FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Osi Umenyiora, one of the NFL’s most feared pass rushers of the last 10 years, has met few obstacles that can stop him.
However, as he contemplated a number change in recent days, Umenyiora ran into a surprising one: the-not-so-glorious history of the Atlanta Falcons.
For his first 10 seasons in the NFL, Umenyiora wore No. 72 with the New
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York Giants. However, that number is occupied by Falcons veteran left
tackle Sam Baker, who enters his sixth season.
He wore No. 90 for the first few months with the team but said his folks “didn’t like 90 on me.” His first two choices were 58 and 57.
But then he learned those had been taken out of circulation by the club, which has played in only one Super Bowl and endured years of being cellar dwellers in the 1970s and ’80s.
When Umenyiora inquired about No. 58, he learned it had been worn by linebacker Jessie Tuggle. No. 57 was worn by longtime center Jeff Van Note. Both players are in the Falcons’ Ring of Honor.
The Falcons do not officially retire numbers. In some cases, players who want a specific number have requested it.
For example, first-round draft pick Desmond Trufant, who wears No. 21, asked Deion Sanders if he could wear it and Sanders agreed. The same happened when Clay Matthews Jr., who had worn No. 57 for his entire career, came to the Falcons and asked Van Note for permission, which also was granted.
Perhaps in deference to those who came before him, Umenyiora did not ask and instead set his sights on No. 50, heeding the suggestion of some fans. Practice-squad linebacker Pat Schiller, an undrafted free agent out of Northern Illinois last year, donned No. 50 with the Falcons.
Four days ago, Schiller jokingly noted his asking price for No. 50 on Twitter.
“He bought me a Bugatti,” Schiller posted of the automobile, which can hit speeds of up to 250 mph and cost as much as $1.5 million.
On Wednesday, Umenyiora hit the practice field wearing 50 and Schiller wearing 90. Schiller joked that in exchange, Umenyiora took him to the all-you-can-eat buffet at Golden Corral.
Schiller was asked if $10 seemed cheap.
“Is that all that it was?” he said, his voice dripping in sarcasm. “I thought it was a lot more. I loaded up on the rolls and pretty much stuffed my face and got away from the food up in here and went up to Golden Corral for a little bit.”
Umenyiora got a chuckle when informed of what Schiller said.
“That’s what he told you?” Umenyiora said, refusing to reveal terms of the number exchange. “That’s cute. It was a little more expensive than that. No, I took care of him.”
Numbers in the 50s generally are worn by linebackers, and for the first time in his career, Umenyiora, an end by trade, is being asked by the Falcons to play new techniques and perform the occasional duties of an outside linebacker.
However, Umenyiora said the number change had nothing to do with that.
“No, no, I just wanted something in the 50s, that’s all,” he said. “It’s not tied to that, but I will be doing some of that. But that’s not why.”
Schiller, who is trying to win a spot on the active roster at one of the most competitive spots, said he had no attachment to the number.
“As a long as I got a number and I’m on the team, that’s all I really care about,” he said. “When a guy of that level comes to you and approaches you, you have to bite the bullet and say he’s been around, he deserves what he wants to get and hopefully if I’m at that level, someday I can call the shots like that, too.”
Schiller will wear 90 for the time being; and if he remains with the club for the regular season, he hopes to find an open number in the 50s.
As for the Bugatti?
“You see the parking lot,” he said. “It’s not in there.”