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Strange LB numbers


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Does anyone know how Ray Nitschke (usually 66) could wear 58 and Mike Curtis (normally 32) 52 on these photos?

I got the Nitschke photo from an NFL Films presentation and the Curtis photo from a website that collected nfl players photos.

In what year did the NFL started the numbering rules established for linebackers?


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I'm pretty sure that pic is from Nitschke's rookie season and (IIRC) the only one where he wore a number other than 66.

Also IIRC, the NFL didn't include defenders in its number system until the 1970s. Most defensive players were still listed as backups at offensive positions back then (I've seen a number of old Packers rosters that had Nitschke listed as "LB, G") and were assigned numbers accordingly. That's why so many linebackers had numbers 50-79... they were usually listed as backup centers, guards and tackles. They took 60-79 from linebackers once 90-99 was opened to them, but that was grandfathered in so many linebackers still had numbers in this range well into the 80s... Karl Mecklenburg (#77 Broncos) immediately comes to mind.

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I think that picture of Nitschke is from practice...and for some reason, you could occasionally find some of Lombardi's Packers wearing different numbers in practice than you would in games.

For instance, in my copy of famed Packers OL Jerry Kramer's excellent book, Instant Replay, there's a picture of him at what looks to be training camp...wearing #70. Dude always wore #64 in games.

I have no explanation, merely observations. Hey, YOU tell Vince Lombardi's ghost that he screwed something up. :-)

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