GAINESVILLE — Florida coach Dan Mullen doesn’t want to deal with jersey numbers this spring.
He doesn’t want to figure out which of his Gators want what number and whether anyone deserves to wear the prestigious No. 1.
But he understands it.
When he was playing at Ursinus College, Mullen said Tuesday, he wanted No. 36 so badly that he took his 10 jersey and gave it to the punter.
“I got stuck with it,” said that punter, Brian Suth.
The details of how he got stuck with it are murky, more than a quarter century later.
Mullen remembers going to Suth and simply claiming the number. Mullen was a sophomore, so he had seniority over the freshmen. But Suth said he wasn’t given No. 36 immediately, so maybe there was a three-way trade involved.
Regardless, Suth got No. 10, and Mullen got the number he first wore at Trinity High in Manchester, N.H.
There was nothing particularly special about 36 before Mullen first received it in high school. What’s special is how Mullen got it.
Most freshmen played junior varsity in one of the team’s ancient JV jerseys. Not Mullen. He got to dress on the varsity team where they handed him number 36.
“Big, big moment getting a varsity jersey as a freshman,” Mullen said.
The moment was so big that Mullen got the jersey framed. He still has it. If his belongings weren’t scattered in piles at his new place, it’d be hanging in his home.
That’s how much 36 means to him.
Regardless of how the jersey swap went down at Ursinus, there were no hard feelings between Suth and Mullen. There couldn’t be. Mullen was part of the shield that blocked for Suth. Occasionally, Ursinus would run a trick play — a direct snap to Mullen, who would try to throw for a first down while Suth pretended the ball was snapped over his head.
Their paths have diverged over the years. Suth works in finance in the Northeast. Mullen coaches football in the Southeast.
But Suth still follows his former teammate and cheers for him on Saturdays, no matter what Mullen is wearing.
“He’ll always be my personal protector,” Suth said.