Twelve has historically been a quarterback number.
Tom Brady wears 12. So does Aaron Rodgers – as did six other quarterbacks already enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But in the McCown household in East Texas, 12 wasn’t just a quarterback number. It was the quarterback number.
“As Texas boys, it’s hard to play that position in that state and not look up to Roger Staubach,” said Josh McCown, who retired this week after 16 NFL seasons. “My older brother (Randy) set the tone for us back home. He was the first one to play quarterback and the first to play college football in our family. He wore 12 all thorough high school because we were fans of the Cowboys and Roger Staubach.”
Randy, Josh and Luke McCown all wore 12 while taking snaps at Jacksonville High School. Randy went on to play at Texas A&M but the Aggies reserve jersey number 12 for the school’s famed 12th man. So Randy elected to wear 15 in College Station.
Like Randy and Luke, Josh was highly-recruited prep who chose SMU. He wore 12 for the Mustangs in his three years there, then transferred to Sam Houston State and wore 12 in his one season there.
The Arizona Cardinals selected McCown in the third round of the 2002 draft, which began his extensive career as an NFL backup quarterback. He backed up a Hall of Famer (Kurt Warner), Heisman Trophy winners (Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel), Pro Bowlers (Jake Plummer, Jake Delhomme, Jay Cutler, Jeff Blake and Derek Andzerson) and a rookie (Sam Darnold).
McCown played for eight NFL teams, a record for a quarterback. He went to training camp with two other teams and even spent a season in the United Football League with the Hartford Colonials. He started 76 NFL games and threw 98 touchdown passes. But through all his travels there was one constant – the number on his back.
“I wore 12 my whole career as a nod to Roger Staubach – how he played the position and how he carried himself as a man,” McCown said.
There were, however, a few exceptions to his rule.
McCown wore 12 in his first eight seasons with the Cardinals, Detroit Lions, Oakland Raiders and Carolina Panthers. The 12 on his back raised some eyebrows in Oakland – that was Hall of Famer Ken Stabler’s number with the Raiders.
In his 10th season of professional football, McCown found himself in the United Football League with the Hartford Colonials. He wore 12 there as well. Back in the NFL in 2011 with the Chicago Bears, McCown finally had to switch numbers. Caleb Hanie was the backup quarterback of the Bears and already wore 12. So, like his older brother, McCown switched to 15.
The Bears let Hanie go at season’s end, allowing McCown to switch back to 12 in 2012. He wore that number in his final two seasons with the Bears. He moved on to Tampa Bay in 2014 and again wore 12. But McCown had to switch jerseys when he arrived in Cleveland in 2015.
“The Browns were still parsing through Josh Gordon’s suspension,” McCown said, “and he had 12.”
Jersey number 15 also was occupied. So McCown claimed 13.
“It was my 13th season,” he explained.
Gordon spent the next two seasons under NFL suspension so McCown spent his two seasons in Cleveland wearing 13. Then he moved on to the New York Jets. There was no sense even asking for 12 there – that’s the number Hall of Famer Joe Namath wore. McCown ran into the same obstacle in Miami when he went to training camp with the Dolphins in 2008. That was the number Hall of Fame quarterback Bob Griese wore.
So McCown went back to 15 in New York for his final two NFL seasons. McCown had a 400-yard passing game in his career against the Baltimore Ravens and threw for four touchdowns in another game against the Dallas Cowboys. He also became the first NFL quarterback to win a game on foreign soil when he passed for 365 yards and two touchdowns in Arizona’s 2005 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Mexico City.
McCown wore 12 that day. Roger Staubach would have been proud.