Hey 19

Supposedly taken in 1949, this photo shows the Navy’s early jet fighters in flight (from front): a Vought F6U Pirate, a McDonnell FH Phantom and a McDonnell F2H Banshee. A friend and I who are both aviation enthusiasts used to joke that due to early jets’ poor fuel consumption, they needed to land immediately after takeoff to refuel!

For many, many years, my lucky number has been 19. You can imagine my devastation when I started playing football in high school and it was time to choose our numbers, and there was no No. 19. How could that be? Why don’t teams have every number available to the players? Did they not consider me when ordering the jerseys in the 1980s, that ultimately I would be wearing one of them in the mid-1990s as a high schooler? The agony!

I think I like 19 because quarterback Joe Montana wore it when he played with the Kansas City Chiefs—at a time when many thought he was washed up and old; he wasn’t! Other athletes I admire who wore No. 19 include former Baltimore Colts QB Johnny Unitas and former New Orleans Saints kicker Tom Dempsey—Dempsey was born without toes on his right foot and had no right hand, either. Nonetheless, Dempsey held the NFL record for the longest field goal ever made for 43 years. I love stories like that.

San Francisco 49ers head coach Bill Walsh (left) and rookie quarterback Joe Montana talk during the preseason in 1979, shortly after Montana was drafted by the team. Famous for wearing No. 16, Montana is shown here wearing No. 19 for some reason. Montana is my favorite athlete, and his haircut here is, um, appropriate for the times. | Andy Hayt, Getty Images
Baltimore Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas throws a pass in the 1964 NFL championship game against the Cleveland Browns. Unitas is my second favorite QB, and I always admired his grit and no-frills attitude. | Neil Leifer, Getty Images

19 is also great because it’s a prime number: It can’t be divided by any other number except itself and 1, so it’s more unique than, say, 18, which can be divided by 1, 2, 3, 6, 9 and 18—no other number in all of numberdom can be divided by 19 to get 1 except for 19 itself. And I think that’s how I see myself—I usually get in the way of myself and am often the thing that can divide me, if that makes any sense.

Man, I need to get out more.