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NFL's New Uniform Plan May Send Flacco To Bench

Former Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco wearing a red jersey and throwing a football
Joe Flacco/Photo by Keith Allison via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

To the proverbial question, “what’s in a name?” comes the sports version, “what’s in a number?”

Athletes, especially those in team sports, are known by the numbers they wear on the fronts and backs of their jerseys and uniforms.

Many players latch on to a number from the earliest stirrings of their careers for reasons as varied as humanity itself.

Some choose their numeral as an homage to a player of an earlier era.

Then there are those take their numbers as motivation or to call to attention a perceived slight.

And there are players like Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown, who find a number as a young athlete and stay with it.

Brown, who has the nickname Hollywood, amassed more than 2,400 yards and caught 17 touchdowns in two seasons at Oklahoma before leaving to try to catch on in the NFL.

In two seasons in Baltimore, Brown has shown flashes of stardom, particularly toward the end of the 2020 campaign where he began to hint at the kind of production that the Ravens have craved from that position since they arrived here in 1996.

Until two weeks ago, NFL rules mandated that only quarterbacks, kickers and punters could wear a jersey with a single number. Starting this season, those rules are relaxed, clearing the way for instance, for second year linebacker Patrick Queen to switch from 48 to 6.

And Brown can switch from the 15 he wore in his first two Raven years to the number 5 he wore at Oklahoma. In fact, he and the club have already tweeted out memes with him rocking the cinco as he called it.

That’s just great for Brown, though it may cost him a pretty penny as players who change numbers this year have to pick up the cost of buying up all the outstanding stock of jerseys with the old name and number.

Still, Ravens fans with not so long memories may end up with a little something caught in their claw over Brown’s change.

That’s because until he was traded following the 2018 season, that number 5 was worn by quarterback Joe Flacco.

Now, longtime listeners to this program know that I am not the world’s biggest Joe Flacco fan. There’s no need to dredge up my history with Flacco, except to say I was not heartbroken to see him land first in Denver, then with the Jets and now with Philadelphia.

Joe Flacco may not present Hall of Fame credentials as other former Ravens like Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden or Ed Reed do. And Flacco’s 5 doesn’t present the way the other famous Baltimore No.5 did, that of Brooks Robinson.

But he is, until Lamar Jackson strings together a few more superlative seasons, the greatest quarterback in franchise history.

He has thrown for more yards and more touchdowns than any other Ravens quarterback and he was the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl 47. And that should count for something.

Seeing that number on anyone but Joe Flacco is going to seem weird at first, but Ravens fans will likely get past that the first few times Hollywood Brown hangs a six on the scoreboard.

And that’s how I see it for this week.

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Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.