For Dexter McCluster, it's a numbers game.
From youth football to the NFL, he has worn No. 22 on his football jersey. It's homage to his father, Marcus, who wore the number in high school and as a running back at Eastern Kentucky in the early '90s.
McCluster is serious about it. He includes No. 22 when he signs autographs for fans. His personal website is mccluster22.com. The number is tattooed on his right arm.
"It's very important to me," he said.
There was one small problem, though. When McCluster signed with the Titans as a free agent, No. 22 was in the possession of Jackie Battle, a reserve running back and special teams fixture. The protocol that rules at NFL locker room holds that possession is nine-tenths of the law when it comes to jersey numbers.
"I was willing to do whatever it took to get my number," McCluster said.
These things can get interesting — and pricey. Some players simply won't hand over a number because of their own attachment to it. A few years back, Giants quarterback Eli Manning gave punter Jeff Feagles a family vacation for No. 10. Feagles was assigned No. 17, which he later brokered into a new kitchen when he handed it over to Plaxico Burress.
Sometimes it's straight cash. When Clinton Portis signed with the Redskins a few years back, he worked a deal with then-teammate Ifeanyi Ohalete to give up No. 26. The price: $40,000.
When DeSean Jackson arrived in Washington earlier this year, he made it clear he wanted No. 10. But Robert Griffin III wears No. 10 — as do thousands of Redskins fans that have ponied up for authentic NFL-certified replicas. Griffin says he isn't trading.
With that as background, Battle was in position to drive a hard bargain. But he didn't. He asked McCluster to make a donation to a church. McCluster wrote a check for $2,500 and Battle gave up his rights to No. 22.
"He's worn that number his entire life, so I could see how important it was to him," Battle said.
The deal was done. No arm-twisting. And no arm-wrestling.
This comes on the heels of the much-ado-about-nothing ruse where backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst planted the story that he had arm-wrestled punter Brett Kern for right to the No. 6 Titans jersey. Supposedly, Kern had strong-armed Whitehurst and had kept No. 6.
Things got started when Whitehurst, who is — shall we say — a bit of a free spirit, posted on Instagram: "Arm-wrestled the punter for #6 and lost." Kern appeared on a local radio show and perpetuated the myth.
A number of gullible outlets — NFL.com, SI.com and CBSSports.com and Deadspin among them — got punk'd. They picked up the story and ran with it. It even got the once-over on ESPN's "Pardon The Interruption."
Like they say, if it's on the Internet, it must be true.
Alas, it wasn't. Leave it to Tennessean beat writer Jim Wyatt to throw a wet blanket on the alleged story and expose it as nothing more than an offseason prank. Whitehurst confirmed on Monday it was a hoax and added it would be "fairly irresponsible" for a quarterback to participate in a serious arm-wrestling competition.
Whitehurst, who wore No. 6 in San Diego last season, acknowledged he briefly discussed the number with Kern when he arrived in Nashville as a free-agent signee.
"I said, 'How tied are you to that number?' " Whitehurst said. "He said, 'How much do you want it?' That's about all it was."
I must have missed all those retractions from the outlets that reported the non-story. I guess they're too busy checking dental records of the Tooth Fairy.
As for Battle, he was happy to hand over No. 22 to McCluster. The two were teammates in Kansas City in 2010-11 and are friends.
"The number was important to him and it wasn't important to me at all," Battle said. "It's just what they gave me when I got here."
Now Battle, an eight-year pro, is wearing No. 44.
"I'll take whatever they give me," he said.
When you're a role player like Battle, you have to be ready when your number's called.