Ask Sam Farmer: Are there throwback uniforms for NFL officials?

Head linesman Patrick Turner (13), referee Tony Corrente (99), field judge Buddy Horton (82) and other officials gather on the field during a game between the Bengals and the Cowboys on Oct. 9.
(Michael Ainsworth / Associated Press)

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:

It seems like every week some NFL team is wearing throwback uniforms. Are there throwback uniforms for officials?

Gary Page, Lawrence, Kan.

Farmer: As is the case with just about everything in the NFL, officials’ uniforms have evolved over the years. In the early days of the league, they wore white slacks and shirts — supposedly to suggest unbiased purity — black bow ties, and white English flat caps (the rounded-top ones with small, stiff brims that some golfers wear). They had the formal look of boxing referees. Instead of throwing a flag, an early official would signal a penalty by sounding a metal horn strapped to his wrist.


One of the problems with officials wearing white is that some teams did, too. That led to confusion. According to NFL lore, in 1920, a white-clad team from Arizona mistakenly completed a pass to a referee named Lloyd Olds. Talk about a defenseless receiver. Apparently, Olds was so bothered by this, he asked a friend who owned a sporting-goods store to design a distinctive jersey that would make officials more identifiable. Hence the stripes, which Olds first wore while officiating a high school basketball game and later tried in football. That caught on, and zebras were born.

A throwback uniform for officials should also address what those officials throw. Penalty flags were white until 1965, when the NFL switched to yellow.

In college football, those flags were red until the 1970s.

In the Canadian Football League, the penalty flags are orange, and the coaches’ challenge flags are yellow, whereas the coaches’ flags are red in the NFL.


Said an NFL representative when asked about the possibility of throwback uniforms for officials: “We did it in 1994 for the 75th season but nothing is planned right now.”


Assume a passer has a long string of completions and then a pass is missed but interference is called and the ball advanced to the spot of the interference. How does this affect the passer’s record? Is it ignored as if the pass had not been thrown, or is it recorded as a completed pass, or is it recorded as an incomplete pass and ends his string of completions?

Gerald Irvine, San Diego


Farmer: If the penalty is accepted, it doesn’t affect the quarterback or receiver numbers, nor does it end any string of completions.

Any yardage associated with the play is not attributed to a team’s total offense, but to the penalty yardage against the penalized team.


Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer