NFL

The Best NFL Player to Ever Wear Patrick Mahomes’ No. 15 Jersey

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has a lot going for him entering Super Bowl LIV this Sunday. Other than his skills of both running the ball and getting rid of it under pressure? His ability to make money for his team and the NFL.

Mahomes tops NFL jersey sales in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl. It’s not a foregone conclusion for him to do so, as he’s the only player who will appear in that game to land in the top 10.

That’s presumably a heck of a lot of people wearing No. 15 this week. Let’s look at the significance of this number, both in terms of Mahomes and other iconic NFL players.

When did Patrick Mahomes receive his jersey number?

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes celebrates after a play against the Titans
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes celebrates after a play | William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Mahomes was drafted by the NFL in 2017. What many fans don’t know is that it was a major crossroads in his life. As the naming convention demonstrates, “Mahomes” was still a name more associated with his father, who played in the MLB.

The younger Mahomes was picked 37th in the MLB draft by the Detroit Tigers. He declined. The Arizona Diamondbacks offered a $1.6 million contract, promising a potentially long career and uncapped millions more in pursuing baseball. He declined.

More importantly, for the purposes of this article, the former Texas Tech star wore No. 5 entering NFL draft day. He knew the Chiefs would likely scoop him up with the 10th pick. There was already a No. 5 in Kansas City. He’d have to decide whether he’d give up his old lucky number. This time, he said yes.

After kicker Cairo Santos left the Chiefs, Mahomes had the opportunity to get his old number back. But, to the delight of fans who already dropped big money on their authentic jerseys, he dropped the idea. In part, it was because of the layers of meaning the NFL draft added to the number.

“I got drafted 10th and I (wore) No. 5,” Mahomes told the Kansas City Star. “And there’s not really any other quarterbacks that have 15.” Not now, anyway. There are a few other players who wore No. 15 to some success.

Notable NFL players who wore a No. 15 jersey

Dozens of players have worn No. 15 in the NFL. Here are several of the most notable contributions toward that particular jersey number:

  • Wide receiver Golden Tate, the Notre Dame unanimous All-American in 2009 and Super Bowl XLVIII champion who plays with the New York Giants today.
  • Quarterback Josh McCown wears No. 18 today. But he spent 2011-18 wearing lucky No. 15. The change may have been a good thing. He first changed from No. 15 to No. 12 with the Bears, where he won the Brian Piccolo Award as recognition for his good humor and leadership.
  • Wide receiver Michael Crabtree was a two-time All-American, in 2007 and 2008. He spent six seasons with current Super Bowl hopefuls, the 49ers, and is currently a free agent.
  • Quarterback Tim Tebow was the splashiest No. 15 in the modern era. His football career was marked by his immense athleticism and poor accuracy. Loved for his likable personality, Tebow quickly found success as an ESPN analyst. Ever dedicated to sports, he’ll return to baseball for the 2020 season with the minor league Syracuse Mets.

These are big names. But one particular player who wore a 15 on his back imbues that jersey number with a different sort of magic.

The legend who wore Patrick Mahomes’ jersey number first

Green Bay Packers hero Bart Starr set the tone for the Super Bowl era. The wiry 6-foot-10 quarterback won the MVP award in the first two editions of what’s now the biggest event in U.S. sports.

To truly understand why he is a legend among legends requires, oddly enough, looking at his failures. Starr was drafted 200th in the 1956 NFL Draft. It was a vote of no confidence that led to one of the most legendary duos in NFL history: Starr and head coach Vince Lombardi.

Starr wasn’t the most athletic quarterback. At a glance, he wasn’t built to take huge hits. The athlete’s strength was pure perseverance. In fact, the infamous Ice Bowl, a -48 degree wind chill slog against the Dallas Cowboys, was his defining moment.

At the one-yard line, down three points, with 16 seconds left on the clock, No. 15 was nearly ground to dust by the effort. Starr was already pushed through getting rattled by eight sacks. For a 198-pound quarterback, that’s an incredibly demanding work hazard to endure.

During the final huddle of the game, Starr told Lombardi he wanted to keep the ball. Lombardi agreed, apparently seeing the fire in his beaten down QB. Jerry Kramer blocked out the space for Starr to sneak his broken body through to the end zone. The Packers won.

That’s the story of how a 200th pick became the toughest football player in the history of the game, eventually landing in the Hall of Fame. Not a bad bit of magic for Mahomes to carry with him into Super Bowl LIV.

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