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Keeping up with the downs: Referee John Parry uses an old-school method for game administration

Why does referee John Parry wear 2 rubber bands on each hand during the game?



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Officials from pee-wee games to the Super Bowl all use a very simple piece of equipment to keep track of the downs.

All officials wear an elastic band around their wrist and a loop attached to the band. The officials move the loop over their finger or fingers to show the down (for instance, according to the photo above, it is second down).

Before the elastic band, officials tied two rubber bands together and that acted as a down indicator. Officials had to carry a few spares on the field, because the rubber bands would eventually break due to wear and exposure to the elements.

Each official is responsible for keeping track of the down and the entire crew is responsible if they drop a down.

You may notice the referee and umpire wearing two down indicators, one on each hand. One is to keep track of downs and another is to remind them where to place the football after an incomplete pass or a penalty marked off from the previous spot. Here’s how that works: If the official is wearing the indicator on the left hand, they place the loop over the pinky to indicate the ball on the left hash, the thumb for the right hash, or a fingers between relative to a spot between the hashmarks.

For the last 25 years, officiating equipment companies have marketed the elastic down indicator to officials.

But, if you look closely at referee John Parry during Super Bowl LIII, you’ll notice the referee still keeps track of downs and the previous spot using the old-school elastic method.

How long until kickoff?

A close-up of referee John Parry’s old-school rubber bands to indicate downs and the previous spot. (Diamond Images/Getty Images)

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?"