Ask Farmer: How did the ‘red zone’ get its name?

Then-Washington coach Joe Gibbs watches the Redskins warm up before playing Philadelphia on Nov. 11, 2007.

Then-Washington coach Joe Gibbs watches the Redskins warm up before playing Philadelphia on Nov. 11, 2007.

(Greg Fiume / Getty Images)

Have a question about the NFL? Ask Times NFL writer Sam Farmer, and he will answer as many as he can online and in the Sunday editions of the newspaper throughout the season. Email questions to:

Why do they call it the “red zone”?

Sue Schoenthaler, San Mateo, Calif.


Farmer: Former Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs is widely credited with coining the term “red zone” for the area between the 20-yard line and the end zone. He first mentioned it publicly in a Washington Post story in 1982. He reportedly used the phrase, an earlier military metaphor, to motivate his 1981 team, which was 0-4 and had the NFL’s worst scoring offense when inside the opponent’s 20. However, some people point to Dave Plati, longtime sports information director at the University of Colorado, as the brains behind the red-zone concept — or at least the first person to chart a team’s performance in those parts of the field. Plati joined the Denver Broncos’ statistics staff in 1980 and came up with all kinds of miscellaneous statistics. One of them was charting the Broncos’ offensive and defensive efficiency in those 20-yard areas.

“Dave has done statistics so great, that at one time we were asked not to put them in the press release because the head coach said that it would be giving too much information to the opponents,” said Jim Saccomano, the Broncos’ media relations czar from 1978 through 2013.

He said that although Plati didn’t come up with the name “red zone,” the concept is his alone.

“Someone else came up with the term, but that doesn’t mean they created the red zone,” Saccomano said. “Is it easier to name a baby or have a baby? I say the creation is a little bit of work.

In a 2013 interview with the Coloradan magazine, Plati said he has no problem with Gibbs being credited with the term. He said that, given his druthers, he would have come up with a different name, one honoring his university.

“I would’ve called it the gold zone,” he said.

Where does the money collected from fines to players go?


Bob Caldwell, Lebanon, Ind.

Farmer: So far this season, according to, 84 players have been fined a total of $2,146,715. League spokesman Michael Signora said fines are donated through the NFL Foundation to assist former players in need via the NFL Player Care Foundation and the Gene Upshaw Players Assn.’s Player Assistance Trust.

When a player is notified he has been fined, he’s also informed where his money is going. The fines come directly out of a player’s salary — paid in 17 checks during the course of the regular season — and fines to coaches are handled the same way. The NFL doesn’t cater to specific requests, so a player cannot decide which charity should get the money, although that’s a fairly common request.