Sep 5, 2013, 2:18 PM PST
The story of how 49ers running back Anthony Dixon politely declined a $24,000 offer from cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha for his no. 24 jersey was wildly popular on Wednesday. Jersey numbers can mean everything to a professional athlete and in the Bay Area especially, no. 24 is priceless.
“I worked hard to get that number when I first got here,” Dixon told 49ers Insider Matt Maiocco. “I worked hard to get it off somebody else. I’ve been No. 24 since high school and college.”
Number swapping often has an interesting backstory in locker rooms and clubhouses across professional sports, but recently, there was a 49ers digit switch that didn’t garner much attention.
When wide receiver Anquan Boldin was acquired by the 49ers, tight end Garrett Celek was wearing his no. 81 jersey. Not for long.
Instead of waiting to negotiate a lucrative offer with the three-time Pro Bowl wideout, Celek simply went to the team’s equipment manager and told him to stitch up Boldin’s jerseys with an 81 on the back.
“I cared about it, but Anquan’s been in the NFL a lot longer than I have,” Celek said. “I thought it was only right to give it to him. He’s had a lot more invested in that number than I have.”
Celek is embarking on his second season in the NFL. He wore no. 85 at Michigan State and that number was already taken by Vernon Davis when he was signed by the 49ers as an undrafted free agent. Now, he’s wearing no. 88. It doesn’t really bug him that he’s had to change numbers. Some guys are superstitious about their jersey number, some guys find comfort in numerical consistency, some guys cash in — Celek is impartial.
“I’m more of a karma guy,” Celek said. “I feel like if I would have kept it from (Boldin) or parted with it in a bad way, something would come back to haunt me.”
The 49ers tight end hasn’t been around too long, but he says he’s seen a car gifted to a player for a jersey number and cash exchanging hands in excess of the $24,000 offered Dixon. He seemed slightly taken back when told about Asomuga’s offer, but laughed it off.
“24 grand? Wow. I mean 24 grand is a lot of money,” he said. “Dixon has been playing a lot longer than I have so it’s a bit more understanding in his situation.”
So, where do some of the other observers in the 49ers locker room stand? Defensive end Ray McDonald has been with the team since 2007, and he had to think about it for a moment when asked what would happen if he was offered a sizable chunk of change for his no. 91.
“I’ve gotten used to playing with 91, so hopefully no one would come in and pay me to try and get my number,” said McDonald, after taking a moment to prepare his response. “It doesn’t really mean anything to me. I just want a number in the 90s that’s pretty much it.”
49ers safety Craig Dahl wore no. 10 in high school, no. 20 in college, and has worn no. 43 since making it to the pros. He wasn’t sure what the proper value of a jersey number should be.
“I don’t know what correct dollar amount, or what you can put on a number, but 43 has been with me for a few years and I don’t see too many people champing at the bit to get into it,” Dahl said. “It means something to me and it’s important to me.”
It seems a lot of players like their numbers, but can’t exactly put a finger on why. Some choose to cash in, some aren’t given a choice. In the end, unless you’re a player that’s destined to have your jersey number retired, the price could eventually be right.
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