Patriots Hall of Famers have been regulars on the NFL’s annual all-star/Pro Bowl rosters since the team’s inception in 1960. Of our 28 Hall of Fame players, all but three have earned at least one Pro Bowl nomination during their time with the Patriots and, collectively, our Red Jacket members have earned 99 total Pro Bowl or all-star nominations while playing for Boston/New England.
Since joining the NFL in 1970 when the game was officially labeled the Pro Bowl, Patriots Hall of Famers have made the trip to Hawaii and elsewhere to showcase their skills alongside the league’s best. While enjoying this celebration at what once was a season’s culminating event, some Patriots looked a bit different – number-wise.
No. 72 John Hannah
John Hannah earned nine Pro Bowls in his career, one of the strangest appearances for him was at the 1981 Pro Bowl. Normally No. 73, Hannah had to wear No. 72 for this Pro Bowl game because Doug Dieken (Browns) had seniority and wore No. 73 for the game. Hannah’s game-worn 72 Pro Bowl jersey is currently on display at The Hall.
No. 71 Leon Gray
While traditionally wearing No. 70 for the Patriots, when Leon Gray made his second career Pro Bowl in 1979 he appeared in a new No. 71 American Football Conference jersey. Russ Washington, a 10 year veteran with the Chargers wore No. 70 during the regular season and could have been the reason for Gray’s change in number at the Pro Bowl.
No. 55 Andre Tippett
After setting the Patriots single-season sack record (18.5), Andre Tippett earned his first Pro Bowl selection in 1984. When Tippett landed in Hawaii for the 85 Pro Bowl, New England’s sack king had a new look. The usual No. 56 who ran around in New England and terrorized quarterbacks was sporting a No. 55 AFC jersey. Robin Cole (Pittsburgh) was making his first career Pro Bowl after seven seasons in the league and wore No. 56. Two years later, Tippett made his third consecutive appearance at the 1987 Pro Bowl and, yet again, missed out on his usual No. 56. This time, Chip Banks (Browns) also qualified for the Pro Bowl and typically wore No. 56. Tippett finally returned to his well-known No. 56 for the 1989 Pro Bowl, the last Pro Bowl of his career.
No. 79 and No. 77 Bruce Armstrong
Bruce Armstrong filled out his No. 78 jersey in New England for 14 years. During those 14 seasons, Armstrong earned six Pro Bowl berths. Those six trips to Hawaii feature multiple looks for Armstrong. In his third Pro Bowl game in 1995, Armstrong was bumped up a jersey number and sported the No. 79 AFC Pro Bowl jersey. Dolphins tackle Richmond Webb wore No. 78 at the time which caused Armstrong’s change. Two seasons later, Armstrong finally wore his fitting No. 78 at the 1997 Pro Bowl. Armstrong’s number tenure did not last. The following year at the 1998 Pro Bowl, Armstrong was given No. 77.
No. 54 Willie McGinest
Since holding up his draft jersey with Robert Kraft in 1994, Patriots fans only knew McGinest as No. 55. That remained true until his first trip to the Pro Bowl in 1997, when Junior Seau (Chargers) was also selected to the Pro Bowl. Seau’s seniority gave him No. 55 for the AFC, in turn Willie McGinest wore No. 54 in his Hawaii debut. We’re guessing Willie didn’t mind since he followed Seau as No. 55 at USC.
The exact cause for players to change their numbers at the Pro Bowl, aside from not having the same numbers on the field at the same time, is not confirmed. However, anytime you see a legend outside of their customary jersey number, it always looks a little strange. For several of our Pro Bowl Hall of Famers, those situations occurred.