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Most NFL officials prefer to go the unnoticed route when they take the field Sundays. When referees make a name for themselves during a game, it’s probably because they made a controversial call. If NFL officials go unnoticed for three hours while they’re on the field, they’ve done their job.

Ever wonder why NFL referees have numbers on their jerseys like players do? Although fans aren’t likely to head to the Pro Shop after the game looking for a “Hochuli No. 83” striped jersey, there’s a simple reason why officials have numbers.

How many game officials are on the field?

Referee Clay Martin (19) reviews a scoring play in an AFC Wild Card Playoff game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Cincinnati Bengals on Jan. 15, 2023, at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati, OH. | Jeff Moreland/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images.

There are seven officials on the field for each NFL game. Here’s a quick breakdown of the role of each official during NFL games.


The referee is in charge of the officiating crew and has the final say on all of the game’s rulings. He/she is the one wearing the white hat and the one mic’d up, announcing the penalties and giving announcements to the fans in the stands or at home watching on television.


The umpire’s job is to observe the play on the line, as well as blocks by the offensive line and the defenders’ attempts to avoid them. He’s looking for illegal blocks or holding penalties.

Head linesman

Also called the down judge, the head linesman stands at one end of the line of scrimmage and watches for pre-snap penalties. The head linesman is usually the one throwing flags for offsides or encroachment penalties.

Line judge

The line judge stands on the opposite end of the line of scrimmage from the head linesman. He helps identify penalties that occur before the snap.

Field judge

The field judge stands near the line judge and rules on pass interference, incomplete passes, and illegal blocks downfield.

Side judge

The side judge has the same role as the field judge, but he stands on the opposite sideline near the head linesman.

Back judge

The back judge covers the action in the middle of the field, between himself and the umpire. He looks for the same things as the field judge and side judge, with the added responsibility of calling delay-of-game penalties when the play clock expires.

Why do NFL referees wear numbers?

According to, there were 121 NFL officials for the 2022 season. They all spend 30-plus hours each week studying video and the rulebook. After each game, they’re graded by their supervisors.

This brings us to the question of why referees and other game officials wear numbers on their uniforms. The answer, according to the LA Times, is as simple as it gets. The numbers are for identification purposes only.

Unlike players, whose jersey numbers are determined by their positions, there is no rhyme or reason to the referee numbering system. As with the players, once an official is assigned a number, the official typically keeps the same one year in and year out. Swapping does occasionally happen.

The highest number worn by an official last season was No. 134. That was worn by Robin DeLorenzo, a down judge. The lowest number worn was No. 1 by referee Scott Novak.

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