By Alan Grant
Special to Page 2

Editor's Note: Alan Grant, back in his NFL playing days, once gave up his uniform number to another player. So he has some advice for New Orleans Saints third-string quarterback Adrian McPherson, who currently wears Reggie Bush's No. 5. Bush wore No. 5 in the Saints' recent rookie minicamp, but he'll likely have to make a deal with McPherson if he wants to wear it during the regular season (if the NFL allows him to wear it, that is -- that ruling's still to come).

Dear Adrian,

So Reggie Bush wants his No. 5, which happens to be your No. 5. My guess is that he'll get it, too. Reggie Bush was the No. 2 pick in the draft. Reggie Bush is the franchise. And most importantly (especially where you're concerned), Reggie Bush is freakin' rich!

The jersey thing is crazy, ain't it? Anyone who's ever been around football knows that jersey numbers are often the source of quiet transactions between players. And surely the more astute fan has figured out that this particular garment carries with it enough identity-driven angst to turn you into a crazy person. That's why Bush is jonesing for his number, and why you'll certainly miss it when it's gone. But maybe, if you play your cards right, it'll be worth your while.

Reggie Bush
Bill Haber/AP Photo
Bush wore No. 5 at the Saints' rookie camp, but he'll need some help if he wants to wear No. 5 next season.

My advice: Go for yours, my man. Bush is in a giving mood these days. He just broke off $50,000 for Holy Rosary High School. Maybe you don't want to shoot for that number, at least not yet, and certainly not publicly. Wait a while. See just how bad Bush wants ol' numero cinco. But whatever you do, don't sell yourself short.

Trust me on this.

In the summer of '93, I was starting training camp with the 49ers. The year before I had worn No. 24. But veteran running back Harry Sydney was coming back from a yearlong retirement. He missed the game. He missed the guys. And I knew he missed his No. 24. I also knew, before we took the field, he was going to ask me for his number.

I should preface this by saying I wasn't all that attached to the number I was wearing. I had always been partial to single digits myself. I had worn No. 9 in high school and No. 2 in college. But the rule stipulating that only kickers and quarterbacks got to wear singles turned me into someone who didn't care what he wore. Or so I thought.

That first night, at a meeting, George Seifert let it slip that ol' Harry was a known hustler. As I recall, the coach advised the rookies and new guys against playing cards with Sydney. The inevitable scenario had taken on a new spin. I wasn't feeling so generous. I could get a couple of dollars from this. "Cool," I thought.

A few minutes after Seifert issued the warning, I noticed that Sydney had taken the seat right in front of me. After the meeting, he turned to me, casually threw up his hands and said, "OK, how much do you want for it?"

Again, just a few minutes before that, this would have been a relatively quick and painless conversation. But since I knew I was up against a gambler, a person known to throw money around, I weighed my options. Without thinking, the word "thousand" came tumbling from my mouth. It felt nice, round and true.

Sydney didn't blink as he came back with the predictable low ball.

"Two hundred," he said.

"Oh, hell no," I replied. "Eight hundred!"

"You must be crazy," Sydney said. "Four hundred."

"Six," I said. I couldn't believe I was gonna get paid for a number to which I wasn't all that attached. It seemed like the ideal figure. And he agreed.

"Done," he said.

But my joy was short-lived. Sydney pulled out his wallet and broke off six hundreds right there. And he opened it wide enough to let me see at least several more Benjamins. He had come to the meeting fully prepared to pay at least a grand! "Why didn't I listen to George?" I asked myself.

Sydney looked at me and slyly grinned. "Thanks, man," he said.

"Damn!" I said.

Adrian McPherson
Judi Bottoni/AP Photo
McPherson might not feel as comfortable without his No. 5.

In the locker room the next morning, I slipped No. 23 over my shoulder pads. It looked … OK. I mean, it didn't look too gross and I didn't feel deformed or anything. But I couldn't lie to myself. I didn't like it. So it's partially superstitious, but there's an undeniable vanity factor at play here. You have to watch yourself on film all the time. And the only thing to ease the pain from a bad play was, at the very least, you looked good while you were doing it. But as I looked at that jersey, I wasn't so sure that would apply anymore. "OK, I just can't make any mistakes," I thought. I sat there, turning around in the mirror, looking at it. Finally, I said the hell with it and went to practice.

That night, while watching film, I got my first glimpse of the new digits. Just as words like "hideous" and "grotesque" began to dance in my head, Mike McGruder, one of my fellow defensive backs, tossed me a gift. "Man, you look better in 23 than you did in 24," he said. I'm not sure he said that because he really thought it was true, or if he somehow sensed my pain. I hadn't said anything to anyone because, although a lot of players experience such a thing, it was too embarrassing to mention out loud. But then I remembered that McGruder had worn No. 28 while in Miami, but had been relegated to No. 26 with the Niners. I then recalled that he had been in mourning for the first half of the previous season. Yeah, he felt my pain.

"Thanks," I told him.

Two days later, I got another gift. Without announcing it to the team, Sydney left camp and retired for good. I heard about it while we stretched that morning. It dawned on me that he hadn't asked for his money back. After practice, I went to the equipment manager and got my No. 24. Two days in a foreign number netted me $600. But I had to endure 48 hours of painful separation anxiety. I know it sounds crazy, but I think I broke even.

Don't be me. You're a fantastic athlete, Adrian. But your days in New Orleans might be numbered. Your situation is even more tenuous than the average third-string quarterback. Once upon a time, like last year, it was fashionable for the Saints' quarterbacks to be fleet of foot and unpredictable. But now? Maybe not so much. When Aaron Brooks was replaced with Drew Brees, it was a sure sign that the Saints were going for a new look … and some more wins. So perhaps you aren't long for New Orleans. But if you gotta go, get yours.

Peace,
A.G.

Alan Grant is a regular contributor to ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. He is a former NFL defensive back who played college football at Stanford.




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