Ask Sam Farmer: Why doesn’t the NFL get rid of the two-minute warning?

New England Patriots fans watch as the clock winds down on their team's 16-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 2.
(Elise Amendola / 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:

Why doesn’t the NFL get rid of the two-minute warning? The NCAA doesn’t have it and we sure don’t miss it watching those games.

Steve Vickery, Santa Barbara

Farmer: The NFL has looked at ways to streamline games, but Rich McKay, chairman of the competition committee, said he can’t remember any discussions about doing away with the two-minute warning. Teams rely on the two-minute warning as an extra timeout, and it gives the league another opportunity for commercials, so don’t look for that to change.

“It kind of resets the stage for the last two minutes of the game,” retired quarterback Rich Gannon said. “You look at the NFL today, and every game is a one-score game just about. So when you think about a one-score game, those last two minutes are critical. If the good teams are to finish well late in games, that two-minute is a big deal. A veteran quarterback who’s real good in a two-minute drill, and a team that understands how to execute in those situations. I don’t see that going anywhere.”


But the question prompts this one: How did the NFL come up with the two-minute warning in the first place? For that, I turned to Jon Kendle, archivist at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. According to Kendle, when pro football started in 1892, games consisted of two 45-minute halves with a 15-minute halftime. There was no game clock on the scoreboard, so it was up to the referee to notify the team captains of time remaining in the half, and he was to do so at some point between 10 and five minutes left.

The games got shorter over the decade that followed, and in 1906 was trimmed to the current two 30-minute halves. The job of notifying the captains of the time remaining was passed to the field judge. In 1910, games were segmented into four quarters.

In 1942, the rulebook stipulated that the umpire must notify the referee when two minutes remain in each half. Kendle said that 1949 is the first time in the rulebook that a timeout is granted upon the signal that two minutes remain in each half.

“My best guess is that they began stopping the clock for two minutes in 1942, but I haven’t seen that in any of the rulebooks I’ve read,” Kendle wrote.

In the Canadian Football League, there’s a three-minute warning, and in the Arena League a one-minute warning. All three afford time to get up and grab a beverage from the refrigerator.



Do practice-squad players get an NFL minimum salary, or does the NFL even have a minimum salary?

Dick Terrill, Torrance

Farmer: Each team can have 10 players on its practice squad, and it’s not a bad gig, paying a minimum of $6,900 per week, and $117,300 for the full season. That will bump up to $7,200 and $122,400 next season. Still, it pales in comparison to the 53-man roster, where the minimum salary for rookies is $450,000 this year, $465,000 next year, and $480,000 in 2018.

Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer