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Officials double check with each other on tight and routine calls

NFL officials each have a specific area and specific player or players to watch during each play.  But do you know that officials also watch each other during a play?  The glance may be a few hundredths of a second, but that glance helps officials get on the same page before signaling the result of the play.


Head linesman John McGrath, an instant before checking with side judge Keith Parham and confirming a touchdown.

The NFL and its officials do not want to show dueling signals.  Dueling signals show the world that there is disagreement, a lack of crew coordination, and a lack of team work.  So, the officials work hard to coordinate their calls.

Many times on tight sideline catches you see the officials give each other a quick look to see if the other has something to add to the call.  You can see this most often when there’s a “toe tapper.”  The short wing and the deep wing will look at each other briefly.  The two officials have worked out a set of non-verbal signals to let the other know that they have the call or that they need help.  The universal sign that an official needs help with the call is the “deer in the headlights” look – or the official making his eyes wide, telling his partner, “I need a little help here.”

Officials also double-check each other on several other calls.  During the Jets-Falcons Monday Night Football game, side judge Keith Parham and head linesman John McGrath teamed up on a touchdown near the goal line (video).  You have to look fast, but watch Parham on the goal line.  He flashes a quick look at McGrath before going up with the touchdown signal.  Why?  Parham wanted to make sure the ball carrier didn’t step out-of-bounds.  If McGrath had the runner out-of-bounds he would have signaled out-of-bounds.  Parham checked McGrath, McGrath had nothing, so Parham rightly signaled touchdown. 

Here’s another scenario of good crew communication.  If there’s a long run up the sideline that ends in the end zone, the back judge checks with the wing officials to see if the runner stepped out-of-bounds.  The wing will either nod to the back judge or do nothing – telling the back judge he had the runner in bounds – so the back judge goes up with the touchdown.

Another great example of officials communicating is this past weekend when Ron Winter and Carl Paganelli had a quick look at each other to confirm a safety (video).  Could you imagine the controversy and howling in the press had one of them signaled touchdown and the other signaled safety?

So, when Week 6 rolls around and you are zebra-spotting, watch closely as the officials look to one another to make sure they are on the same page call-wise before signaling the outcome of the play.

Photo: New York Jets

Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"