Mailbag: Has anyone else deserved the #1 jersey?

Mailbag: Has anyone else deserved the #1 jersey?

December 22, 2010
Desmond Howard

Touch The Banner,

As you know you put Mario Manningham as your Former Michigan Athlete of the week, and it reminded me of a question I’ve always wanted to ask a fellow Michigan fan. Since the time of Braylon Edwards we haven’t had a WR wear the #1 Jersey. If you had to look back on the receivers we’ve had, which one would you think would be the most deserving of the #1 jersey?

Michigan Fan from Dayton, Ohio

The origin of the #1 jersey tradition stems from Braylon Edwards in the early 2000s.  Edwards requested the #1 jersey to honor his childhood hero, Anthony Carter.  Carter had been a receiver who wore the #1 at Michigan from 1979-1982.  Since Carter’s time at Michigan, five players have worn the #1.  All have been wide receivers – Greg McMurtry, Derrick Alexander, Tyrone Butterfield, David Terrell, and Edwards.  For some perspective, here are their career statistics:

1. Carter: 161 receptions, 3076 yards, 19.1 yard average, 37 touchdowns; 25.5 yards per kick return; 11.5 yards per punt return, 2 touchdowns
2. McMurtry: 111 receptions, 2163 yards, 19.5 yard average, 15 touchdowns
3. Alexander: 125 receptions, 1977 yards, 15.8 yard average, 22 touchdowns; 12.7 yards per punt return, 4 touchdowns
4. Butterfield: 4 receptions, 68 yards, 17.0 yard average, 0 touchdowns
5. Terrell: 152 receptions, 2317 yards, 15.2 yard average, 23 touchdowns
6. Edwards: 252 receptions, 3541 yards, 14.1 yard average, 39 touchdowns

But it was Edwards who turned the #1 into what it is today.  After requesting that number before his junior season, head coach Lloyd Carr told him that he would have to earn it, so as not to disrespect his childhood hero; Edwards was going to have to work hard on the field and become a leader in order to exchange his #80 for #1.  Edwards, who had suffered from inconsistency and suspect hands up to that point, stepped up his game and his leadership, and with a good deal of hype, was awarded the #1 jersey prior to his junior season in 2003.

As far as I see it, there are several candidates to discuss who might have been worthy of the #1 jersey.  Here’s how I would rank them and my thoughts on whether they were deserving of the hallowed jersey number:

1. Desmond Howard (1989-91), #21.  Howard was the country’s most electrifying player in 1991, scoring 19 receiving touchdowns, 1 punt return touchdown, and 1 kickoff return touchdown.  He also caught 62 passes for 985 yards for an average of 15.9 yards a catch that season.  And all of those accomplishments came on the heels of a 1,000-yard season in 1990.  In addition to his receiving skills, he averaged 13.8 yards a carry on 23 attempts in his three seasons, scoring 2 touchdowns.  He also averaged 26.9 yards a kickoff return and 13.0 yards per punt return.  Oh yeah, and he won some kind of trophy or something.
My vote: Worthy

2. Amani Toomer (1992-1995), #18.  Toomer is a tough one.  Michigan’s offense evolved throughout the 1990s into the mid-2000s, from a 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust mentality to a we’ll-chuck-the-ball-whenever-we-feel-like-it mentality.  Toomer was still in that early phase and played with the likes of Tyrone Wheatley and Tshimanga Biakabutuka, two stellar running backs.  Toomer wasn’t particularly big or fast, but Michigan’s powerful running game opened up plenty of space downfield for the quarterbacks to throw.  As a junior, he gained 1,096 yards despite only catching 54 passes.  He then capped his career with 44 catches, 758 yards, and a career-best 7 touchdowns in 1995.
My vote: Worthy

3. Marquise Walker (1998-2001), #4. As a junior, Walker was the second receiver behind David Terrell and still managed to grab 49 passes for 699 yards and 4 touchdowns. Walker stepped it up another notch as a senior, totaling 86 catches for 1,143 yards and 11 touchdowns once Terrell had moved on to the NFL. He had six 100-yard games despite being the only significant receiving threat, including 15 catches, 160 yards, and 2 touchdowns against Ohio State that year.
My vote: Not worthy

4. Tai Streets (1995-1998), #86.  Streets had a solid sophomore season during which he caught 44 passes for 730 yards and 2 touchdowns.  He suffered from an injury late in his junior season, which helped limit him to 28 catches for 476 yards and 6 touchdowns; however, he had 4 receptions for 127 yards and 2 touchdowns (including a 58-yarder) in the Rose Bowl game against Washington State that propelled Michigan to a national title.  As a senior, Streets had 67 catches for 1,035 yards and 11 touchdowns.
My vote: Not worthy

5. Jason Avant (2002-2005), #8.  For his first three seasons, Avant played second fiddle to Braylon Edwards.  He notched only two receptions in 2002 (hello, burned redshirt) and then had 85 catches spread over his sophomore and junior seasons.  Once Edwards went off to the NFL, Avant caught 82 balls for 1,007 yards and 8 touchdowns.  He was very reliable; I only remember him dropping one pass in a Michigan uniform, and I was astounded.  But he only averaged 12.3 yards a catch as a senior.  Reliable, but not a gamebreaker.
My vote: Not worthy

6. Mario Manningham (2005-2007), #86.  Manningham burst onto the scene as a freshman in 2005, when he caught the game-winning score from Chad Henne against Penn State.  He averaged 18.5 yards a catch and scored 9 touchdowns as a sophomore, then followed that up with a 72-catch, 1,137-yard, 12-touchdown effort in 2007.  He had a couple stellar games against Notre Dame in his career and caught a 97-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Mallett toward the end of 2007.  Those are great numbers.  Except Manningham struggled with off-the-field issues while at Michigan, which got him suspended for one game in 2007 and ultimately caused him to drop in the 2008 NFL draft.  If Edwards had to work harder and become a leader, Manningham certainly wasn’t deserving of the honor.
My vote: Not worthy

7. Steve Breaston (2003-2006), #15.  Breaston is one of those players about whom you think, “I bet he was a stud in college now that he’s having 1,000-yard seasons in the NFL.”  He’s having a solid NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals, but his numbers as a receiver were far from spectacular in college.  Granted, his career overlapped those of Edwards, Avant, and Mario Manningham, so opportunities were scarce.  Still, Breaston averaged just 39 receptions, 424 yards, and 2.5 touchdowns a season in a career where he saw significant playing time every single year.  His biggest asset was his return ability, which saw him average 24.6 yards on kick returns and 12.6 on punt returns, with 5 total touchdowns.  Any team would love to have him as a second or third wideout, but his limited production and iffy hands prevent him from being a #1 guy.
My vote: Not worthy

8. Mercury Hayes (1992-1995), #8.  Hayes was a solid but unspectacular receiver who played alongside Toomer for all four years at Michigan.  He had an outstanding senior season in 1995, with 48 catches for 923 yards (19.2 yards per catch) and 4 touchdowns.  But the preceding years were just mediocre, and he didn’t offer much in the way of versatility (running, returning punts and kicks) to give him the nod.
My vote: Not worthy

Statistics obviously don’t tell the whole story.  If you go by touchdowns only, the trio of Edwards, Carter, and Howard are the only receivers with 30+ career touchdowns.  If you go by yardage, well, there are a fair number of 1,000 yard receivers, too (Streets, Walker, Avant, Manningham).  A big part of the #1 jersey seems to be “feel.”  How dominant was the player?  Was he a one-man wrecking crew?  Was he a leader?  Was he the quarterback’s go-to guy? 

It’s also difficult to judge who’s worthy of the #1 jersey because, frankly, Derrick Alexander (who had mediocre statistics) and Tyrone Butterfield (who barely played, period) skew the statistics significantly.  If those two players arrived on campus in the post-Braylon years, neither one would get the #1.

I gave the nod to Desmond Howard because he was clearly a dominant player, won the Heisman trophy, and set Michigan’s record for receiving touchdowns in a season.  I also gave the nod to Amani Toomer, which was tough to decide; while he didn’t have an overwhelming senior season, he did have 1,000 yards as a junior and averaged over 20 yards a pop.  He could easily have been awarded the #1 jersey for his senior season like Braylon, but then would have put forth an underwhelming senior year.

The senior versions of Tai Streets and Marquise Walker were both worthy of the #1 jersey by post-Braylon standards.  But their mediocre seasons as underclassmen meant that they didn’t reach that status until their senior years were completed.

Oddly enough, Mario Manningham was perhaps the second-most talented player on this list, despite coming in at #6.  From a purely athletic standpoint, I would rank Manningham just behind Desmond Howard on this list, and ahead of #1 jersey wearers like Alexander, Butterfield, McMurtry, and even Terrell.  Unfortunately, he falls down the list because of his off-the-field issues.  If Braylon Edwards couldn’t get the jersey until he proved himself as a worker and leader, then Manningham clearly never reached that point.

It’s difficult to compare across generations.  Michigan’s offense, the rules of college football, and the overall philosophies of football have changed immensely in the last 20+ years.  But using hindsight to look back across the past two decades, I only see two additional players who were deserving of the #1.


  1. Comments: 21384
    Dec 23, 2010 at 7:52 AM

    Looking at those numbers I can definitely see Roundtree earning the jersey if he ups his TD numbers a bit and doesn't repeat his dropsie problem from the last couple of games.

  2. Comments: 21384
    Dec 23, 2010 at 8:47 AM

    Braylon switched from #80 to #1 during his Jr season in 2003

  3. Comments: 21384
    Dec 23, 2010 at 3:44 PM

    Well put together, but one question: Did you ever see Amani Toomer play? He was in fact pretty big for a WR and plenty fast enough. I seem to remember that he returned at least one punt for a TD and did the same a few times during his long and very productive career with the NY Giants. Guys who are not "particularly fast" don't return punts in the NFL. That said his promotion to the #1 under the Braylon Rule as a senior would have been a close run thing. Manningham would surely have been offered the #1 had he not had off field issues. His Sophomore numbers would have been doubled if not for injuries.

  4. Comments: 21384
    Dec 23, 2010 at 4:24 PM

    @ jbibiza 10:44 a.m.

    Yes, I did see Amani Toomer player, both in person and on television. I probably worded that part of the post poorly. Toomer was pretty fast and he had good size. My point was that he wasn't overwhelmingly superior in either phase. He's one of those guys who was a very good athlete, but not in a Desean Jackson or Randy Moss type of way.

  5. Comments: 21384
    Dec 23, 2010 at 6:11 PM

    Wait, AC played at Michigan from 1983-86? That makes his game winning catch against IU in 1979 even more unlikely!

    Enough snark, just a reminder that Carter's years in Ann Arbor were 1979-82.

  6. Comments: 21384
    Dec 23, 2010 at 6:31 PM

    @ Anonymous 1:11 p.m.

    Dammit, I meant to correct that before I posted. Thanks for the fix.

  7. Comments: 21384
    Dec 23, 2010 at 9:35 PM

    That Manningham fell in the draft was a mistake. An error in judgment based on overly conservative NFL player evaluators. We know that now. Whatever transgressions MM committed didn't hinder his ability to perform at the NFL level. Whatever the scale of them at Michigan, it was handled by Lloyd in house.

    In contrast, Braylan's has made various examples of poor character/judgement as a professional and got himself traded. Plus he's notorious for dropped balls despite unquestionable talent. And yet…MM's the one who doesn't deserve the #1…for character reasons?

  8. Comments: 21384
    Dec 23, 2010 at 11:34 PM

    @ Lankownia 4:35 p.m.

    Why was Manningham's fall in the draft a mistake?

    And Braylon didn't have too many issues when he was in college. Now that he's in the NFL, he's made some bad choices and been a little bit of a prima donna. But Carr did a good job of keeping him on the straight and narrow late in his college career.

    So I stand by my assessment.

  9. Comments: 21384
    Dec 24, 2010 at 11:36 AM

    As far as I remember Super Mario was in Lloyd's dog house just as much as Braylon. He only missed one game due to discipline throughout his career, so let's not make him this big malcontent as you suggest.

  10. Comments: 21384
    Dec 24, 2010 at 12:34 PM

    @ Troy 6:36 a.m.

    Manningham was in the doghouse during his JUNIOR year, unlike Braylon, who had stepped up his game by the time his junior year came around.

    Also, as far as I know, Braylon was never suspended.

    Also, as far as I know, Braylon never had the legal snafu that Manningham did.

    I never suggested that Manningham was a malcontent. But he was making poor decisions into his junior year.

  11. Comments: 21384
    Dec 24, 2010 at 4:57 PM

    "Why was Manningham's fall in the draft a mistake?"

    There were 13 WR taken ahead of MM in the '08 draft. Only 1 of those 14 (Desean Jackson) has had a more impressive career. AFAIK, Manningham has had no off-field issues whatsoever. Based on his production, theres no reason to think coachability is a problem. If Manningham fell in the draft due to character, logically, his talent level would have him drafted higher. Character appears to be a non-issue. I don't see a case for why Manningham SHOULDN'T have been taken higher. What am I missing? He's outperformed most of his peers; he's been generally healthy and productive; he's had no character concerns.

    In contrast, Edwards did not drop because of character problems but fairly obviously should have. Not only has he had off-field problems, but has also had mental issues (drops) on the field. He has held out. He has been hurt. Furthermore, he was traded from the Browns for character-related issues and has continued to be an issue in NY.

    I bring up the NFL only because its pretty strong evidence for who does or doesn't have character/leadership issues. Its pretty strong evidence that one guys character flaws, whatever they may be, were trivial and fleeting and another guys are a reoccurring problem that actually affects their ability to be successful as football players.

    Lloyd handled both Braylon and Mario as he saw fit. Perhaps the reason Mario WAS suspended was that Lloyd felt he was too lenient with Braylon. Braylon got in MORE trouble as freshman and sophomore and got in MORE trouble after his junior and senior seasons. MM has had exactly zero issues sinces missing one game due to suspension. Edwards has had many issues since his "disciplining".

    Given all that we know, and with the benefit of hindsight, it seems ridiculous to argue that character is the reason MM doesn't deserve #1 and Braylon does.

  12. Comments: 21384
    Dec 24, 2010 at 5:08 PM

    @ Lankownia 11:57 a.m.

    I think we're arguing two different things.

    My post is intended to look at which receivers would have been awarded the #1 jersey when they were in college, if the Braylon Edwards Rule had been in place (where he and the coaches select who wears the #1 jersey).

    It's not intended to retroactively award players with the #1 jersey for their post-college performances.

    Manningham DID have character issues in college. The reason he fell in the draft was partially due to performance (I believe he ran a 4.68 forty at the NFL Combine) but partly due to off-the-field issues he encountered in college. Those issues were hinted at publicly, but being from southeastern Michigan, I received very reliable information from someone close to me with knowledge about the situation.

    Anyway, Braylon had some character issues when he was a youngster. He was told to fix them by Lloyd Carr, he did, and he was thus rewarded with the #1 jersey. He's turned into a bit of a loudmouth and got a DUI in the NFL, but the point of this post isn't to claim that his #1 jersey should be revoked or anything like that.

    Conversely, Manningham had some character issues carrying into his junior season. His freshman and sophomore seasons were solid but not worthy of receiving the #1 jersey by his junior year. Then he left early. So Manningham never deserved to wear the #1 jersey.

  13. Comments: 21384
    Dec 28, 2010 at 7:39 PM

    It seems like MM is being punished for not being more irresponsible his first 2 years on campus. From what I recall, Edwards spent far more time in the dog house than Manningham. The NFL evidence is useful only because it sheds light on the difference in character that, one could reasonably assume, extends back to college.

    Does it really matter what season the misbehavior occurred? If it does, you're assuming that some sort of shift in character occurred that redeems the previous behavior. However, it seems pretty clear that Edwards was NOT redeemed in the end. He's still an ass.

    Edwards just stayed out of trouble (AFAWK) for 2 years. Same as MM, just the 2 years w/o trouble don't align with his most productive 2 years.

    With the benefit of hindsight we see the following:

    MM stayed out of trouble 2 out of 3 years. BE 2 out of 4 years.
    MM stayed out of trouble after being punished.BE did not(albeit, away from Michigan).
    MM has not exhibited poor character/judgement since Michigan. BE has.

  14. Comments: 21384
    Dec 28, 2010 at 7:42 PM

    "Braylon had some character issues when he was a youngster. He was told to fix them by Lloyd Carr, he did, and he was thus rewarded with the #1 jersey."

    He did?

    You've been very harsh in the past about Edwards character. This seems like a flip flop. What Edwards has done in the NFL is extremely strong evidence that says his character issues are not "fixed" at all.

  15. Comments: 21384
    Jan 01, 2011 at 3:11 PM

    @ Lankownia 2:42 p.m.

    You are COMPLETELY missing the point on everything I've written. I feel like I've explained it a bunch of times and you still keep reverting to arguing a point that I'm not making, so I'm just going to leave it where it is.

  16. Comments: 21384
    Jan 24, 2011 at 2:46 AM

    walker was a monster that senior year i wouldnt have been offended with the 1 on his jersey

You must belogged in to post a comment.