Referee Signals Decoded


Whether NFL fans watch their games in the nosebleed seats or on the couch at home, they always seem to think they are better at making the calls than the referees. And they rarely keep that thought to themselves: “What, are you blind ref!?” being the most common refrain.

We all know that the zebras miss a few calls here and there, but theirs is no easy task. Athletes move at explosive speeds. The Hulk-ish players block sightlines. New rules are added each year. Last year a CBS report found it was more difficult to become an NFL referee than it is to play in the league.

“It’s kind of like being a judge and you have to know all the laws and all the interpretations of the laws. But you have no book to look at when you’re out there,” says 26-year vet Walt Coleman. Plus, as CBS noted, a judge doesn’t have 60,000 people screaming at him when he makes his ruling.

There are 36 referee hand signals in the NFL. How many do you know? The ones for a score, first down and illegal holding are pretty easy. But what about the rest, for common infractions like personal fouls, pass interference and a false start?

The rule of thumb follows this line of reasoning: The higher in the seats you are and the louder you yell at the refs for being incompetent, the more likely you are to get the signals and calls wrong. Disagree? Well, good, because it is pop quiz time! Get out your No. 2 pencils, or at least limber up your clicking finger, and test your knowledge with these ten questions.

 To the quiz!