by Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
Uniform numbers aren’t merely a way of identifying players in sports. They can be a game.
Admit it, Buffalo Sports Fan. You hear about the number 12 on a shirt, and you can still picture Jim Kelly. Same goes for Bruce Smith and 78. Gil Perreault and 11. (In the case of Bandits’ fans, John Tavares and 11.)
From there, you can start making up lists. Who is the greatest Sabre or Bill to ever wear a particular number? From there, it’s an easy jump to an All-Western New York team of numbers.
That’s what we’ve tried to do here.
We’ll go 99 to 0, one day at a time, in the coming months. Some were easy, some were tough. If you play this game yourself, you’ll find out something about the way you rate players. For example, do you value longevity or brilliance? That’s a question that comes up for No. 89, when discussing the merits of Steve Tasker vs. Alexander Mogilny. A similar argument comes up at No. 25, when Luke Easter’s stay in Buffalo is compared to Dave Andreychuk’s. If you think coaching a local team helps an individual’s case, then you probably believe Lindy Ruff deserves to be No. 22.
I believe that top college athletes deserve a nod when possible, so they are listed. Some players just don’t fit because they wore two different numbers during their career (Brad May, I’m thinking of you.) And I’m willing to give extra credit to some obscure Buffalo numbers, like my pick for No. 19. I tried to mention someone from almost every relatively major team that’s called Western New York home.
I did something like this more than 20 years ago, and the reactions were fun to read. One guy from Arizona wrote to yell at me for not including more athletes who were well-known before 1960. He didn’t give his age. But yes, the more recent players are more likely to be picked.
Here’s an update, freshly researched and written. Feel free to play along – it’s your game too.
Marcell Dareus, Bills. The defensive tackle was the third overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft. The Bills moved him right into the lineup. Dareus peaked in 2014 when he was named a first-team All-Pro. But his play slipped and eventually he was traded to the Jaguars in 2017.
Others: Marcus Stroud, Bills; Hal Garner, Bills; Delby Powless, Bandits.
Paul Peck’s Digit Debate: It’s a bad number when Marcell Dareus is the best we could come up with. For me, there was always an aura around 99. The highest number possible should mean the highest talent and impact. Wayne Gretzky is obvious. But mostly 99 is a football number, and usually a defensive disrupter number. I remember great and impactful 99’s like Mark Gastineau, Hugh Green and Dan Hampton. They were dangerous defenders, who could wreck an offense.
As for Buffalo, when I think of a Bills #99 it’s Hal Garner. A minor player on the Super Bowl Bills, he played on the edge. He was a big personality, a little crazy and always on the edge. He didn’t make a lot of plays as a linebacker or special teamer, but you remembered the ones he made.
Visit Buffalo Sports Page as we reveal a new number every day.