All players have numbers on their jerseys, for referees to be able to differentiate who committed a foul and who is legal to catch the football. Referees however, had numbers and letters on their uniform for a different reason.
What Letters Appear On A Referees Uniform?
Referees, similar to players on the field, all have positions. Each position is responsible for certain calls on the field. Below is each position broken down:
- Referee (Dark Blue)
- Typically lined up 10-12 yards behind the line of scrimmage. The referee is the leader of the officiating crew that is often seen wearing a white hat. Responsible for making sure there are 11 players on the field. The referee is also responsible for roughing the passer/roughing the kicker calls.
- Umpire (Dark Green)
- Lined up opposite of the referee, 10-12 yards behind the line of scrimmage. In youth and high school leagues, the umpire is often lined up behind the linebackers on defense. Watching for holding or any lineman infractions pre-snap.
- Down Judge (Dark Red)
- The down judge is the referee that is on the side of the first down makers. He’ll direct the chain crew to move for a first down or to hold the spot. He monitors sideline play for any out of bounds penalties or off-sides by the defense.
- Line Judge (Dark Orange)
- The Line judge is positioned the complete opposite side of the down judge. Similar to the down judge, the line judge is responsible for any defensive line penalties pre-snap, as well as monitoring the sideline for any late hits. In youth and high school, these referees are also responsible for holding or pass interference penalties.
- Field Judge (Light Green)
- The field judge is lined up about 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage on the defensive side of the ball. This referee is responsible for all downfield penalties, including pass interference and holding. Another tough job for the field judge is to determine if a player got both feet down on a catch (1 in high school and college). They are also the referee that signals “touchdown” when a player crosses the goal line.
- Side Judge (Light Red
- In the defensive backfield lined up roughly 20 yards from the line of scrimmage. Similar to the field judge, this referee is responsible for all penalties downfield, determining a catch on the sideline and signaling touchdown.
- Back Judge (Light Blue)
- The back judge is the deepest referee on the defensive side of the football. This referee keeps track of the 40/25 second game clock. This referee can be seen holding his hand in the air when there’s 10 seconds left on the play clock. This is the most important referee to pay attention to pre-snap, to avoid a delay of game penalty.
Why Does One Referee Wear A White Hat?
The official that wears a white hat is known as the referee. This is the “leader” or the “captain” of the referees. This official will talk to the coach if there’s an incident, responsible for removing players from the game, and will also announce if there’s a penalty.
The referee wears a white hat to distinguish himself from the other referees. Always look for the referee with the white hat if there’s ever an issue.
Why Do Referees Have Numbers?
Referees wear numbers to differentiate themselves from other referees. While this may not make sense at a younger level (most officials will just have a letter on their back rather than a number), at the NFL and college level it’s very important.
Just like players need to be identified on film, so do officials. To date, there are roughly 115 officials in the NFL, so each official will have a number. When the league is doing official reviews, it’s easy to identify which referee is doing a fair or poor job. The numbers on the referee jerseys help differentiate.
As mentioned, it’s common to see referee jerseys with just a letter on the back to determine which referee is who. See the picture below for reference.
Football referees, and all referees in general are the backbone of this sports. They help maintain order in a physical, contact sport. Without referees the game would be chaos. Be sure to respect your local referees and never berate them with insults because of a bad call.