Really. It's true.
We were watching early season highlights on NFL.com. In the week 6 Miami-Houston game, around the 1:40 mark, Rich Eisen compared Greg Camarillo to Wes Welker, then added, "He's got the 83 number also."
We dwelled on this, lamenting that Eisen had fallen into the typical announcer trap of comparing white guys to white guys* and black guys to black guys, regardless of specific styles or talents.
Just like Welker is a playmaker and Camarillo is simply a posession reciever, Steve Nash is a playmaker and Travis Diener is a slow point guard with a decent outside shot. The latter comparison was made during a forgettable Marquette game in winter of '05. Prior to Nash, the announcer (if only we could remember who) had also compared Diener to Mark Price and Scott Skiles.**
We don't think Eisen's comment was especially egregious, but we were still thinking about all of this when Houston's Kevin Walter, another white WR wearing #83, caught a ball at the 2:20 mark.
We wondered if this could be more a trend than a coincidence. Sure enough, it is.
Wes Welker, Kevin Walter, Drew Bennett, Greg Camarillo, Greg Estandia, Heath Miller, Billy Miller, Mike Leach, Jeff Dugan
That's right. All of these guys proudly wear number 83.
Everyone's familiar with the "Black Quarterback" trope.
- The famous, though seemingly apocryphal, Doug Williams question
- Our own surprise at the prominence of the topic within an SI McNair cover story
- More recently, the McNabb - Limbaugh mess
Now, sure enough, we have the White Receiver.
With the heavy emphasis on the passing game the WR has become the most “pure” athlete on the field - and thus fits with the stereotype of the athletically superior black player (as contrasted with the stereotype of hard-working scrappy white player - David Eckstein, Tyler Hansbrough). At the same time WR has become a glamour position (Moss, TO, Ocho Cinco, etc), and more specifically it’s become a black player’s glamour position, especially as it's still the case that most of the marquee players at QB (the game's traditional glamour position) are white.
These factors make white WRs stick out (white CBs stick out too, but not as much because “cornerback” doesn’t have the cache of “wide receiver” - but don't forget the wildly out-of-proportion fame of Jason Sehorn a few years ago).
Suddenly the #83 trend seems reasonable - that like black quarterbacks have a sense of fraternity so do, apparently, white receivers. And they’re showing it off on their jerseys.
It’s fair to point out that the above list is actually 50-50 WRs and TEs, but we’ll also include Kevin Curtis, who rocked the 83 until this year (wonder if he tried to buy it off Greg Lewis), and Brandon Stokley who we assume wouldn’t dare try to buy the 83 off a fellow white guy: But you’re a long snapper! Jeff Dugan's number choice is illustrative; the TE label matters not: Coach, I know I’m a fullback, but I gotta support my guys!
Then there are the #83 godfathers: Tim Dwight and Patrick Jeffers, he of the flukiest season ever.
Camaraderie aside, it's easy to see how this could have started. White kids playing receiver in HS looked up to white guys playing receiver in the NFL. And don’t think that Jeffers’ '99 season winning more than few fantasy leagues doesn’t factor in here.
Now the trend is firmly set for the future. If any of the teams without an 83 (Arizona, Baltimore, Carolina, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Green Bay, Oakland, Tampa Bay) draft Jordan Shipley, you can be sure which number he’ll take.
- Agent Easy
*Yes Camarillo is Latino, but we're not discussing ethnicity, but rather appearance. Bottom line: If Camarillo was black Eisen wouldn't have made the comparison.
**Another instance we recall, during 2005 East-West Shrine Game the announcer compared Chad Owens to Tim Dwight, Brandon Stokley, and Wayne Chrebet.