Bruce Irvin & Russell Wilson: Jersey numbers a statement?

Russell Wilson might as well have 'third round pick' written on his jersey

Although only a minor announcement at the time with little relevance to most people, I took some interest when the jersey numbers were announced for Bruce Irvin and Russell Wilson. Irvin will wear #51, the reverse of the position he was taken in the draft (#15 overall). Wilson will wear #3, the round in which he was picked by Seattle.

Both players became major talking points after they were drafted. Irvin was considered a specialist who couldn’t take a lot of snaps, despite Seattle’s high-profile use of the LEO. Wilson was considered too short to play in the NFL despite a prolific college career at NC State and Wisconsin. Who’d blame these guys for having a chip on their shoulder?

Are the Seahawks tapping into that? It seems that way. After all, any edge you can find in a player is worth exploiting. Pete Carroll is building a programme around competition, and this appears to be just another form of that. Competition isn’t just about beating out the guy challenging for your position on the roster, it’s also about competing against outside factors.

Irvin was knocked as a reach at #15. The collective gasps among the league’s media were loud enough to wake a small child in Australia. It’s since been revealed that Irvin’s placement in the 2012 draft wasn’t a surprise among other teams as he was expected to leave the board at some point in the 20’s, if not sooner. Yet the Seahawks continue to be criticised and indirectly that’s a critique of Irvin. The media expects him to fail. They want to be proven right.

The choice of jersey #51 may just be a quirky decision on Irvin’s behalf given that he can’t use the #15. However, I like the idea that it’s all part of the process of proving the pick was justified. He could’ve chosen any number between 50-79 or 90-99. He went with the reverse of #15. Never mind that the number is closely associated with a recent Seahawks favorite (Lofa Tatupu), Irvin wants to make it his own and at the same time prove he was worth the big investment.

Russell Wilson chose #3 despite wearing #16 at both NC State and Wisconsin. Is it pure coincidence that he went with the number representing the round he was chosen? This is a guy that did nothing but put up great numbers in college, transition between schemes and keep winning. His senior year could easily have ended with a BCS Championship appearance. Yet when people talked about draft grades, it was always ‘mid-to-late round pick’. Just because of the height. I was one of the people making such a judgement on this very blog, while Kip had the smarts to see through it. In hindsight, I wish I’d not been so narrow minded.

Seattle drafted Wilson at the earliest point they had to. They knew they didn’t need to panic in round two, but didn’t risk waiting until round four where they had two picks. John Schneider believes he’s one of the top players in the draft, but he’s still a third round pick. Pete Carroll says he’s the one guy in this years class that gives you a chance to have a great player. He’s still a third round pick. Why? Just because of the height. A lot of people said he’d be a first round pick if he was a few inches taller. They ended up being correct, because I get the impression Seattle would’ve happily drafted this guy sooner if they had to.

Is Wilson using that as a motivational tool? Perhaps. Publicly he’s discussed how he’s dealt with the height issue throughout his career mainly because it’s unfortunately all anyone wants to talk about. Even members of Seattle’s media continue to ask him about it. At one point on Friday someone asked Pete Carroll if they’d acquired ‘lifts’ for his shoes. Hilarious. Someone, surprisingly, actually laughed at the question. Carroll did not. In Wilson’s press conference on the same day, he was asked about height and size of his hands – like there’s nothing else to discuss. Cue a bit of an awkward moment, but how many times have you seen Drew Brees asked to hold up his hands? Or Aaron Rodgers? It’s almost as if the Seahawks have drafted a different species to play the position. He’s a shorter quarterback. Time to get over it. For me it’s an issue that was rightly discussed a lot during the draft process when trying to project his stock, but it’s a moot point now. He went in the third round, he’s in Seattle and he’s ready to compete. Let’s see how he goes.

I’m not sure if Wilson or Irvin for that matter feed off such things. Some guys need that element of doubt from the outside to keep driving on. Others deal with criticism and doubters differently, keeping negativity away and concentrating only on things they can control. If Wilson succeeds, he’ll be succeeding with a constant reminder on his jersey. Third round, #3. If Irvin succeeds, people will see the number one and the number five. A nod to the critics who cried reach when Seattle made him the #15 pick.

The Seahawks pretty much created a team of players with a similar attitude. Chris Clemons – rejected by Philadelphia but finding success as an upper echelon pass rusher in Seattle, playing in a position he was born to play. Red Bryant – suddenly a defensive MVP when many wondered if his days were numbered with the Seahawks. Brandon Browner, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor – former CFL defensive back and two late rounders now part of possibly the most dynamic secondary in the NFL.

On offense, Marshawn Lynch – a guy considered a trouble-maker in Buffalo and dumped for two late rounders but now the team’s heart and soul in the running game. Mike Williams – seemingly out of the game, but took the chance offered by Seattle to resurrect his career. Doug Baldwin – an UDFA snubbed by even his old coach at Stanford, but now vowing to become the teams #1 receiver. The spine of Seattle’s roster is built around guys who were challenged to prove a point.

Finding players with that edge has helped shape the team and it seems like most of the 2012 draft class has the same ‘chip on shoulder’ mentality. That can only be good news for the Seahawks.


  1. Mitchell

    I know Irvin was asking fans what number he should wear on his twitter because he couldn’t use #11. It might be that many suggested #51 for the exact reason you mentioned.

  2. williambryan

    I thought Irvin picked 51 because it’s like 11 but there is a 5 instead of a 1… And Wilson said he picked the number 3 to honor god (holy trinity I presume). It’s certainly possible that draft position factored in to the jersey number choices. It would be great if someone could ask Wilson and Irvin those questions.

  3. Derrick

    This is what Irvin tweeted about his jersey choice: “57 and 51 are the only 2 open but everything is negotiable lol. I want a fifty number though.”

  4. Patrick G.

    3 was Russell Wilson’s old baseball number. Saw it on the Gruden QB camp special.

  5. Patrick G.

    I do like the thought that we are building a team of like-minded individuals. In any enterprise, the culture of the team and how much people are willing to go to war for their co-workers and the team has a ton to do with success.

  6. Tanner

    Wilson said on Twitter that he chose #3 to glorify God. The number 3 symbolizes the trinity of the Christian faith.

    • Rob Staton

      Or maybe he just doesn’t want to make a big deal of the real reason?

      • Tanner

        He seems like a pretty straightforward, honest person. To say he didn’t mean what he said is pure speculation. I’m willing to take his comments for face value, especially since he is an outspoken Christian man.

  7. Jim Kelly

    If Russell Wilson were “3” inches taller he’d have been a top five pick. My brothers are between 6’1″ and 6’7″, yet they’re not playing in the NFL. Why? Ability. Wilson has it, so let’s stop harping on his height, and just let him play. I don’t care how tall someone is, I just want the Hawks to win. Let’s see how good he is, and not set him up to fail.

    The same goes for Bruce Irvin. Let’s see these men play prior to naming them as busts, or reaches. They will only be either if they don’t succeed.

    The media is too into instant reactions. No one wants to work hard to suceed anymore, except guys like the Seahawks’ draft class. I’m glad we got these guys, all of them. And going by John Schneider and Pete Carroll’s track record, I’m willing to thumb my nose at the “experts” and let the professionals do their jobs, and bring some Lombardis to Seattle.

    • Kip Earlywine

      “If Russell Wilson were “3″ inches taller he’d have been a top five pick.”


  8. Jim Kelly

    I’d like to see Irvin get at least the same success as Mosiula Mea’alofa Tatupu, and Wilson to have more success than Rick Mirer.

  9. SeattleAztec

    “Going to be jersey number 3 for the Seahawks! Honoring God! #blessed @Nike”; Russell Wilson (@DangeRussWilson)

    • Rob Staton

      Kip’s worked it out. Montana wore #3 at Notre Dame and #16 at San Fran. Maybe Joe Montana is god in the Russell Wilson house?

      • Smeghead

        he he he… awesome

  10. HighlandHawk

    Well 51 was the only number he could take that had a 1 in it (61, and 91 already taken by players and 71 retired). And Wilson has stated his favourite bible thingy is 3:16 (he was 16 at Wisconsin) and since he can’t take 16 since Durham has it then it makes sense to be #3

  11. NC Hawk Fan

    On the local Raleigh, NC sports radio show 10 days ago (lots of Wilson interest here still) Wilson specifically referenced John 3:16 when asked why he chose #3. The hosts didn’t know that #16 was taken by Durham.

  12. The Ancient Mariner

    It’s worth noting that 51 has an honorable history in Seattle sports beyond just the ‘Hawks, having been worn by Ichiro and the Big Unit. Here’s hoping Irvin adds to the honor.

    • Smeghead

      that would be nice to have him in that same company…

  13. Josh Scvott

    From someone that knows him and has talked to him… Bruce loved the #11 that he wore in college at WVU. If he was allowed to use that number he would have kept it. I asked him last year when he was still in college what number he wanted to be in the pro’s. His favorite number was 55. I even mocked up some NFL jerseys with his name and number on them for his fan site that I own. #55 wasnt available in Seattle so he got the best of both, a 5 and 1 from his previous number.

  14. Jean

    This is what he said when I asked him about picking #3. “My old number was 16… So now John 3:16 is fitting. Also 3= the Trinity. Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 3 is Godly #.” Glad he continues to keep God in his life. Wish nothing but the best for him and his family.

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