Last week, looking at Frank Ryan’s football cards, I noticed that his 1962 Kahn’s Wieners card, his 1963 Topps card, and his 1969 Topps card all picture him wearing number 18 for the Browns. According to his page at pro-football-reference.com, however, Ryan never wore number 18 for any team. I thought maybe he had worn number 18 for his first season with the Browns, and that pro-football-reference had not picked it up. But no, Ryan’s first season with the Browns was 1962, and he is wearing number 13 in the Browns 1962 team photo. See him in the upper right?
So I did a little digging, and I came up with a guess. My guess is that when he was photographed in number 18, Ryan was wearing Len Dawson’s old jersey. Dawson wore number 18 for the Browns in 1960 and 1961 (see his 1961 National City Bank card), and the Browns released him around June 1, 1962. The Browns then acquired Ryan from the Rams on July 12, 1962. Until he got his own jersey, Ryan wore Dawson’s, at least for pictures.
That would explain the number 18 on Ryan’s 1962 Kahn’s card, but what about his 1963 and 1969 Topps cards? My guess is that Topps just used old images for those cards, as they often did. Another old image that jumps to mind is the one on the Len Dawson puzzle on the backs of 1969 Topps cards. Though by 1969 Dawson had quarterbacked the Chiefs for six seasons and taken them to a Super Bowl, Topps chose an image of him with the Browns–wearing number 18!