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An expert working the finger whistle tonight


If you get the chance, watch umpire Jeff Rice (number 44) work the Monday Night Football game tonight. Rice uses a finger whistle and he is a maestro using the piece of equipment.

Officials working with a finger whistle have to blow their whistle and then signal. Fellow officials and the NFL frown on one-handed touchdown, time-out and incomplete pass signals. So the official blows his finger whistle first, then signals.

Unless you can master the technique Rice uses. The finger whistle fits snugly on an official’s fingers. Unstead, Rice holds the finger whistle on his finger tips. When he needs to blow the whistle he puts it in his mouth, and frees both hands up to signal. He then puts the whistle in his pocket or put it snugly on his fingers to handle the ball, dig in a fumble scrum or break up a fracas.  

Former referee Chuck Heberling used to do the same thing (video) and I’m sure other current officials work the finger whistle like Rice–but he’s the one I’ve noticed.

I’ve tried Rice’s technique while officiating high school football and I can’t do it. Either I spit the whistle out of my mouth and it lands on the ground, the whistle flies off of my fingertips, or I put it in my pocket and forget to get it out for the next play.

If you’re zebra watching tonight, be sure to watch Rice closely and learn how to use a finger whistle from a master.

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Mark Schultz
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?"

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7 thoughts on “An expert working the finger whistle tonight

  1. NFL officials rarely blow their whistles. They will signal incomplete, stop the clock, or touchdown/field goal/PAT without a whistle. Downfield officials typically only blow their whistles to get the attention of players who might be still be engaged after the down is over. In addition to Jeff Rice, I have seen Gene Steratore, Tony Steratore, and Jon Lucivansky among others, use a finger whistle. Dino and Perry Paganelli appear to use a wrist lanyard for their whistles.

  2. The advantage of the finger whistle is you have time-actually it’s called lag time-from the time you observe something that requires a whistle to the time you actually get the whistle up to your mouth and blow. During this “time” you can stop your action if you want.
    The whistle in your mouth is more susceptible to inadvertent whistling. Whether it is a sudden exhalation, excitement or just the pressure of the moment. Bottom line in football is you better make sure before you blow !!

  3. Bottom line in any sport is you better make sure before you blow it. Some sports are given a bit of lag time (soccer, football, hockey) so that the official can think and avoid the inadvertent whistle. Other sports (basketball) are so fast that there is virtually no lag time and the official has to think and get it right within a fraction of a second.

    I love my finger whistle, but it has its disadvantages as well. Harder to write with, and harder to signal with two hands. I switch between a lanyard around my wrist and a finger whistle frequently, I don’t like the lanyard around my neck. Way too awkward for me, I like to carry my whistle in my hand so I know where it is at all times.

  4. As a macanic, the umpire position very rarely blows there whistle. But jeff is a fine official and great to see him getting some attention.

  5. I would also add that before Jeff started using a fox40 finger whistle he used another brand and I am curious as to what brand whistle that was.Yes I am a whistle geek.I have a collection of about 100 different varieties.

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