Scooter Hobbs column: Zero need to honor tradition
Published 11:00 am Wednesday, August 23, 2023
Hopefully LSU hind catcher Hayden Travinski likes the No. 8.
But, whether he does or doesn’t, he’ll be wearing it on his back next spring during an unexpected extra year of LSU baseball and …
… And the fact that we’re talking about this is just more proof that college football’s August Talking Season needs to exit stage left and get on with the real games.
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For, meanwhile, the gridiron Tigers wait with bated breath, not to mention great anticipation, to see which of their number will wear the football sacred numbers, 7 and 18.
Time is running out … and don’t scoff.
Both are LSU traditions for those sports, though fairly recent. Neither goes back to leather helmets or wooden bats.
In fact, you’d think all the LSU student-athletes were accounting majors for all the fun they have obsessing over numbers.
That is, if they really are.
Here’s the brief history, if I recall it right.
No. 8 for LSU baseball first got legs when Mike Mahtook wore it (2009-11), then suggested that Mason Katz inherit it. Since then the likes of Alex Bregman, Antoine Duplantis, Daniel Cabrera and other stars have donned it, presumably with pride.
Football’s No. 7 is all about ballers. It’s for the playmakers and rabble rousers and honey badgers on the team, offense or defense. It began when Patrick Peterson bequeathed it to Tyrann Mathieu and havoc and big plays have been jumping out of it ever since.
No. 18 is similar but it carries the added weight of leadership and good citizenship. Not to worry. There’s enough talent involved not to confuse it with Miss Congeniality.
But it’s also why sometimes when an LSU player gets drafted into the NFL, if he wore No. 18 with the Tigers his new general manager is likely to mention it, if only to reassure the new neighbors that their children and womenfolk should be safe for the length of the rookie contract.
No. 18’s significance began, as I recall, when Jacob Hester moved on and ceded it to tight end Richard Dickson for the 2008 season. Football’s Eagle Scouts have been passing it down and helping little old ladies across the street ever since.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
But I just wonder if LSU is playing with fire here. The Tigers could be playing a dangerous numbers game.
What happens if one day a Tiger gets picked for one of these hallowed numbers and, well, truth be told, he kind of, sort of — when you get right down to it — really liked the number he had just fine?
Make no mistake. Athletes are picky about those jersey numbers. They get attached. It becomes their identity. They become a number, but not just any other number in the system. It’s their number, always and forever.
My guess is that it’s already happened, some player wanted to decline, but the poor guy(s) didn’t want to ruffle enough feathers to resist the honor. Or maybe they declined and the whole awkward arrangement was kept hush-hush, lest the tradition be tarnished.
For instance, defensive tackle Maason Smith, coming back from last year’s season-ending knee injury, would seem to be a perfect candidate for No. 18. But how are you going to top being the first Tiger to wear No. 0? Smith fits all my criteria for numero zero — weighing more than 300 pounds and in the interior of the defensive line. It would be better if he were a portly 315 instead of almost svelte at 6-foot-6, but we’ll let him slide on that. There’s still a lot of him there to fill that Big 0.
Numero zero only recently became available under NCAA rules. Double-ought, 00, too, but LSU hasn’t put that one on the market yet. Would you give up that zero?
But as LSU trudges through the 21st century, you wonder if any Tiger of note will ever again wear anything other than 7 or 18. Some of the Tigers’ future greatest could be doomed to anonymity.
“Oh, you were No. 7? Well, you must have been really good. But which one were you?”
See what I mean?
Nothing wrong with traditions. College football is tossing them to the curb left and right these days.
With this one, though, just make sure the honorees know that It’s OK to just say no.
Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at email@example.com