No. 31 Has Rich History For Packers
Bob Noel, the Packers long-time equipment manager once said: “The Packers have had so many great players that they’ve had to stop retiring numbers. We wouldn’t have uniform numbers left (if they didn’t).”
But more often than not, a jersey number is associated with more than one player. Many numbers have rich histories as more than one noteworthy player wore them. Which player comes to mind depends largely upon to which generation a fan belongs to.
One such number is 31. Ask Packers aficionados which player wore it and you might get very different answers. Those who grew up during the glory years might answer Jim Taylor, while those who started to follow the team two decades later might respond with Gerry Ellis. Today’s generation would be quick to name defensive back Davon House.
Number 31 has the distinction of being worn by more men in the Packers Hall of Fame (seven) than any other. Should cornerback Al Harris one day be inducted, that number would grow to eight.
The Packers media guide lists Verne Lewellen as the first player to wear 31. Lewellen was a gifted back who led the NFL in touchdowns in 1928 and 1930. He was instrumental in the team’s drive to three championships from 1929 through 1931.
Lewellen played for the Packers from 1924-32. He served as the team’s general manager in the 1950s. He was in inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1970.
Bob Mann arrived late in 1950. One of only two receivers (Harold Prescott in 1946 being the other) to wear the number, Mann enjoyed his finest season while wearing No. 31. In 1951, he caught 50 passes for 696 yards and scored eight touchdowns. He joined Don Hutson as the only receivers to catch at least 50 passes in a single season.
A year later, Mann was issued No. 87 and Fred Cone got Mann’s old number. Cone led the club in scoring five straight years from 1953-57. He kicked more field goals than anyone in the NFL in 1955. Cone still ranks among the top 10 in career scoring in Packers history with 521 points.
Another fullback, Jim Taylor, claimed No. 31 after Cone departed. Taylor wore it proudly for nine (1958-66) seasons.
Taylor pounded his way to five consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons from 1960 through 1964. He led the NFL in rushing and scoring in 1962. In 1976, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Perry Williams (1969-1973) and Jim Culbreath (1977-79) kept the number warm before the final Packers Hall of Famer to wear it arrived in Green Bay in 1980. Running back Gerry Ellis made the number his for seven years (1980-86).
Ellis led the Packers in rushing three times: 1981 and 1983-84. He was the team’s leading scorer (48 points) as a rookie.
Ellis ranks eighth on the team’s all-time rushing list with 3,826 yards. His 4.58 average per carry is the best in team history for any back who carried at least 750 times.
Seven players wore No. 31 between the time Ellis departed (1986) and the time Harris arrived (2003). Harris led the team in interceptions in 2005. By playing in 102 regular-season games, he, Taylor (118) and Ellis (103) were the only players to have played in more than 100 regular-season games while wearing the number.
By the numbers: Jersey numbers worn by the greatest number of players in the Packers Hall of Fame
Jersey No. — No. of Players — Player who wore it longest
31 — 7 — Jim Taylor, 118 games
66 — 6 — Ray Nitschke, 178
7 — 5 — Don Majkowski, 68
17 — 5 — Don Bracken, 80
24 — 5 — Willie Wood, 166
30 — 5 — Ahman Green, 104
38 — 5 — Estus Hood, 104
39 — 5 — Mike Prior, 80
42 — 5 — Darren Sharper, 121
46 — 5 — Hank Gremminger, 123
51 — 5 — Jim Ringo, 131