. “It’s definitely a good feeling to get it back. It’s something I came in with.”
A player who wasn’t a part of number roulette, but benefitted from it, is Nat Berhe. Berhe, nicknamed ‘The Missile,’ was given No. 31 upon his arrival, and after he got a warm welcome from former safety Donnie ‘The Torpedo’ Shell, the number meant more to him.
“I looked him up, I saw No. 31 and I was like, yeah, all right,” said Berhe. “You just don’t want to disappoint. You want to keep playing your game. The most important thing is the name on the jersey, but the number is special and you want to represent that well.”