The NFL officiating office will announce the 2023 officiating crews at any time. When they do, we will also know the new officials’ jersey numbers and any position changes. The 12 new officials will be assigned one of the following available numbers:
|17, 21, 28, 32, 46||61, 66, 91, 94||108, 112, 116, 123, 127, 129, 132, 133, 135|
NFL officials are assigned numbers 1-135. Officials will most likely keep these numbers their entire career and it is very important to them. Retired referee Jerry Markbreit once told Football Zebras, “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.”
If a new official wants a number, and it is available, they can ask the NFL for that number. For example, last year, rookie down judge Robin DeLorenzo was able to get the 134 that Ed Camp, her recently retired mentor, wore.
Also, if an official retires making his number available, a veteran official can ask the NFL to change numbers. Tony Veteri Jr., switched from 52 to his dad’s 36. Walt Coleman IV, switched from 87 to his dad’s 65. Jerome Boger went from 109 to 23 to honor his mentor Johnny Grier. Barry Anderson temporarily switched from 20 to 31 for one season to honor the late Chad Brown.
Last year there was an interesting number change. Field judge Nate Jones was a NFL player and wore 33 in his playing days. Tra Blake was a veteran official and wore 33, while Jones wore 44 during his first few years as an official. Last year Blake agreed to give Jones 33 and Blake took the available number 3.
New official Frank Steratore is Tony and Gene Steratore’s cousin. Tony’s 112 is available. Rookie Brett Bergman has the chance to choose his dad’s number 32, his uncle’s 91 or his grandfather’s 17. Or, these new officials could choose to blaze their own trail and pick their own number.
Some numbers have been retired or grown stale
When Jerry Seeman retired, his number 70 was given to umpire Scott Dawson. When Dawson retired, the NFL retired number 70 in Seeman’s honor.
The NFL has never issued number 69 for reasons I don’t want to contemplate.
Number 94 hasn’t been issued since Hugo Cruz was terminated in the middle of the 2018 season. Before Cruz wore it, referee Mike Carey wore 94 with distinction. But now, officials may not want to wear 94 due to the Cruz infamy (Cruz, incidentally is back officiating college football and has been assigned bowl games).
But, some numbers haven’t been reissued for several seasons. 66 has sat unassigned since Walt Anderson retired. (Similarly, Al Riveron’s 57 was held back from 2013 to 2020 when he was promoted to the league office.) 112, 129, 132 and 135 haven’t been used since Tony Steratore, John Parry, Bill Schuster and Pete Morelli retired. The NFL sometimes issues a famous number immediately after a well-known and honored official retires. Others, like the ones mentioned sit unassigned for years. Why? We don’t know. Maybe some long-vacant numbers will get a new owner this year.
So, what’s in a number?
When a NFL official is hired and they get their number, it is a moment of intense emotion. It is a moment where they recognize their officiating goal. They want to honor the officials who wore the number before them and they hope future officials will want to take their number. It hits home that they are part of an elite unit of men and women charged with officiating the richest, most complex and most popular spectator sport in North America, if not the world.
They don’t wear their name on their jersey, but they proudly wear their number. With that number they hope to make a positive impact on the NFL for their career.