- Sam Khan Jr., ESPN Staff Writer
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Some numbers are etched in fans’ memories forever. Most schools have a particular number that carries significant meaning for certain reasons. Today we take a look at the most iconic uniform numbers at each SEC football program:
Many accomplished Alabama quarterbacks donned the No. 12: Ken Stabler, Joe Namath, Greg McElroy, Brodie Croyle. Paul “Bear” Bryant even wore it when he played for the Crimson Tide. There was also a long period when 12 represented the number of national championships the Tide had (Alabama was at that total from 1992 until 2009). Alabama now lays claim to 15 national titles, which is also a notable number in Tuscaloosa.
The late Brandon Burlsworth donned 77. He was a walk-on at Arkansas with no Division I scholarship offers and worked his way to becoming an All-American and All-SEC player in 1998. He was an All-SEC Academic Honor Roll member every year of his college career and drafted 63rd overall in the 1999 NFL draft by the Indianapolis Colts but died in an automobile accident 11 days after the draft. Burlsworth’s name lives on in the form of a trophy, the Burlsworth Award, which was established in 2010 and annually honors the most outstanding player that began his career as a walk-on.
Before “Bo Knows,” Bo Jackson was a dominant running back for the Tigers who donned No. 34. He won the Heisman Trophy in 1985, rushing for 1,786 yards and 17 touchdowns, including four performances of 200-plus rushing yards. He finished his Auburn career with 4,303 rushing yards and 43 touchdowns, lending heft to No. 34. The number’s significance is also helped by a certain basketball player named Charles Barkley, who wore that number on the hardwood for Auburn.
Only two uniform numbers were retired in the history of Florida football -- 11 and 55 -- but Steve Spurrier, who wore 11 for the Gators, un-retired the numbers and had the policy on the practice changed in the early 1990s. But Spurrier made his mark in Gainesville both as a player (setting records as a quarterback and winning the Heisman Trophy in 1966) and later as a coach, winning a national championship during a stellar 12-year stint.
Herschel Walker maximized his three years at Georgia, picking up a national championship, a Heisman Trophy and finishing in the top three of the Heisman voting all three years (the only college player with that distinction). He compiled 5,097 rushing yards and 50 touchdowns in three seasons donning No. 34, and the Bulldogs were 32-2 in Walker’s time on campus.
Quarterback Babe Parilli wore 10 and was a first team All-American twice. He finished in the top four of the Heisman Trophy voting twice and set the school record for career touchdown passes. Parilli played for Bear Bryant, and the Wildcats went 28-8 during his three-year stint from 1949-51, leading the Wildcats to their first SEC title.
LSU has retired only two numbers in its football history. No. 20 belonged to Billy Cannon, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1959 and was a two-time consensus All-American. He led the Tigers to their first national championship in 1958, and his game-winning, 89-yard punt return on Halloween versus Ole Miss in 1959 lives on in LSU lore.
Ole Miss: 18
Archie Manning’s 18 is one of only two numbers retired at Ole Miss. He wore it en route to becoming an All-American and setting records in Oxford. The speed limit on the Ole Miss campus is 18, and the number is part of the address of the football facility (named the Manning Center on 1810 Manning way -- 10 being Eli Manning's number).
Mississippi State: 15
Don Smith, an All-SEC QB who twice led the conference in total offense and set numerous offensive records in Starkville, wore No. 15 at Mississippi State. It’s also currently worn by quarterback Dak Prescott, who is in the process of leaving an indelible mark on the Bulldogs after guiding them to a 10-3 record last season.
Two noted Mizzou greats wore 23: Johnny Roland and Roger Wehrli. Roland was an All-American defensive back in 1965 but also played offense and returned punts and later went on to become NFL Rookie of the Year. Wehrli was also a versatile talent who played defensive back (once setting a school record with three interceptions in a game), returned kickoffs and punts and was an All-American in 1968 when he was the nation’s leading punt returner. He later became an NFL All-Pro, and Mizzou retired 23 in honor of both players.
South Carolina: 38
George Rogers, the 1980 Heisman Trophy winner, is South Carolina’s all-time leading rusher (5,204 yards). A statue of Rogers will be completed outside of Williams-Brice Stadium this fall. Rogers, who wore No. 38, led the country in rushing yards in 1980 and went on to become the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, Rookie of the Year and, eventually, a Super Bowl champion.
Another Manning making a mark in the SEC, Peyton Manning wore No. 16 while setting 42 NCAA, SEC and Tennessee records by the time his collegiate career concluded. He didn’t win the Heisman (he was runner-up in 1997) but won just about every other award possible. He finished his Volunteers career with 11,201 passing yards and was the school’s most prolific offensive player by the time he left Knoxville.
Texas A&M: 12
The Aggies hold No. 12 dear because it represents the 12th man. The tradition began in 1922 when E. King Gill was called from the stands by coach Dana X. Bible to suit up in case he was needed as Bible dug deep into his roster in a January game against Centre College. Gill didn’t play, but the gesture itself embodied a spirit that became tradition. These days, the player donning the No. 12 for Texas A&M is traditionally a walk-on who plays on special teams, and Kyle Field is referred to as the “Home of the 12th Man.”
Quarterback Jay Cutler wore No. 6 and had a stellar career for the Commodores. He was SEC Offensive Player of the Year in 2005, no easy feat when your team goes 5-6. That record, however, was Vandy’s best in six seasons and included an upset win over in-state rival Tennessee. As a four-year starter, Cutler set school records for total offense, touchdown passes, passing yards, completions, attempts and total touchdowns.
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