The Miami Dolphins have some iconic jersey numbers. Dan Marino’s 13, Bob Griese’s 12, and Larry Csonka’s 39 are all retired by the team. Jason Taylor’s 99 and Zach Thomas’ 54 are both out of circulation because fans identify them so closely with those legendary players.
And, Cameron Wake’s 91 is in that group, even as the defensive end continues to play.
Wake, in his tenth season, has 96.5 career sacks. Taylor’s franchise-record 131.0 works out to an average of 10.1 sacks per season. Wake - with four games remaining to finish his tenth season - is averaging 9.7 sacks per season. He is going to be a player worthy of being remembered as the number 91 for Miami.
Wake had a circuitous journey to get to the Dolphins and have an NFL career. A linebacker at Penn State, Wake, then known by his actual first name Derek, went undrafted in 2005, signing with the New York Giants after the NFL Draft but was released in June. He was out of football, working as a mortgage broker and an intern personal trainer at a gym at home in Maryland. At the gym, his nametag had “Cameron” on it rather than “Derek,” and Wake did not correct it. In May 2007, when the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League signed him as a defensive end, they signed him as Cameron, earning Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2007, becoming the first player to win those two awards in the same year, then winning Defensive Player of the Year honors again in 2008, this time unanimously.
The Dolphins, along with 16 other teams, came calling for Wake after the 2008 season. He decided to join Miami and he began an NFL career in 2009, four years later than expected.
On Friday, Wake explained why he chose to wear number 91 in Canada and with the Dolphins.
“Obviously a lot of you guys know my story back when I was out of work,” Wake told the media on Friday when asked why he wears that specific number. “Some people don’t know that when NFL rosters were made for camp, they pick 90 players to play on the rosters. That means all 32 teams went through their available players and they picked 90 guys so at the minimum I was at least the 91st best player they could think of on every roster. Every day I sit and put that number on, I kind of remember that I was one of the guys on the outside looking in. it’s just a little moment of where you came from and keep you grounded. I treat every day as a blessing. Now I’m no longer the 91st guy but there was a time. I cherish every moment, good bad or otherwise and appreciate the blessings.”
Wake also spoke on what he tells other “91s” who are trying to prove they need a shot at moving into the top 90 players on the roster instead of being the player on the outside looking in. “You have to have belief in yourself,” he explained. “I go back along my path where I was working out in a local gym and of course guys are asking ‘What do you do and what are you in here for?’ I’d say, ‘Well, I’m working to be in the NFL.’ And they’d laugh at themselves. People who were supposed to be my fans, friends or family even, not believing in you. (They’d) say ‘Maybe you should give this up, or move on or try something else.’ If it’s something that you really believe in your heart, you have to believe it. At the same time, belief isn’t enough. Hope is not a strategy. I tell people all the time you have to go put in the work with whatever your craft is. It doesn’t have to be just football. Whatever it is, you have to put the time, energy and effort, the blood, sweat and tears as the cliché says. So when they do call and literally call and say you’re up, and want you to come out to training camp, which was Canada for me, I was ready to seize the moment. Those two things, the belief and the sacrifice to put in the work, so when your moment does present itself, you’ll be ready.”
On Sunday, Wake will be looking to increase his 4.5 sacks this season as he faces the quarterback he has sacked the most in his career, 10.5 sacks against New England Patriots passer Tom Brady. Wake already has a special place in the pantheon of Dolphins players with his 96.5 career sacks and the heart with which he plays every week. Asked if he gives a little extra when facing Brady, Wake gave the exact answer you would expect from a player like Wake, “If there is extra, that means last week I was sandbagging. It can’t be one without the other. There is never any extra. I always give 100 percent; this week, next week and until I stop playing.”
That attitude has easily moved the number 91 into the elite group of legendary players and numbers in Dolphins history.