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Enshrinement of Art McNally

NFL weather safety has come a long way

40-plus years ago, it was common to play on in the thunderstorm.



Reporting from Canton, Ohio

Last night’s Hall of Fame game had a delayed start due to lightning in the area.

There are a few games each year — preseason and regular season — that are delayed by lightning. The game will continue in a downpour, but lightning stops the whole thing.

Up until a few years ago, deciding when to stop a game went by the eye test. If officials determined that lightning posed a threat, they suspended the game. Now there is technology to detect lightning, including how far away it is. In amateur football, once lightning strikes within a certain radius of the stadium (around eight miles), the officials suspend the game and order both teams off the field. Stadium management then moves the fans under the stadium.

Under NFHS (high school) rules, the area has to be lightning-free for 30-minutes before the officials can resume the game.

But, that wasn’t the case many years ago. In this clip, you can see and hear lightning from this Week 1, 1980 game between the Tampa Buccaneers and the Cincinnati Bengals. Referee Fred Wyant played on, even though TV just about lost the picture.

Thanks to technology and set policies, officials today don’t have to determine how close lightning is and if they should suspend the game.

When lightning gets too close (like the Hall of Fame Game), everyone follows the rules and waits for Mother Nature to have the last word.

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?"