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Calm signals: the sign of under-control officiating

The use of calm, deliberate signals conveys an image of complete physical, mental and emotional control.



You’ve seen it. A touchdown bomb. A diving catch. A toe-tapper on the sideline. A fumble and defensive recovery.

These are big moments in a football game. These moments are usually surprising and exciting. But the next time you see such a play, watch the official. They are usually the calmest person in the stadium and give a deliberate, almost disinterested signal. That cool exterior is to convey an image of the official in complete physical, mental and emotional control.

In the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, it was acceptable for officials to put a little pizzazz into an exciting or close call. In those years, you could find an official frantically signalling incomplete or stop the clock. Or, crow-hopping before making a big, sweeping out-of-bounds call. Or, even jumping while making a touchdown signal. The message in that big signal is, “This is a big play and I HAVE THE CALL!”

Not today. Watch Greg Yette signal a touchdown call that’s tight on the end line (video). In the 1960s or ’70s, you might have seen a back judge furiously shaking his head yes, or jumping. Yette was calm and under control. 

Another example happened when Gene Steratore and Bill Schuster signaled a surprise fumble and defense recovery (video). Both worked the call calmly, stopped the clock and signaled. Thirty or forty years ago, they might have frantically stopped the clock pointed possession several times. 

Why the change from the big signal to the calm signal? The officials want to convey the attitude of, “I have the call. I saw it, and I don’t need to make a big production out of my signal. I’ve made these close calls before and I’ll make them again.”

Now, we still see the big signal, but only when the entire stadium sees one thing, but the official (and maybe only the official) has a different angle and a different call, thus the official makes a big signal to sell his call. We see a big signal maybe once a game.

While I sometimes lament the demise of the big signal, the message the officials deliver with a calm signal is much more important.


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?"