By: Joe Pohoryles
The Washington, D.C. sports teams have seen plenty of athletes do incredible things while representing the nation’s capital. One of the most recognizable features of these athletes is the numbers they sport on their uniforms.
As we forge on in these times with little going on in the sports world, I will spend the next week-and-a-half exploring which players were the best to wear every possible jersey number, continuing today with 20-29.
Of course comparing players across different sports is difficult, but this will take a look at the most impactful and iconic DC sports figures. Some of the names on this will be more prominent than others; several lesser worn numbers will merely be default picks. In any case, it should be interesting to see the distribution.
(Note: For NBA and NHL, a player’s tenure is marked by the year their first season ended until the year their final season ended. For example, John Wall was drafted in 2010 and was a rookie in the 2010-11 season, but since the season ended in 2011, his tenure is listed as 2011-present. This is not necessary for MLB — where the entire season is played in the same calendar year — or NFL — where only the postseason is played in a different calendar year.)
*= the player’s tenure on the team extended longer before or after the stated dates, but said player wore a different number in those other years
20) Michal Pivonka, Washington Capitals’ forward (1987-1999)
Runner-up: Ian Desmond, Washington Nationals’ shortstop (2012-2015*)
Pivonka is third in franchise history for career assists with 418, behind Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. He spent all 13 NHL seasons with the Capitals and was often a spearhead of the offense, leading the team in points twice. By the time the team made their first Cup Final in 1998, his production had gone way down, but he was still a valuable piece of the team for well over a decade.
Desmond was a big piece of the upstart Nationals, and made key contributions to those first playoff teams in 2012 and 2014. An above-average hitter, Desmond earned three Silver Slugger awards in a row from 2012-2014, coinciding with three consecutive 20 home run/20 bases stolen seasons. He dropped off a bit in his final season with the team, but his role in building up the team into a playoff contender was significant.
21) Sean Taylor, Washington Redskins’ safety (2005-2007*)
Runner-up: Dennis Maruk, Washington Capitals’ forward (1979-1983)
Taylor, the hardest-hitting safety of his time, thrilled Redskins fans with his big impact plays, developing into a superstar before his career and life was tragically cut short in a 2007 home invasion at just 24 years old. Even with two Pro Bowl and one First Team All-Pro selection, Taylor had barely reached his potential. Still, he was able to inspire the next generation of safeties, such as Landon Collins, DJ Swearinger and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who have all donned the burgundy and gold in recent years. Looking at his on-field play and off-field impact, Taylor is the clear pick for No. 21.
Maruk spent three years in the NHL, bouncing around between Oakland, Cleveland and Minnesota before joining the Caps and leading the team in points in his first season at just 23 years old. He continued to lead the team in scoring in four of the next five seasons, including his single-season franchise record 136 points (60g, 76a) in 80 games during the 1981-82 season. The following season, his offensive prowess finally broke Washington into the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
Terry Allen had a couple elite seasons with the Redskins in the late 1990s, rushing for over 1,300 yards in ’96 and ’97, as well as a league-high 21 rushing touchdowns in ’97. His production dropped off afterwards, but he was certainly in contention for runner-up.
22) Dino Cicciarelli, Washington Capitals’ forward (1989-1992)
Runner-up: Mike Thomas, Washington Redskins’ running back (1975-1978)
Cicciarelli spent most of his 19-year Hall of Fame career elsewhere, but he was still among the team’s best offensive players when he was here. Ciccarelli’s 608 career goals are the most all-time among undrafted draft-eligible players (19th most overall).
Thomas was a top 10 rusher in each of his first two NFL seasons, winning Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1975 and making the Pro Bowl in ’76. Like Ciccarelli, Thomas was not in DC for long, but of any DC athlete to wear No. 22, he is certainly near the top.
23) Brig Owens, Washington Redskins’ safety (1966-1977)
Runner-up: DeAngelo Hall, Washington Redskins’ cornerback (2008-2017)
Owens spent his entire 11-year career in Washington, starting all 14 regular season games seven times. He never made any Pro Bowls, but he still brought strong play to the secondary unit, making him a fan favorite. He helped lead the team to its first Super Bowl appearance in 1972, and holds the franchise record for interception return yards (686) and is second behind Darrell Green in interceptions (36).
Hall led an otherwise dismal secondary for many years in the early 2010s. His biggest season was 2010, where he had a four-interception game against the Chicago Bears on Oct. 24, and made it to the Pro Bowl at the end of the season, where he earned the game’s MVP honors. His play steadily declined afterwards, but he remained a leader on defense throughout.
Todd Bowles is another defensive back worth consideration. He started at safety for the Redskins during Super Bowl XXII, and held down a starting role for much of the late ’80s.
24) Champ Bailey, Washington Redskins’ cornerback (1999-2003)
Runner-up: Jeff Malone, Washington Bullets’ forward (1984-1990)
Another Hall of Famer best known as a player for a different team, Bailey was still elite in his first five NFL seasons in Washington. Even with Green and Deion Sanders as teammates, Bailey still stood out in the secondary. He started every single one of his 80 games with the Redskins, finishing with 18 interceptions and four Pro Bowl appearances by the time he was traded to the Denver Broncos in 2004.
Malone spent his first seven NBA seasons in Washington, holding down the starting two-guard spot beginning in his sophomore season. He averaged 20.2 points during his time with the Bullets, despite not being an elite three-point shooter. Both of his All-Star Game appearances came as a Bullet in 1986 and ’87. The team never achieved much success in Malone’s tenure, but that had more to do with the supporting cast.
25) Mitch Kupchak, Washington Bullets’ forward (1977-1981)
Runner-up: Jason Chimera, Washington Capitals’ forward (2010-2016)
Kupchak was selected to the 1977 All-Rookie team and contributed major minutes to the 1978 title team. He averaged a career-high 15.9 points and 6.9 rebounds in 1977-78, and put in several more productive seasons at power forward before catching the Los Angeles Lakers’ Magic Johnson’s eye; Johnson reportedly lobbied owner Jerry Buss to go after Kupchak. He was a part of two more championship teams in LA, but it was in Washington where he was most productive.
Chimera’s role with the Caps was as a speedy, aggressive bottom-six forward. Still, he had two 40-point seasons and another one with 39, and he consistently stayed on the ice. He appeared in all 82 games four times, and appeared in 81 in 2010-11. He was never counted on to be a top producer to begin with, but his level of play never really tailed off from a third-liner level. At age 36, his final season with the team, he played all 82 games and tallied 40 points (20g, 20a).
Gus Johnson would be the clear choice here, but he played with the Bullets while they were still in Baltimore.
26) Clinton Portis, Washington Redskins’ running back (2004-2010)
Runner-up: Paul Krause, Washington Redskins’ safety (1964-1967)
Portis arrived from Denver in the Bailey trade, and became the lead running back for the next five to six seasons. Portis dealt with injuries throughout his tenure in Washington, but when healthy he was a top five running back from a statistical standpoint. In the four seasons in which he played more than eight games, he rushed for well over 1,000 yards each time. People look down on his output since the team had to give up a Hall of Fame corner to get him, but the truth is he’s one of the better running backs in franchise history.
Krause was certainly the bigger figure in NFL history, but relative to the Washington area, he is not as prominent as he was with the Minnesota Vikings. Still, he earned First Team All-Pro in his first two professional seasons in 1964 and ’65, foreshadowing the all-time great player he would become.
27) Ken Houston, Washington Redskins’ safety (1973-1980)
Runner-up: Dave Christian, Washington Capitals’ forward (1984-1989)
Houston fittingly began his career in Houston with the Oilers, where he starred for six seasons before being traded to Washington for five players. Houston continued to ball out, making the Pro Bowl in the first seven of his eight years with the team. The iron man started every possible game for six straight seasons, earning two First Team All-Pro and five Second Team All-Pro selections en route to a Hall of Fame career.
Christian is perhaps most notable for being a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team from the Miracle On Ice, but went on to turn in six-plus highly productive seasons in Washington. He finished second on the team in scoring in his first season with 81 points (29g, 52a), and leading the team in 1985-86 with 83 (41g, 42a).
28) Darrell Green, Washington Redskins’ cornerback (1983-2002)
Runner-up: Jayson Werth, Washington Nationals’ outfielder (2011-2017)
Green is the greatest player in franchise history, and one of the greatest corners of all time. He holds the record for most interceptions in franchise history (54), most games started and played (258, 295) and holds the NFL record for most consecutive seasons with an interception (19). The “Ageless Wonder” rarely sat out; from 1993-1999 he started all 112 games played in that stretch, during his age 33-39 seasons. One of the fastest players ever, the four-time First Team All-Pro scorched on special teams and shut down on defense, helping lead the team to two of its three Super Bowl victories.
Werth does not have quite the same pedigree as Green, but he was a veteran leader of a young, up-and-coming roster as it grew to a perennial playoff contender. Until the 2019 postseason, Werth owned the best playoff moment in team history: a walk-off home run in Game 4 of the 2012 NLDS to force a winner-take-all Game 5. His stats did not live up to his gargantuan $126 million contract, but he was still a valuable piece in Nats history.
29) Mark Murphy, Washington Redskins’ safety (1977-1984)
Runner-up: Sam Shade, Washington Redskins’ safety (1999-2002)
Murphy rounds out the former defensive backs that have absolutely dominated the 20-29 number range. His best season came in 1983, where he led the NFL with nine interceptions and earned Pro Bowl and First Team All-Pro honors. The year before, he helped seal the Redskins’ Super Bowl XVII victory with a late interception. Murphy is now the President and CEO of the Green Bay Packers, but as a player he spent all eight professional seasons in Washington.
Shade lived up to his name, not allowing opposing receivers much daylight. The safety led the team in tackles in 1999 and 2000, his first two seasons on the team. Getting to play with the likes of Sanders, Bailey and Green, among other high-caliber defensive backs certainly boosted his production, but he made his presence known in his four seasons in Washington.