To some athletes, it’s just a number, one they were assigned somewhat randomly and didn’t think much about. For others, it’s a somewhat monogamous relationship, steeped in personal meaning or professional homage, and one they will ask and even pay to keep.
While it’s just a digit or two on their backs, it’s also how many of us know Tom Brady or Steven Stamkos or Kevin Kiermaier. It’s how we keep track of them and, at times, argue about them.
It’s a debate you can have in a bar or (like everything else) on social media, and we present it here, looking over a wide spectrum of Tampa Bay-based teams and athletes, to determine who wore what number best.
We know we didn’t get them all right, so let us know your choices via email at email@example.com.
Evan Longoria, Rays third baseman (2008-17)
Freddie Solomon, University of Tampa quarterback (1971-74)
Jameis Winston, Bucs quarterback (2015-19)
This seemed like a good place to start until realizing Winston wasn’t even the best quarterback to wear No. 3. Sure, he passed for nearly 20,000 yards over five seasons, but there seemed to be a little problem getting the ball to the intended target. Solomon was dazzling in the option for the Spartans, who played as a Division I independent, drawing raves and comps to great runners such as O.J. Simpson, finishing 12th in the 1974 Heisman voting and going on to play 11 years in the NFL as a receiver. But neither has Longoria’s resume. He was the fresh face, then the heart of the Rays’ order for 10 years, crowned by the signature moment of his 2011 Game 162 walkoff homer. He had hoped to spend his entire career here until being traded.
Wore it best: Longoria, no ducking the decision.
Rocco Baldelli, Rays outfielder (2003-08)
Jassen Cullimore, Lightning defenseman (1997-2004)
Cullimore spent seven years on the blue line, a somewhat important part of the Lightning’s 2003-04 Cup-winning team. Baldelli played only two full seasons and parts of six total — most before the Rays got good — before being forced to retire due to a medical condition. He remains one of their most-liked players. His 2008 postseason heroics — seven months after he seemed headed to a frustratingly forced retirement — can do that, as did sticking around as a coach.
Wore it best: Baldelli, somewhat sentimentally.
Quinton Flowers, USF quarterback (2014-17)
Tyler Johnson, Lightning forward (2012-present)
Flowers is arguably the most dynamic football player in USF’s 23-season history given his multi-dimensional ability, though he has been snake-bitten so far as a pro. Johnson is a speedy spark plug who has played a key role for most of seven-plus seasons, usually in a complementary role, though he stepped into the spotlight during the 2015 Stanley Cup finals with a team-high 23 points.
Wore it best: Johnny be good, as the song says, but Flowers was better.
Shaun King, Bucs quarterback (1999-2003)
Rodney Marsh, Rowdies forward (1976-79)
Courtney Williams, USF basketball guard (2012-16)
First we had to pick King over kicker Conner Barth, which was tough enough, based on him leading the Bucs to the playoffs twice. Marsh was only with the Rowdies a short while, but somewhat became the face of the franchise when soccer was a big deal here, drawing 45,000-plus to Tampa Stadium, and then returning to coach. Williams was a first-team All-American, is first in single-season scoring at USF and second all-time, and in her fifth season in the WNBA.
Wore it best: Marsh, for making Rowdies soccer a kick in the grass.
Wade Boggs, Rays third baseman (1998-99)
Doug Williams, Bucs quarterback (1978-82)
Boggs took most of his swings with Boston and New York, then returned to his adopted hometown for his final two seasons and his crowning achievement, the 3,000th hit that insured his election to the Hall of Fame. Williams got most of his snaps during five seasons with the Bucs and made the first three trips to the playoffs, but went elsewhere for his most celebrated moment, winning the 1987 Super Bowl with the Redskins.
Wore it best: It’s close, but it’s Williams — for now. There’s a new guy in town who may quickly lay claim as Tampa Bay’s best TB12.
Carl Crawford, Rays outfielder (2002-10)
Mike Evans, Bucs receiver (2014-present)
If Evans continues on his impressive career track and stays in town, this could be an ongoing debate given his six straight seasons of 1,000-plus yards and three Pro Bowl selections. Crawford doesn’t get enough credit as one of the Rays’ all-time best, making four All-Star teams over nine seasons while playing a key role in their rise. Saying “My heart is in Boston” after signing with the Sox didn’t help.
Wore it best: CC, who might’ve been a big hit on the football field also.
Brad Johnson, Bucs quarterback (2001-04)
David Price, Rays pitcher (2008-14)
Johnson logged the biggest W, leading the Bucs to their only Super Bowl championship during an otherwise pedestrian four-season stint. Price won a lot — 19 games in 2010, 20 and a Cy Young in 2012, the 2013 Game 163 tiebreaker. He was a four-time All-Star and got the biggest out in team history as a rookie, clinching the 2008 ALCS.
Wore it best: Price, taking quantity over quality.
Keyshawn Johnson, Bucs receiver (2000-03)
Scott Kazmir, Rays pitcher (2004-09)
Brad Richards, Lightning center (2000-08)
Johnson was the mouth that roared, entertaining on and off the field, posting a 100-catch season and helping the Bucs win a Super Bowl, but only lasted four seasons. Kazmir first popped off about making the 2008 playoffs, and was a key part of the Rays’ breakthrough, making two All-Star teams. Richards was the playoff MVP when the Bolts won their only Stanley Cup, ranks in the team’s top five in assists and points, and scored 150 goals in seven seasons.
Wore it best: Richards, who had the flow going as well.
Chris Archer, Rays pitcher (2012-18)
Doug Martin, Bucs running back (2012-17)
Leon McQuay, University of Tampa running back (1968-70)
Getting “All the Way” McQuay signed from Blake High as University of Tampa’s first black scholarship athlete was big for new coach Fran Curci, and it paid off as McQuay rushed for 3,039 yards and scored 37 touchdowns over three seasons. Martin had two Pro Bowl seasons with 1,400-plus yards each (second in the NFL in 2015), but little else over his other four. Archer made two All-Star teams, did a lot of good in the community and had some big strikeout numbers, but frustratingly never reached his potential, with an overall losing record, 54-68, 3.69.
Wore it best: Archer had the longest stay and Martin the best single season, but McQuay gets the nod for his place in history.
Dave Andreychuk, Lightning center (2001-06)
Jessica Dickson, USF basketball forward (2003-07)
Brian Kelly, Bucs cornerback (1998-2007)
Andreychuk came south to cap what ended up being a 23-year Hall-of-Fame career, and did so impressively. As captain, he helped lead the Bolts back to the playoffs for the first time in seven years, then to their, and his, first Stanley Cup championship. Dickson is USF’s all-time leading scorer, men or women, with 2,402 points, averaging 19.2 over 125 games. Kelly spent 10 seasons in the Bucs secondary, having his best season (an NFL co-leading eight interceptions) when they did, winning the 2002 season’s Super Bowl.
Wore it best: Andreychuk, well enough that he still works with the team.
Ben Bishop, Lighting goalie (2012-17)
Charlie Bradley, USF basketball forward/guard (1981-85)
Bishop won two Game 7s, provided stability in the net during parts of five seasons and helped groom current starter Andrei Vasilevskiy. Bishop won two Game 7s, provided stability in the net during parts of five seasons and helped groom current starter Andrei Vasilevskiy. Bradley was, and still is, USF’s greatest men’s basketball player. He scored 2,319 points, averaging 19.7 per game, and as a sophomore led the country in scoring much of the season before finishing fifth. Plus he played most of his career before the 3-point shot was added.
Wore it best: Bradley; greatest ever is good enough for us.
Michele Smith, Olympic softball pitcher (1996-2000)
James Wilder, Bucs running back (1981-89)
Smith moved to Tampa Bay in the mid-1990s and brought two gold medals to her new home, remaining in the game as ESPN’s lead softball analyst. Wilder was a workhorse running back, including a remarkable 1984 season with 407 carries and 85 receptions for 2,229 yards, and still is the team’s career rushing leader.
Wore it best: Wilder didn’t get enough credit then, but he gets it now.
Aric Almirola, NASCAR driver (2007-present)
Gary Anderson, Tampa Bay Bandits running back (1983-85)
Almirola has raced with several numbers, but made headlines and history with his 2014 win at the Coke Zero 400, the first for Richard Petty’s fabled No. 43 in 15 years, and for a Petty-owned car at Daytona since 1981. Anderson the Bandit was much better than Anderson the Charger or Buc, posting back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and scoring 35 TDs under Head Ball Coach Steve Spurrier.
Wore it best: Anderson, who ran his way back to the NFL after initially spurning the Chargers.
Brad Culpepper, Bucs defensive tackle (1994-99)
Victor Hedman, Lightning defenseman (2009-present)
Before you saw Culpepper as a big-time, slick lawyer on TV during seemingly every single commercial break, he was a pretty big defensive tackle — listed at 275 pounds. Hedman is a bigger deal, winning the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman once and finishing in the top 10 four other times, and making three All-Star teams, as a cornerstone of the Lightning success.
Wore it best: Hedman, even more aggressive and tenacious.
Jimmie Giles, Bucs tight end (1978-86)
Andrei Vasilevskiy, Lightning goalie (2014-present)
Giles is among the team’s all-time best, evidenced by four Pro Bowl selections in six years, and a place in the Ring of Honor. Vasilevskiy, just 25, has already been an All-Star and a Vezina Trophy winner as the league’s best, leading the NHL in wins over the past three seasons.
Wore it best: Vasilevskiy, who is forcing us all to learn how to spell his name correctly.
Five quick calls
No. 24: Winger Ryan Callahan had a few good seasons for the Lightning around a series of injuries. Rays swinger Dan Johnson had a couple really big swings for the Rays, historic homers in 2008 and 2011 that will never be forgotten, nor will he.
No. 35: Dan Wheeler helped transform the lowly Devil Rays into the winning Rays with quality pitching and needed professionalism, but goalie Nikolai Khabibulin built the “Bulin Wall” that led to the Lightning’s Stanley Cup championship.
No. 39: Roberto Hernandez was one of a few standouts among the early Devil Rays, and a 1999 All-Star while posting 43 saves and two W’s for a 69-win team. Centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier has covered more ground as the master of his domain defensively, winning three Gold Gloves while healthy, and a lot of young hearts.
No. 53: Linebacker Shelton Quarles was in the middle of the Bucs defense for most of 10 years, including 113 tackles in their Super Bowl season. Pitcher Alex Cobb did more in less time with the Rays, battling through injuries to win 10-plus games four times and provide leadership by example in the mold of James Shields.
No. 54: Richard Wood had a way cool nickname — Batman — playing through the indignation of the early Bucs teams before enjoying some success. Lavonte David is making a name for himself as one of the team’s all-time best linebackers.