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A numbers game: 2 officials change uniform numbers

When players join new teams, there are often jersey numbering issues that need to be worked out. But it is not something we typically see in officiating.

For 2022, field judge Nate Jones (pictured above at the Browns-Jaguars preseason game) will wear the number he wore as a NFL player: 33. That’s because referee Tra Blake agreed to give Jones his number 33, and took another available number.

Jones became an NFL official four years ago after a successful playing career and assigned him number 42 for his zebra jersey.  The NFL hired Tra Blake as an umpire in 2020, and he was assigned number 33. (Oddly, 33 wasn’t technically vacated, which we explain in the table below.) After two years as a NFL umpire, Blake was promoted to referee for 2022.

After the 2021 season, field judge Scott Edwards retired. Edwards wore uniform number 3.

We don’t know who approached whom first. But we do know that when the 2022 season started, the NFL assigned Jones Blake’s number 33. Blake took the retired Edwards’ number 3. And NFL gave Duane Heydt, a rookie umpire, Jones’s recently vacated number 42.

Got it?

Embed from Getty Images

Numbers are very important to NFL officials. Retired referee Jerry Markbreit told Football Zebras a few years ago, “When the NFL assigns you a number, that number becomes you. For 23 years I was 9. I’m still called ‘Nine’ today long after I’ve retired.”

Discounting the screwy 1979-81 numbering system — which we detail in the link above — this is the first time someone at the referee position has worn number 3 since Jack Vest wore it in 1970 and 1971.

So, for all of you keeping score at home, please note the numbering changes for Tra Blake and Nate Jones. 

Number changes since 1970

Excluding any number changes due to the re-numbering system that was in place from 1979 to 1981.

      Original Number New Number Reason, if known
1974 BJ Frank Luzar 64 11 John McDonough retired after 1973, Luzar took number.
BJ Don Wedge 87 28  
1978 U Paul Trepinski 22 6 Retired after 1977. Paul Baetz was hired and took 22. John Keck was injured just before 1978 season. Trepinski came out of retirement to sub for Keck. 6 was available (Bernie Ulman retired in 1977).
1982 R Tom Dooley 103 6 After the end of the 1979-81 numbering system, 6 was available, and Dooley took it.
1983 R Fred Wyant 75 11 Changed to the number he wore in college; also to honor Vince Jacob who had died in the offseason
U Dave Moss 81 88 Pat Harder retired after the 1982 season and Moss took 88.
1984 SJ Gerry Austin 112 34 Fritz Graf retired after the 1983 season. Austin was a rookie side judge in 1983, and he and Graf were on the same crew.
1993 R Ron Blum 83 7 Fred Silva had retired in 1988. 7 had been vacant since then. Blum was promoted to referee in 1993 and took 7. He kept 7 when he returned to line judge.
1997 LJ Ron Winter 82 14 Winter was promoted to referee in 1997 and 14 was available.
1998 HL Tony Veteri (II) 52 36 Changed to his father’s number when it became available
2004 SJ Bill Spyksma 12 8 Returned from leave of absence, original number assigned to Greg Steed
2006 R Jerome Boger 109 23 Changed to the number of Johnny Grier, the first Black referee in the NFL
2008 SJ Barry Anderson 86 20 20 was available after Larry Nemmers retired
2009 FJ Craig Wrolstad 89 4 Available after side judge Doug Toole retired.
2010 HL John McGrath 120 5 Available after Jim Quirk (I) retired
SJ Jeff Lamberth 103 21 HL John Schleyer retired in 2009, and Lamberth took 21.
2012 LJ Julian Mapp 52 10 Gave number back to Bill Vinovich after Week 5 following Vinovich’s return from medical leave
2016 U Barry Anderson 20 31 One-year temporary change to honor the late Chad Brown
2017 BJ Jim Quirk (II) 63 5 Changed to his father’s number when it became available
2019 LJ Walt Coleman IV 87 65 Changed to his father’s number after he retired
2020 FJ Steve Zimmer 33 22 Returned for 24th season after originally not being on roster, original number already assigned to Tra Blake. Then…
2022 FJ Nate Jones (II) 42 33 Changed to the number he wore as an NFL player
R Tra Blake 33 3 Changed to accommodate Jones’s number

Photos, top to bottom: Ben Austro/Football Zebras, Doug Pensinger/Getty Images, Tennessee Titans photo

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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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One thought on “A numbers game: 2 officials change uniform numbers

  1. You should also list Fred Silva, who wore No. 81 before 1979, then in 1982 kept the No. 7 that he used from 1979-1981 because it was available (Tommy Bell last wore it in 1976).

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