Bush will appeal to wear No. 5 in NFL

Updated: April 11, 2006, 10:00 PM ET
By Stacey Pressman | ESPN The Magazine

How much trouble is a number worth?

Reggie Bush, projected as the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, thinks it's at least worth petitioning the league.

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"I want to see if I can keep No. 5," Bush told ESPN The Magazine on the set of a Subway commercial he was shooting in Los Angeles.

The former USC running back and 2005 Heisman Trophy winner has been wearing that jersey number since high school. NFL rules, however, don't allow for running backs to take that number -- 33 years ago the league adopted a numbering system to make it easier for officials to differentiate players by position.

Under the rule, quarterbacks, punters and placekickers wear numbers 1 through 19. Running backs and defensive backs are assigned 20 through 49, while wide receivers and tight ends are given numbers 80 through 89.

Two years ago, due to the increasing amount of retired numbers and more wide receivers and tight ends coming into the league, the NFL allowed those position players to wear either 10-19 or 80-89. A number of wide receivers have been wearing lower-numbered jerseys since, among them Larry Fitzgerald of Arizona (11), Plaxico Burress of New York and Braylon Edwards of Cleveland (17), Randy Moss of Oakland (18) and Troy Williamson of Minnesota (19).

Bush wants to push it one step further to stick with No. 5.

"I think someone else was able to get their number changed, but even if they turn me down I think it's worth a try," Bush said.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello declined to comment on Bush's plan to petition the league, though history is working against him. In 2004, running back Edgerrin James talked to the NFL about letting him wear No. 5, which he had worn in Pop Warner, high school and at the University of Miami, but he was reportedly rebuffed.

Jersey numbers have turned into a big business. Players routinely have paid thousands of dollars for a jersey of their liking.

There has even been a lawsuit -- two years ago, Ifeanyi Ohalete agreed to sell No. 26 to his new Washington Redskins teammate Clinton Portis for $40,000. But Ohalete, who was released from the team before the season, sued after Portis didn't pay him half of the fee. The two eventually reached a settlement worth $18,000.

Bush, who is expected to sign a lucrative shoe and apparel deal with adidas in the near future, has extra incentive to try to land No. 5. His Subway commercial, which debuted on Monday, encourages fans to "get inside No. 5" and features that number throughout the spot.

If Bush could somehow convince the league to allow him to wear No. 5, he's in luck if he gets drafted by the Houston Texans. No player on the team currently wears that number.

Said Bush: "If I have to pick a new number, I have no idea what it would be."

ESPN.com senior writer Darren Rovell contributed to this story