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Newer piece of equipment helps officials keep track of downs

A photo of NFL umpire Terry Killens last week shows a newer style of down indicator.



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Rookie NFL umpire Terry Killens, easily won the “most photographed official” award last week, but one of those photos gave us a glimpse of a newer way some officials keep track of the downs.

NFL officials traditionally use a simple piece of equipment to keep track of downs. They use an elastic band that they loop over their fingers. The umpire and sometimes the referee uses a second down indicator to help determine the position of the ball between the hashes if the ball needs to come back to the previous spot after an incomplete pass or the crew needs to walk off a penalty. 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 on fingers between relative to a spot between the hashmarks.

But, if you look in the photo above you’ll notice Killens is wearing the new down indicator. It is a wrist band that contains a slider. No finger loops. That slider moves over either the number one, two, three or four depending on what down it is. Officials who use finger whistles (like Killens) sometimes prefer this indicator so the loop doesn’t tangle up with the finger whistle. They then can use the traditional finger loop down indicator on their non-finger whistle hand to determine ball position.

The wrist band with slider has been around for about five years.

The advantages of using the slider indicator is that it won’t tangle in a finger whistle and there is less of a chance that it breaks like the traditional indicator. The drawback to the slider is that an official might have to look down to make sure the slider highlights the right down, while and official only needs to feel the loop over the fingers to make sure he has the proper down.

There is no mandate on what indicator to wear – officials choose what is most comfortable for them.

NFL officials are always looking to build a better mouse trap to make it easier for them to do their job on the field. And, the slider indicator is another mouse trap to choose.

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?"