DAVIE, Fla. — For about 30 years, Warren Moon was the only NFL quarterback known for wearing the No. 1, and he did right by it, making the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Then Cam Newton revived its popularity in 2011, when he was the No. 1 overall pick by the Carolina Panthers.
Now, there’s a new wave of No. 1s that features Miami Dolphins rookie Tua Tagovailoa and the Arizona Cardinals‘ Kyler Murray, who face off Sunday at State Farm Stadium (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS). It will be the first NFL game in the Super Bowl era in which both starting quarterbacks wear No. 1.
Tagovailoa, Murray and Newton are the only quarterbacks on an active NFL roster to wear No. 1. On the surface, this appears to be a numerical oddity. But in reality, it highlights the evolution of wearing No. 1.
Moon, who first wore No. 1 in the CFL for six seasons (1978-1983) and then throughout his 17 years in the NFL (1984-2000), was the first NFL quarterback to wear No. 1, a number previously worn primarily by specialists.
Maybe it was the feeling that it was an “I” instead of a “we” number, or maybe early generations just didn’t think of it as a cool QB number.
“Because I was the first one to wear it as a quarterback, there was something special about it. Some people would say it’s arrogant that you want to wear that number. But it had meaning to me about where I wanted to be,” Moon said.
“I wanted to be the best quarterback I could be for myself and I wanted to be the best in football. So putting that No. 1 on my chest always reminded me of that. It was always a reminder for my football team that they looked at me as their leader and I wanted us to be No. 1 — whether it was winning our division or winning championships.”
Even though Moon saw success while wearing the number as a nine-time Pro Bowler, starting quarterbacks largely stayed away from it.
Jeff George, better known for wearing No. 11 in Indianapolis early in his career or No. 3 later in his career in Oakland, Minnesota and Washington, wore No. 1 for three seasons in Atlanta. Randall Cunningham, better known for donning No. 12 in Philadelphia or No. 7 in Minnesota, wore No. 1 for his final NFL season in Baltimore. Michael Vick, known for his No. 7 in Atlanta and Philadelphia, wore No. 1 for a forgettable season as a New York Jets backup. And Don Majkowski wore No. 1 for the last two seasons of his career as a Detroit Lions backup.
Only 10 NFL quarterbacks have played a game in the number, per Pro Football Reference. Now there’s a new group of No. 1s throwing passes in the league.
“Everybody has a reason why they wear a number,” Moon said. “I’m sure they could give you a story about that.”
Here are the reasons Tagovailoa, Murray and Newton have chosen to wear No. 1.
No. 1: Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins QB
When the Dolphins’ No. 5 overall pick began his number selection, there was one that was a non-starter for Tagovailoa: the No. 13.
Tagovailoa wore No. 13 at Alabama, and it might have been his top choice, but the Dolphins retired it in honor of Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino. Tagovailoa never considered asking Marino for his blessing, either.
For the Audience of 1🙏🏽 pic.twitter.com/kZYXaYVD1R
— Tua. T 🇦🇸 (@Tua) May 6, 2020
“I understand No. 13 is retired and it should be. Dan Marino, he’s the GOAT,” Tagovailoa said. “He’s like the mayor out there, and I have much respect for him.”
So when it came down to choosing a number this offseason, Tagovailoa built up the anticipation for weeks before deciding to become the first Dolphins quarterback to wear No. 1. Once it dropped, Tagovailoa had the NFL’s top two selling jerseys for weeks.
“I sat down and talked to my dad. His biggest thing to pick No. 1 was for the ‘Audience of One,'” Tagovailoa said. “That’s more so on the faith side of things. That’s why I chose it.”
No. 1: Kyler Murray, Cardinals QB
Sometimes a number simply feels right. The old saying of, “Look good, play good,” best describes how Murray, the Cardinals’ No. 1 overall pick in 2019, ended up rocking the No. 1.
“Pretty much my whole life I’ve worn No. 1. That’s just who I am, part of me,” Murray said. “I’m not really with trends. Certain people look good in it. Some people look better than others in it.”
With its simplicity and sleek profile, the No. 1 appears to fit the 23-year-old quarterback who has the Cardinals sitting at 5-2 and vying for an NFC West title.
Wearing No. 1 was somewhat of an accident for Newton. The No. 1 overall pick in 2011 by the Carolina Panthers said he respected Moon for “trailblazing opportunities for quarterbacks like me,” but Newton wasn’t following his own path when he first wore No. 1 in Carolina.
“I wanted No. 2, and No. 2 represented the second son, which I am from my mom,” Newton said. “Jimmy Clausen had No. 2 at the time and I wasn’t prepared to pay the bill that was requested. So I just picked another number.”
Newton saved his cash and instead became the second-most successful player in NFL history to wear No. 1, adding a Super Bowl appearance and the 2015 NFL MVP award to his résumé.
Funny enough, Clausen switched from No. 2 to No. 7 following Newton’s rookie season, but Newton decided to stick with the No. 1 because he had already built a brand after his 2011 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year season.
Newton took the No. 1 to New England this offseason when he signed a one-year deal with the Patriots. Newton’s wearing No. 1 marks the first time the number has been in circulation with the franchise since Patriots kicker Tony Franklin donned it from 1984 to 1987.
Whether they know it or not, Newton, Murray and Tagovailoa are inspiring the next generation of quarterbacks to wear the single digit. Moon will always be the first to wear it, but it’s clear from this new class of QBs that the former Houston Oilers great will be far from the last.
Tagovailoa and Murray share more connections than a jersey number. Murray won the Heisman Trophy in 2018 and Tagovailoa finished runner-up. They met during the Heisman ceremony weekend in New York. Of course, Tagovailoa got a little payback a few weeks later when he led Alabama to a win over Murray’s Oklahoma Sooners in the Orange Bowl to earn a bid to the national championship game.
“I’m very excited to go up against him. I would say, first impressions when I met him, he’s pretty jacked up. For as short as he is, this guy’s rocked up. He’s very competitive, very personable too,” Tagovailoa said. “I got to meet his parents as well at the Heisman ceremony. Very good family. Going against guys like that, who are very competitive, you know you’re going to get their best. I think that’s going to be a fun one.”
Murray added: “His family — really, really nice people, great people. Showed nothing but love throughout that whole week. Nice to me, nice to my family. Obviously, the love was reciprocated, but Tua, the times that I’ve been around him, I can’t say anything bad about Tua. Great dude. Down to earth, great player.”
Come Sunday, one No. 1 will improve to 1-0 in the Murray-Tagovailoa NFL faceoff.