Edwin Pope wrote his first column for the Athens Banner-Herald in 1940 at the age of 12. Pope remains a columnist at the Miami Herald, and as we say in this business, he still has his fastball. At The Masters this year, I explained to Pope that I intended to name the best college football player ever to wear every jersey number. Could he help me?
"Aw, I can't remember things like that," Pope begged off.
He believed that. I intended to test it.
"What number did Charley Trippi wear?" I asked, referring to the 1946 All-American back from Georgia, right there in Edwin Pope's Athens.
"Sixty-two," Pope said, as quickly as if I had asked the name of his son.
Most of the time, it's a number on a jersey and an entry in a program. But as every college football fan knows, sometimes a player is so good he becomes that number in the history books, and on the rarest of occasions, the heart.
There are only 100 jersey numbers, and over the next five days, we'll list the best to wear almost all of them. Almost, because there are a couple of numbers where I couldn't find a player to meet a minimum standard of excellence. I welcome nominations for those numbers and for all the rest, as if you needed an invitation to inform me where you think I made a mistake.
All right, the caveats: This list is subjective and anything but scientific. It refers to numbers that the players wore in college, not the NFL. Some schools keep better records of their rosters than others. In the prewar era, some schools had players wear different numbers from week to week in order to boost program sales. Some numbers are known for a school and a position: No. 1 is Michigan receivers, No. 44 is Syracuse running backs, etc.
In many cases through the 1950s, players wore one number in publicity photos and another number in games. That's why Iowa defensive lineman Alex Karras didn't make the list. He would have been the best player to wear No. 64, until the school informed us that Karras wore No. 77 in games. Of course, that number belongs to Red Grange. He hasn't played college football in 80 years, but to this day, golfers refer to a 77 as a Red Grange.
If only the other numbers had been as easy.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your question/comments to Ivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.