SB Nation is doing something called “Jersey Week”. I didn’t read the details of the email, but I assume it means every team site will look at the best jerseys and jersey numbers in their respective histories.
In honor of Jersey Week, we here at Ralphie Report are just going to re-publish or update articles we wrote in offseasons past. (We’re built for Quarantine Coverage because the Buffs don’t have any sports from April to August and we still have to publish articles despite no sports to cover.)
Today, we can look at the most iconic jersey numbers in CU history. This list is updated to include #4 in the honorable mentions, #8 in the Top 10, and some minor details changed.
These are the five best ever single-player numbers. They are the iconic numbers you may think of when you think of CU football, but they couldn’t crack the top 10 because they only had one iconic player wear them. (These are in descending order of iconography.)
11 - Bobby Anderson
7 - Bernard Jackson
24 - Whizzer White
10 - Kordell Stewart
94 - Alfred Williams
It’s worth mentioning that this is unfair to Bobby Anderson and Whizzer White because those two are so historically important that they had their numbers retired. If Chidobe Awuzie got to wear #24 — which he wears on the Dallas Cowboys — then Whizzer would be on the top 10 list.
Honorable Mentions Part II
These are the normal honorable mentions. They are the jersey numbers with multiple all-timers, but they either didn’t have the star power or the sheer quantity of other numbers. Sincere apologies to Chris Naeole and Andre Gurode, who I tried to get onto the list but their #65 has been turned into a long snapper number during the 2000s.
15 — Chad Brown, Jeremy Bloom, Ryan Walters, Jason Espinoza
44 — Jordon Dizon, Mark Haynes
88 — Herb Orvis, Bill Brundige, Dave Logan, Matt Lepsis, D.J. Hackett
1 — Eric Bieniemy, Ben Kelly
4 — Chidobe Awuzie, Donald Strickland, Bobby Pesavento, Charles S. Johnson
65 — Chris Naeole, Andre Gurode
The Top 10
The best player to ever wear #16 was Matt Russell, the 1996 Butkus Award winner, arguably the best ever linebacker in CU history. Additionally, All-American defensive back Cullen Bryant, Mason Crosby, the late Drew Wahlroos and CU Hall of Famer Eddie Crowder all wore it.
When talking about Laviska Shenault, Jr., his name comes up in comparison to a great history of CU receivers. Michael Westbrook (#81) won the Bilitnekoff Award, but it’s Mike Pritchard who is the most naturally gifted receiver in history, unless the answer is Viska. Also wearing #9 is Charles E. Johnson, another iconic receiver who starred alongside Kordell Stewart and Westbrook. The number has good depth, as Tedric Thompson (the best safety since Lewis), Tyler Hansen and Javier Edwards wore it. Juwann Winfree and Chidera Uzo-Diribe also deserve shoutouts.
If there is any iconic number since the McCartney era, it would have to be #22. That image invokes Chris Brown running through Nebraska, Lorenzo Sims shutting down receivers, Arthur Jaffee embodying the Embree era, and Nelson Spruce putting up numbers in shootout losses. It has some 90s nostalgia too, as the great George Hemingway wore #22 on the National Championship team.
Colorado has not had any great tight ends in a long time, and that makes it easy to forget how many all-timers they have at the position. Four of them wore #89: Daniel Graham, J.V. Cain, Don Hasselbeck and Joel Klopfenstein. Graham was unstoppable in the early 2000s and won the John Mackey Award. Cain is an underrated all-timer whose legacy was cut short by his tragic death at age 28. Hasselbeck was an All-American in the mid-70s. Klopfenstein was just a damn good blocker paving the way for Bobby Purify (#42), Hugh Charles (#2) and Lawrence Vickers (#17).
The #88 is iconic for the old timers who remember Herb Orvis and Bill Brundige, both of whom were absolute badasses in the ‘70s. Both were All-Americans and Orvis is in the College Football Hall of Fame. Digging deeper also reveals multi-sport star Dave Logan, tight end Matt Lepsis and the underrated receiver D.J. Hackett.
CU really did win a National Championship with an option offense led by a 5’7 running back and a 5’10 quarterback. If Bieniemy carried that team on his short legs, Darian Hagan was the little magician making things go. He’s also extended his legacy as a running backs coach who has developed Rodney Stewart (#5), Phillip Lindsay (#23), Travon McMillian (#34) and Christian Powell (#46). Also wearing #3 is Jimmy Smith and cult heroes K.D. Nixon and D.D. Goodson.
There is an argument that #23 has the best one-two punch of any number on here. Phillip Lindsay is the biggest badass pound-for-pound in Buffs history; he and Sefo Liufau (#13) carried that 2016 offense on sheer will power. Then there’s Cliff Branch, the Hall of Fame receiver whose track star speed was instant death in the early 1970s. After those two, Jalil Brown and Ahkello Witherspoon are both lockdown corners who were overshadowed by superstar teammates (Jimmy and Chido).
Sal Aunese will never be forgotten in Colorado lore. His tragedy shook the program and the 1989 and 1990 teams played for him. His number was also worn by T.J. Cunningham, the star cornerback who was tragically shot and killed in 2019. Otherwise, in lighter news, cult hero Darragh O’Neill wore the number, as did the perpetually underrated Demetrius Sumler. You can throw in Laviska Shenault, who wore #8 as a freshman.
If there is one player who can make a number iconic on his own, it would be Rashaan Salaam’s #19. The only Heisman winner in program history was also an outstanding person off the field and in the Boulder community. CU retired his number after his tragic death in 2016. Greg Biekert also wore the number, but #19 was going to be this high regardless.
If you argue against Lindsay-Branch as the best one-two in CU history, it would be because Deon Figures and Laviska Shenault are better. Figures won the Jim Thorpe Award in 1992 and is probably the best defensive back in CU history. If Viska had stayed healthy he could have been the best ever Buffs receiver. They were both dominant players whose presence either closed off one half of the field, or they are such a gifted playmaker that all eyes are on them every second they’re on the field. There is also J.J. Flannigan, the explosive running back who rushed for nearly 1200 yards and 18 TDs in 1989. After those three, #2 has some solid depth, most notably Hugh Charles, Ken Crawley and Devin Ross, as well as the ghost of Darrell Scott.