By Ashley Dunkak
FORD FIELD (CBS DETROIT) – Rookies do the darnedest things.
When cornerback Darius Slay joined the Detroit Lions last season after they drafted him in the second round, Slay approached then-six-year veteran Chris Houston because he wanted to wear Houston’s number, 23.
A player will sometimes give up a number if another player requests it – but usually only for a price, and the price will generally be steep. The NFL is full of anecdotes about costly dinners, expensive trips and large amounts of cash being forked over in exchange for a desired number.
Slay offered none of those incentives when he asked Houston to part with No. 23.
“I thought he was just going to give it to me to give it to me,” Slay said, laughing.
“I was like, ‘Man, Chris, let me get 2-3,’” Slay continued. “He said, ‘Man, I had it since [I] got in the league too,’ so it’s partly his number too.”
Fast forward to this season, and the release of Houston in June meant No. 23 was up for grabs. Evidently, however, interest in it extended beyond Slay, so the second-year cornerback would not receive it by default.
“It’s a competition to see who played the best up to this point, and he played well,” Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said with a smile. “It was a fairly popular number.”
Slay got the news during lunch Wednesday that he would get to switch from No. 30 to No. 23, and the team announced the change before that night’s practice at Ford Field.
“I said, ‘Yes!’” Slay said, recalling his reaction, “and I’m like, ‘Let’s go.’”
Slay wanted No. 23 partly because Cleveland cornerback Joe Haden – Slay’s favorite player – wears it. Slay also said 23 is his favorite in range of numbers from which cornerbacks can pick, as numbers 1 through 19 are reserved for players of other positions.
A projected starter this season, Slay took the fact Caldwell gave him No. 23 as a sign he is doing well.
“He said, ‘You’ve got to work for it,’” Slay said. “Obviously I’ve been doing my work in practice and he felt like I deserved it.”