They have been a fixture on the sidelines of postseason games for decades. However, for the first time on record, there will be alternate officials for regular season games in the 2021 season. The two International Series games, both being played this season at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, will feature one alternate official to accompany the on-field crew of seven. Seemingly enacted in the event of a covid-related emergency, this alternate official will be on hand in case one of the assigned officials becomes unable to officiate before or following the overseas travel.
Down judge Ed Camp will be the alternate official for the Week 5 Jets-Falcons game, and field judge Steve Zimmer will be the alternate for the Week 6 Dolphins-Jaguars game. Last season, also in response to covid-19, the number of alternate officials for each postseason game was increased, including having a full alternate crew (including an alternate replay official) for Super Bowl LV.
Alternate officials in the playoffs do have some tasks to assist the crew. Notably, in the 2019 AFC Wild Card Playoff between the Bills and Texans, alternate official Mark Steinkerchner came onto the field during a discussion to offer his vantage point of a controversial play, leading to a change in the ruling on the field after discussion. It is unclear as to whether the alternate officials will be involved in other responsibilities which have included instant replay field communicator and kicking ball coordinator.