In certain sports, the great stars seem to wear a particular number on their jerseys. For example, in football, number 32 was worn by Jim Brown and O.J. Simpson. They were the two greatest running backs in football history.
In hockey, the “star number” is 9.
The fabulous Charlie Conacher, who was part of Toronto’s great “Kid Line” back in the 1930s wore that number, and so did some other hockey greats. But the tradition really started with Maurice “Rocket” Richard of the Montreal Canadiens, who was as famous in hockey as Babe Ruth in baseball.
Richard wore number 15 until his son was born. Because his son weighed nine pounds at birth, Rocket asked for, and received, number 9 to wear.
There was a time when lower berths on trains were assigned to players who had been with the team for a long time, or had low numbers on their sweaters. Gordie Howe had been wearing number 17, but when number 9 opened up because of a trade, he asked for it. He may have wanted the same number as Richard, but more likely he just wanted a better night’s sleep when the team was traveling by train.
Bobby Hull had two different numbers, 16 and 7. Gordie Howe had always been his idol, and finally Bobby asked for number 9 for his own sweater. Thus, he kept this unofficial tradition alive. And three of hockey’s all-time great players all wore the number 9.
From Strange But True Sports Stories by Howard Liss. Illustrations by Joe Mathieu.