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Numbers game at the Pro Bowl

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    AFC teammates, from left, San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews, New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, Houston Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph, Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey and Jacksonville Jaguars running back/special-teams Montell Owens (24) pose for a photo after NFL football practice for the AFC team practice, Friday, Jan. 27, 2012, in Kapolei, Hawaii, for the Pro Bowl game scheduled for Jan. 29. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

The Pro Bowl has turned into a numbers game.

The AFC features five players who wear No. 24, including three corners, which has caused some confusion with autograph seekers and photographers leading up to Sunday’s all-star game.

The quintet of 24s include New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey, Houston Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph, San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews and Jacksonville Jaguars special teamer Montell Owens.

They all posed for photos together after Friday’s practice.

So will real No. 24 please stand up?

"They’re all the real No. 24s on their own team," Mathews said. "On the Chargers, I’m the real No. 24."

Mathews wore No. 21 at Fresno State, but changed to 24 when he arrived at San Diego.

"(LaDainian Tomlinson) was No. 21, so I had to change my number," he said. "I’m sure he wouldn’t have minded if I wore it, though. But that’s L.T.’s number. I wanted to make my own brand."

Numbers often become a part of a player’s brand or identity, especially for superstars in their respective sports. Michael Jordan is 23, even though he also wore 45. Jerry Rice’s No. 80 San Francisco 49ers jersey is a classic.

Besides serving as a player’s brand, numbers often carry a story behind it and can represent something they’ve carried since childhood, the number of a player they admired or simply a special number. Or it could mean nothing at all.

"It’s my first year wearing 24 and I made it to the Pro Bowl," said Joseph, who switched from 22 when he left the Cincinnati Bengals after five seasons and joined the Texans.

"I wouldn’t say it’s my lucky number, but it’s working for me."

Bailey, on the other hand, is making his 11th Pro Bowl and has worn 24 since joining the NFL 13 years ago. He wore No. 4 at Georgia. Bailey acknowledges having so many 24s may create some confusion with fans, but not with the coaches or players.

"We all know each other and we’re all going to represent the number real well," he said.

At Friday’s practice on the grounds of the players’ hotel at the Ko Olina Resort, Revis played the left side while Bailey was on the right.

Revis said there are some similarities between the 24s.

"All of us are great at we do and that’s play great football," he said.

While some are selective about their numbers, Owens was willing to take whatever he could get after playing his collegiate ball as No. 33 at Maine.

"I noticed all the 24s out here, but for me, it wasn’t even the number I selected at Jacksonville. It was given to me," he said. "I was a guy who came out undrafted and so when you come out undrafted, you better take any number they give you."

For the NFC, there’s only a pair of 24s — Arizona Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson and Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch. But there are four 21s.

Cardinals rookie cornerback Patrick Peterson wore No. 7 at LSU, changed to the standard double-digit NFL number after being selected fifth overall in the 2011 draft.

"It (21) is definitely the hottest number out there and a lot of guys are representing it well," Peterson said. "I obviously wanted to follow that trend as well."

But it came at a cost, which Peterson wouldn’t disclose. He purchased the number because another Cardinal already had it.

Safety Hamza Abdullah wore No. 21 before Peterson. Abdullah is now 23, but apparently still has his old number in his heart. He still tweets from (at)HamzaAbdullah21.

Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson is among the four 21s for the NFC.

"But there’s an elder statesman 21 and that would be me," he said.

Woodson wanted to be 21 back when he first joined the Raiders, but that number was taken by Eric Allen. So he picked 24, which became one of the more popular Raiders jerseys. But he nabbed No. 21 when he joined the Packers.

"I was leaving Oakland behind and moving on to another chapter of my life so I wanted to change it and 21 was there, so I took it," he said. "(In the end), it’s all about the names on the jersey. That’s what counts."


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