A Big Zero




Okay, if “0” (zero) has no value, is it a number?  For instance, if team A beats team B, 7- 0, the zero represents no points, or the absence of points or no value. Right? Well, that’s what I thought. In my mind, zero represented the “lack” of a number and that the first number is the number 1 (one). Well, not so according to Ask Dr. Math who I found recently when I Googled, “Is zero a number?”

According to the good Doctor, “Zero is a number; in fact, it is a real number.  It is on the number line right between 1 and -1. You can add, subtract, and multiply with 0 and get real answers. You can divide numbers into zero and get a real answer, zero.”

So, you might ask, what the heck does all this have to do with anything and why on earth am I pondering the existence of zero in the first place. Well, believe it or not it is a football issue.

The reason for my admittedly odd question actually has to do with the NFL’s player numbering system. The number zero (thank you Dr. Math) is not among the NFL’s allowed numbers.


The current numbering system policy goes back to 1973 when the NFL mandated ranges of numbers to be used by players by position. The simple system begins with numbers 1-19 and they are reserved for quarterbacks and specialists. Well, talk about disrespectful.  No zero. Hey, remember now, zero is a number, and as such deserves an opportunity to be selected by quarterbacks and specialists just like 1-19!

Now, not only is zero a number and should be allowed to be worn by players, there have actually been several NFL players who in fact wore the forgotten number. Now why any player would want to be known “zero,” that’s another issue altogether.  But the fact is, according to research found in our archives, more than a dozen former players, mostly during the 1920s and 1930s, wore the number zero. That list includes Hall of Fame tackle Pete “Fats” Henry, who purportedly sported “0” on his jersey in 1927-28 when playing with the Pottsville Maroons.


The most recent to don the disregarded digit was Obert Logan, a safety with the 1967 expansion New Orleans Saints. Obert began his career as an undrafted free agent with the Dallas Cowboys in 1965. Nicknamed “The Little O” reflective of his first name and relatively small size – 5-10, 182 pounds – Obert was selected by the Saints in the 1967 NFL Expansion Draft. It was as a Saint that “The Little O” chose zero as his number. As it turned out, zero was also the number of seasons he played after his first with the Saints. Coincidence, I’m sure.

Now, as strange as it might be that a player would chose zero as their uniform number, let’s not forget that there were three who doubled down and chose double zero (00) as theirs; Oakland Raiders Hall of Fame center Jim Otto (1960-1974), Saints/Houston Oilers wide receiver Ken Burrough (1970/1971-1981) and Steve Bagarus a back with the Washington Redskins (1945-46, 48) and Los Angeles Rams (1947).  Obviously Bagarus retired before the numbering system was put in place. But since both Otto and Burrough were wearing “00” when the 1973 numbering system edict came down, they were grandfathered in and permitted to wear the unique number throughout their careers.


Of the three “00’s” however, only Otto’s choice seems to have supporting logic as it was a play on the spelling of his last name that begins and ends with an O.  The other two, well I just don’t kn“oo”w (Sorry, I couldn’t resist that) what they were thinking.  
So, for those of us who remember the Three Dog Night’s hit single “One” in which the super group proclaimed “One is the loneliest number you’ll ever do,” I offer this…One may be the loneliest, but Zero is by far the least appreciated.

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Written by: Joe Horrigan