Ayers, Irving Play Numbers and Waiting Games

Robert Ayers

If Robert Ayers and Nate Irving get what they want, Ayers won't be wearing this shirt much longer. (PHOTO: MAXDENVER.COM)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Nate Irving wants Robert Ayers’ No. 56.  Ayers wants Irving’s No. 91.  Both wore those numbers in college, and want them as professionals. It shouldn’t even require an exchange of cash, cars, charitable donations or anything else used to facilitate numerical transactions in locker rooms throughout every major professional sport around the world.

“I’m going to be nice this time and I’m going to give him my number,” Ayers said.

This should be the simplest swap imaginable.  But in the byzantine world of marketing and selling NFL player jerseys, it’s anything but.

The matter becomes complicated when the sale of jerseys is involved. And since “AYERS 56″ has been widely available since he was a Broncos first-round pick in 2009, a change in numbers would instantly make the unsold balance of jerseys redundant and doomed for the half-price pile.*

*(Name changes can get you here, too.  Then-Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco didn’t see his new name on jerseys until 2009, a full year after he ditched “Johnson.”)

“Right now, I’m 56.  Nate, he’s 91,” Ayers said Friday afternoon. “Until we get the legal and financial things situated, that how it’s going to be. Hopefully the switch will come soon.”

But it hadn’t come by Friday afternoon, when Irving made his practice debut after becoming the final 2011 draftee to sign his contract.

“I knew (Irving) was coming, so I went up to him and said, ‘Yeah, we’re going to get this taken care of.’  And he was like, ‘Yeah,’ because he wants 56, and I want 91,” Ayers said. “We’re going to work it out.”

No. 91 became available with the departure of Ronald Fields, who claimed it the last two seasons.  Ayers wore No. 91 at the University of Tennessee; not wanting to “splash the waters,” he instead took 56 upon joining the Broncos, a number he justified as an homage to fellow Volunteers legend Al Wilson, who wore No. 56 from 1999 to 2006.

“Fifty-six was a nice number,” said Ayers, “but I kind of see this as a new beginning for me.  We’ve got a new coaching staff, and I want to get back to my roots.”

Ayers recently returned to defensive end after spending most of the last two years as an outside linebacker, making the change from a traditional linebacker’s number to that of an end a logical one.

But when marketing and promotions come into play, logic often takes a siesta.

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About Andrew Mason

Andrew Mason has covered the NFL since 1999, when he worked as an editor on NFL.com when the site was managed by ESPN.com. He worked six seasons (2002-07) covering the Broncos on their official website and two (2008-09) on the Panthers' site. He began MaxDenver.com in 2010 and now contributes to CBSSports.com, The Sporting News and The New York Times.

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