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How American Football Works


Football Officials
an official in the middle of the action
Photo courtesy Pittsburgh Steelers/
Mike Fabus
In this photo you can see an official wearing black and white, just behind the action.

A football game actually consists of three teams, with the third team being the officiating crew. They also have a uniform, which consists of a shirt with vertical black and white stripes, white pants and a white or black hat. These men are responsible for enforcing the rules of the game as outlined by the NFL rules committee. An NFL officiating crew consists of six men, and each has distinct responsibilities:

  • Referee - This is the head official on the field. He is responsible for giving signals and serves as the final authority on rule interpretation. If you watch an NFL game, this will be the official making announcements.

  • Umpire - The umpire rules on players' equipment and conduct. The umpire takes a position about five yards behind the line of scrimmage.

  • Head Linesman - The head linesman is responsible for calling infractions of player movement when lined up on the line of scrimmage. He also keeps track of the downs and manages the chain crew.

  • Line Judge - The line judge keeps time during the game to backup the official clock operator. Also, he backs up the head linesman on line-of-scrimmage calls. He straddles the line of scrimmage on the opposite side from the Head Linesman.

  • Field Judge - The field judge makes calls regarding the wide receivers and backs on his side of the field. He also watches the defensive players that the back is blocking. He makes calls determining if a player is in or out of bounds. He stands 20 yards away from the line of scrimmage at the beginning of a play, on the same side of the field as the Line Judge.

  • Side Judge - The side judge makes calls regarding the wide receivers and backs on his side of the field. He also watches the defensive players the back is blocking. He makes calls determining if a player is in or out of bounds. He stands 20 yards away from the line of scrimmage at the beginning of the play, on the same side of the field as the Head Linesman.

  • Back Judge - The back judge makes calls regarding the tight end and the player the tight end might be blocking. He is also responsible for keeping the time for the 25-second play clock, time-outs, and intermissions. He stands 25 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.