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2 generations of officials are at polar opposites when signaling the big call

Go back a generation and you can see a stark change in how officials signal plays.



A few weeks ago, our own Cam Filipe posted his Call of the Week, and he noted the calm, under-control signal by the covering official.

“This isn’t the 1980s,” Cam noted. I resemble that remark! But it did cause me to reflect on how officials signal a call and how the philosophy has completely changed in a generation.

In the 1960s through the early 1990s, football officials let their personality shine in making their calls. If there was a big call that needed selling, the official would emphatically signal the play – frantically signaling incomplete, multiple waving arms out of bounds, pounding the ground to signal a trapped ball and jumping while signaling touchdown.

An example:

The philosophy behind making a big signal is to show the players, coaches and fans that this is a big and important moment in the game and “I HAVE THE CALL! I’M ON TOP OF IT, I’M IN GOOD POSITION AND I AM POSITIVE I GOT IT CORRECT!”

Over the years, officials have been taught to make calm, under-control, almost relaxed signals. The reasoning behind the change is the officials, when signaling, want viewers to know, “I’ve seen this before. I’ve called 100 plays like this and I’ll probably call 100 more just like this. You are excited, but I’m completely under control.”

Here is another example. This is footage of NFL-record field goals, 51 years apart. Both dramatic, historic calls. Note the officials signaling the kick result.

Today we smirk or roll our eyes when we see footage of officials making jumping touchdowns and frantically pumping a catch out of bounds. We think the official is making a show out of the call. But imagine what an official from 1970 would think when they see signals today. They might think, “Are they sure of their call? Are they too lazy to make a big signal? Do they even want to officiate this game?”

Two different generations. Two different ways for officials to signal. Stick around long enough and we might see another change in how officials present themselves.

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?"