Vikings' Smoot is a jersey guy
BY BOB SANSEVERE
Knight Ridder Newspapers
ST. PAUL, Minn. - (KRT) - Vikings cornerback Fred Smoot wants the jersey number off safety Corey Chavous' back, and he's willing to pay thousands of dollars for it.
"I'd go 10 grand, no doubt,' Smoot said.
Since signing with the Vikings as a free agent, Smoot has been wearing No. 27. He wants Chavous' No. 21 before the season begins.
"Some guys are attached to numbers, just like me,' Smoot said. "I've been wearing 21 all my life.'
Actually, it hasn't been quite that long. Smoot started wearing 21 as a rookie with the Washington Redskins. In high school, he wore No. 1. In college, No. 2. He put the 2 and 1 together and, voila ...
"If you get the right number in the NFL, you can reap rewards,' Smoot said. "Some guys, a number fits 'em.'
Chavous hasn't been taking part in the Vikings' developmental camp these past two weeks. He's staying away because he wants a new contract, but that hasn't stopped Smoot from letting Chavous know how much he wants his number.
"Me and Corey talk all the time,' he said.
The negotiation is somewhat delicate because Chavous is a veteran player. And, as Smoot notes, "When you're messing with an older vet, the vet doesn't want anybody else in the NFL to think I came in and Bogarted his number. It's a pride thing.'
The acquisition of a favorite jersey number can be lucrative for player who has it. It turned out that way for Ifeanyi Ohalete, who has been paid $38,000 by Clinton Portis for a jersey number.
It wasn't exactly an amicable transaction. When Portis was traded to the Washington Redskins before last season, he wanted the No. 26 he wore for two years with the Denver Broncos. Ohalete had the number and agreed to give it up in three installment payments totaling $40,000. Portis paid the first installment of $20,000 immediately, but the Redskins cut Ohalete before the other payments were due.
Portis stopped paying.
"In Clinton's mind, he thought, `Ifeanyi has been cut and I'm going to get his number, anyway. Plus, I already gave him 20 G's. He should be happy,' ' said Smoot, Portis' teammate with the Redskins last season.
Ohalete threatened a lawsuit, and this past week Portis paid all but $2,000 of the originally agreed upon $40,000.
"Ain't nobody getting 40 grand from me for a number,' Smoot said. "We won't get to the Clinton Portis and Ifeanyi level.'
Not every jersey switch involves money changing hands. When Matt Birk was a second-year player in 1999, the Vikings acquired veteran defensive lineman Joe Phillips. Phillips wanted Birk's No. 75. Birk said that would be fine. He would switch to No. 78 as long as Phillips purchased two jerseys for him with his new number, 78, on it.
"I'd gotten a couple of No. 75 jerseys made for my family,' Birk said. "I wanted new jerseys for them with No. 78.'
Sometimes, acquiring a jersey number can involve a three-way transaction. A few years ago, linebacker Greg Biekert was given No. 55 by the Vikings. He wanted No. 54, but that was being worn by Antonio Wilson. Then the Vikings signed Lemanski Hall, who wanted Biekert's 55.
"Hall worked out a deal for Biekert to get 54 so he could have 55,' said Vikings equipment manager Dennis Ryan. "It cost a few thousand.'
Nobody on these current Vikings is hotter to acquire a number from a teammate than Smoot. First-round draft pick Troy Williamson has expressed interest in his college number, 82. Keenan Howry is wearing it, but he sounds willing to part with it.
"It's just a number,' Howry said.
Informed he could be hurting his bargaining power by saying it's "just a number,' Howry quickly added, "But it's got sentimental value.'
Erasmus James, the Vikings' other first-round pick, wore No. 90 at Wisconsin but he has no sentimental attachment to it and, so, won't be negotiating with fellow defensive lineman Steve Martin to get it.
"It's no big deal at all,' James said. "I wore 99 in high school, and when I went to college I wasn't able to get it because an older player had it.'
When James joined the Vikings, No. 99 was available, so now he's back to wearing his high school number. And he's content with that.
As for Smoot, he would be content if he could get that jersey number off Chavous' back.
"It's not really a truly big deal for me,' Smoot said, adding in the very next breath, "but I'd like my number.'