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Behind Iconic Wolfpack Jersey Numbers

Wolfpack athletes have been very deliberate about the jersey numbers they’ve chosen to wear. In 2018, NC State magazine took a look at the stories behind some of our most iconic jerseys. Illustrated by Jack Pittman ’74.

Illustrated by Jack Pittman ’74

By Chris Saunders and Bill Krueger

Pick a number . . . and not just any number.

Athletes are interested in more than just their stats. The number on their jerseys is pretty important, too. NC State magazine asked dozens of former and current athletes from multiple Wolfpack sports teams about the meaning behind the digits on their backs. We heard everything from family folklore and religion to superstition and nods to heroes — including some from, ahem, another school down the road.

The numbers can even come to define the players.

Listen to Earl Wolff ’11, a former All-ACC safety who wore No. 27 playing football for NC State. “Listen, man, that 27 is everything,” he says. “Everything. You’ve got to do that 27 right, you have to. When people see 27, they think of me.” When he arrived in the NFL, the Philadelphia Eagles gave him No. 28. “It was different. I wore it pretty well, but it was nothing like that 27, man,” says Wolff, who has that number tattooed on his left shoulder. “I had told myself that if I can put on that 27 again, I feel like I’d have my swagger back a little bit.”

Or as 1983 national champion Ernie Myers ’87 puts it, “They called your number out before they called your name.”

Lucky Numbers

10 – Nate McMillan ’86, basketball, head coach of the NBA’s Indiana Pacers. McMillan says 10 is his lucky number. “Most of us, when we measure ourselves on talent, we do it on a scale of 1 through 10, with 10 used to represent the best. I’ve always strived to be a 10.”

13 – Harli Hubbard ’18, softball. “Friday the 13th is my lucky day. That’s the day my parents got married. That was my Uncle Eldon’s birthday. I’ll probably get married on the 13th, too.”

They called your number out before they called your name.
— Ernie Myers ’87

19 – Turtle Zaun ’88, baseball, now a dentist in Mechanicsville, Va. Zaun says when he came to NC State, head coach Sam Esposito assigned numbers to players. But his No. 19 left an impression, so much so that he made a recommendation to his three daughters, who play basketball, lacrosse and field hockey. “I always tell them they need an odd number. Players with odd numbers always run faster. My mother did stick me with that [nickname]. That’s why I said you need an odd number to make you look faster. I was looking for anything.”

25 – Dereck Whittenburg ’85, basketball, associate athletics director for community relations and student support at NC State. Whittenburg says his lucky number is seven, so he chose a two and a five, whose sum is seven. He notes that at his golf tournament — on Aug. 7, 2017 — he made a hole in one on the No. 2 hole on the Lonnie Poole Golf Course. “It was a fivesome. There you go, two and five.”

My Hero’s Number

7 – Molly Hutchison ’17, softball. Hutchison, a catcher, was playing on an all-star team in high school when she met Pepper Davis, the basis for the character portrayed by Geena Davis in the movie A League of Their Own. Davis also wore No. 7, and signed a photo for Hutchison — “To Molly, number seven, from Pepper, number seven. Catchers rule.”

8 – Tyler Ross ’17, softball, head softball coach at Pinecrest High in Southern Pines, N.C. Ross was a fan of the University of Texas softball team as a kid, and she particularly liked pitcher Cat Osterman, who wore No. 8. So Ross has always worn 8, and is extremely superstitious about it. “I hate when other people are wearing my number.”

44 – David Thompson ’75, basketball. Before he led the Pack to the 1974 national championship, Thompson was a big fan of Jerry West, who wore No. 44 in the NBA. “I grew up watching the Lakers. It was also because of my vertical leap.” (That leap was 44 inches.)

44 – Chasity Melvin ’98, basketball, coordinator of development at the Kay Yow Cancer Fund. “I wore it in middle school,” she says. When she came to NC State on her recruiting trip, she saw Thompson’s jersey in the rafters. “I said, ‘Oh man, Melvin has to get up there.’ Coach Yow kind of laughed when I said that.”

You Get Whatcha Get

21 – Matt Dayes ’16, football. “I wanted number 5, but a senior had it, so I went with 21.” When he drives home to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., he gets off on Exit 21.

25 – Monte Towe ’75, basketball, head coach at Oak Hall High School in Gainesville, Fla. “I was not highly recruited, so I took whatever they gave me,” he says. Tommy Burleson ’74 wore No. 24, and Towe got No. 25. That way, when they were standing side by side during player introductions, it would “make him look taller and me look shorter,” Towe says.

41 – Thurl Bailey ’83, basketball, broadcaster for the NBA’s Utah Jazz and public speaker. “I wore 45 in high school, but when I went to State, someone else may have been wearing 45. That’s when 41 was born.” Bailey was able to keep No. 41 throughout his NBA career. “It’s something that really becomes a part of you. It was a very fortunate number for me.”

Keeping The Faith

7 – Nyheim Hines ’18, football, rookie running back for the Indianapolis Colts. Hines says he had a chance to get No. 3 or No. 7 at NC State, and picked the larger number. “I asked my dad. He said, ‘It’s God’s number.’”

16 – Russell Wilson ’10, football, Seattle Seahawks quarterback. He was assigned No. 16 at NC State and loved it because he was a fan of Joe Montana. In Seattle, that number was taken, so he switched to No. 3, making a reference to John 3:16 from the Bible. “That is a significant verse, and I think it’s a great story.”

21 – C.J. Williams ’12, basketball. “Three represents the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Every number I wear, that I can control, I try to wear a factor of three. I asked for 21 at NC State, and was told you have to understand what that means. Rodney Monroe wore 21, so you will have big expectations to live up to.”

Flipping The Script

21 – Rodney Monroe ’91, basketball, head coach for Southlake Christian Academy near Charlotte, N.C. After a stellar career at NC State, Monroe was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks. But future Hall-of-Famer Dominque Wilkins had No. 21. So Monroe adjusted. “With the Hawks, I was 12. It was just reversing the numbers.”

All In The Family

13 – Chris Corchiani ’91, basketball, works in home lending in Raleigh. Corchiani’s father, a former University of Miami basketball player, donned No. 13 in college before moving on to coach high school basketball in Miami. Corchiani’s older brother wore No. 13 playing high school ball for his father and then later at the University of New Orleans. Corchiani followed suit, wearing the number in high school and then at NC State. Then, his son, Chris Corchiani Jr. ’18, a walk-on guard at NC State from 2014 – 2016, rounded out the number’s lineage. “One of the proudest moments of my athletic career was the first time I saw him on the court,” the elder Corchiani says. “It was emotional. It meant so much to me.”

23 – Ted Brown ’79, football, former Minnesota Vikings running back. Brown’s No. 23 is retired at NC State, and he laughs about sharing the number with another iconic No. 23. He jokes that he had No. 23 before Michael Jordan, and Jordan got the number because of him. “I say that to all the Chicago guys.” Brown’s son, the professional hockey player J.T. Brown, carried on the tradition, wearing No. 23 in college and with the Tampa Bay Lightning from 2011– 2018.

It’s An Honor

9 – Bradley Chubb ’18, football, defensive end for the Denver Broncos. The number was worn in honor of former Wolfpack great Mario Williams ’06. “Coach Doeren said I had shown enough maturity and leadership to own the number 9. Ever since then, I’ve just been trying to take on that role that Mario did.” In May, it was announced that Chubb’s number would be displayed at Carter-Finley Stadium.

Back Where He Started

19 – Tracy Woodson ’84, head baseball coach at the University of Richmond, has found himself in a very comfortable position with his number nowadays. Woodson had never worn No. 19 before he came to NC State in the early 1980s. He enjoyed one of the most successful careers of any Wolfpack baseball player before going on to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers and making a World Series in 1988. He broke into managing in the minor leagues and then moved to college coaching, first at Valparaiso University. Now as the Spiders’ skipper, he once again wears No. 19. Woodson chalks it up to coincidence. Wolfpackers know it’s serendipity.

The Scorer’s Number

24 – Julius Hodge ’05, basketball, assistant basketball coach at San Jose State University. Hodge started wearing No. 24 when he was sophomore at St. Raymond’s High School in the Bronx. But when he was being recruited by Herb Sendek to come to NC State, he found that a Wolfpack player already had that number. “I told him that when I got to campus we could play one on one,” Hodge says. “He kind of laughed it off. But by the time I got to campus, he had transferred.”

24 – Tommy Burleson ’74, basketball, lives in Avery County, N.C. “Coach Sloan assigned it to me, said it was a very prominent number and I should carry it on. Twenty-four is a cool number. My birthday is Feb. 24, so that was sort of neat. We played Carolina in Chapel Hill my senior year on Feb. 24, and we beat them.”

24 – Tom Gugliotta ’93, basketball, head of the Gugliotta Family Foundation in Atlanta, Ga. “It’s just perfectly round. It’s two even numbers. You can almost describe the number in how it looks. It’s a signature.”

24 – Terry Gannon ’85, basketball, broadcaster for NBC Sports and the Golf Channel. He was assigned No. 24. “Didn’t request it and it had no special meaning,” Gannon wrote in an email. “In hindsight, it’s a pretty good one (Tom Burleson, Tom Gugliotta). Should have changed my name to Tom Gannon.”

24 – T.J. Warren ’16, basketball, Phoenix Suns forward. Warren, a Durham, N.C., native, wasn’t aware of the storied history of the number at NC State — with one exception. His father, Tony Warren ’80, wore No. 24 for the Wolfpack in the late 1970s, and that’s why the younger Warren took the number. It was announced in May that T.J. Warren’s jersey will hang in the rafters at PNC Arena.

We Apologize In Advance For This Category

32 – Andrea Stinson ’91, girls head basketball coach at Newton-Conover High School in Newton, N.C. Stinson grew up loving Michael Jordan, but says No. 23 was too popular. So she took No. 32 at NC State and eventually carried that number with her to the WNBA’s Charlotte Sting during her pro career.

52 – Chucky Brown ’04, basketball, a sometimes analyst of TV basketball. Brown remembers watching the 1982 national championship game between Georgetown and UNC. A Tar Heel won him over that night. “I saw James Worthy running around. I saw James Worthy flying through the air. And I chose number 52,” he says. “I get to the pros and I’m wearing 52 again. And I end up going to the Lakers and I have to practice against Worthy. I didn’t want him to know he was my favorite player, so I chose number six.”

81 – Torry Holt ’99, football, former St. Louis Rams wide receiver. He initially wanted No. 9 at NC State, because Michael Jordan wore that number in the Olympics. But when he was told that was taken, he asked for No. 18. But NC State had retired that number in honor of former star quarterback Roman Gabriel ’63. “So I said, OK, nine times nine equals 81, give me 81.”

56 – Nate Irving ’10, football, played for the Denver Broncos and the Indianapolis Colts. Irving wanted to wear No. 8, his high school number, when he got to NC State. Instead, he was given No. 56, and now he has it tattooed on his left arm. It also happens to be the number of his favorite player, former UNC great Lawrence Taylor, but Irving qualifies his admiration. “I’m talking about the New York Giants’ Lawrence Taylor. I could care less about anything having to do with Carolina.” We hear you, Nate.

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