Key to all football games are the officials.
These are the seven uniformed individuals who don black and white striped jerseys, black and white pants, black shoes and caps.
They interpret and enforce game rules, enforce penalties, monitor the game clock and timeouts. They also aim to keep players from hurting each other.
The referee is the head official. He wears a white cap; the others wear black caps. The letter R on the back of his jersey denotes his position.
He is responsible for the general supervision of the game.
He stands in the offensive backfield, 10-12 yards behind the line of scrimmage. He monitors the quarterback, illegal blocks and illegal hits on the quarterback.
The umpire wears the letter U on the back of his jersey.
He makes sure players’ equipment is legal, and watches the play on the line of scrimmage, which includes making sure the offense has 11 or fewer players. He stands on the defense’s side of the ball, 4 to 5 yards from scrimmage. He needs to move out of the way quickly on running plays.
The umpire calls most the holding penalties and watches for offensive linemen going downfield on a pass play.
The head linesman wears HL on the back of his jersey.
He stands with one foot on each side of the line of scrimmage. He monitors encroachment, off sides and illegal players downfield.
He handles the chain to measure first downs, and spots forward progress by a ball carrier. He assists the line judge with monitoring illegal movements/shifts by receivers and running backs on his side of the field.
He has to know who the “eligible” receivers are before each play. For example, in week 14 (Dec. 7, 2014) of the NFL season, during the Battle of the Bay game between the Oakland Raiders and the San Francisco 49ers, the Raiders’ left tackle, Donald Penn (No. 72), caught a pass for a touchdown. Linemen normally cannot catch passes, but Penn was allowed to because he was designated eligible before the play.
The line judge wears LJ on the back of his jersey.
He stands on the line of scrimmage opposite the head linesman. He monitors violations for offsides, encroachment and illegal shifts/motions. He assists with other calls such as illegal use of the hands and holding, particularly on kicking and passing plays. He assists the referee in making certain the quarterback does not cross the line of scrimmage on a forward pass, watches forward laterals behind scrimmage, false starts. When the ball is punted, he stays on the line of scrimmage to make sure the ends do not move downfield before the ball is kicked.
The line judge supervises substitutions by the team on his side of the field, and the timing of the game. He also informs the referee of the two-minute warning and when time expires at the end of a quarter.
The back judge wears BJ on the back of his jersey.
He stands 20 yards from scrimmage on the side of the defense on the wide receiver side of the field. He makes certain the defense has no more than 11 players, and he monitors receivers on his side of the field.
The back judge monitors catches, recovery and illegal touching of loose balls that go beyond the line of scrimmage. He rules on pass interference and whether a receiver has possession of the ball before going out of bounds.
He makes clipping calls on punt returns. During extra point and field goal attempts, he and the field judge stand under the goalpost and rule whether kicks are good.
The field judge wears FJ on the back of his jersey.
He lines up on the same side as the home team, 20 yards downfield. In the NFL, he is responsible for the 40- and 25-second clock. The field judge also counts the number of players on the defense. He is responsible for passes crossing the defense’s goal and fumbles in his area. He observes the tight ends’ pass patterns, watches for pass interference, and makes decisions on catches, recovery, out-of-bounds spots and illegal touching of a ball fumbled after it has crossed the line of scrimmage. He also looks for offensive players’ illegal use of the hands, especially the wide receivers, and for defensive players on his side of the field.
The side judge wears SJ on the back of his jersey.
He stands 20 yards from the line of scrimmage, downfield opposite the field judge. He is a second set of eyes on long pass attempts. According to Football for Dummies (3rd), on extra point and field goal attempts, the side judge also lines up with the umpire under the goalpost and rules whether kicks are good. The side judge was added to the NFL in 1978 as the seventh official due to teams passing the ball more. Some high school games are played without a side judge, but college teams have adopted the use of this official.
Key to all football games are the officials.