Ask Farmer: Examining the coin toss and aiding of ball carriers near goal line

NFL referee Tony Corrente (99) shows Falcons captains the coin he will toss as official Don Carey prepares to write down their call of 'heads' or tails' before a game against the Jaguars earlier this season.
(Oscar Sosa / For The Times)

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:


Is there a standard coin used for pregame tosses? Is there a rule about the specifications of the coin, and the way it’s tossed?

Paul Swangard


Eugene, Ore.

Farmer: After an embarrassing coin-toss incident in 1998, the NFL put rules in place aimed at eliminating misunderstandings. That mix-up came before overtime in a Thanksgiving Day game between Pittsburgh and Detroit. Even though Steelers running back Jerome Bettis called tails, his call clearly audible on TV, referee Phil Luckett mistakenly thought he said heads. The coin landed on tails, Bettis lost a brief argument, the Lions got the ball and won with a field goal on their opening possession.

That led to rule changes. Officials are typically given a commemorative coin to flip, one that’s often given to charity. The visiting captain makes the call before the toss, and that’s written down by a second official. The coin can’t be caught but must hit the ground, where representatives of both teams can see it.

The coin-toss winner chooses one of two privileges, and the loser gets the other: whether to receive or kick off, or the goal his team will defend.

In early 2016, before the overtime period between Green Bay and Arizona, referee Clete Blakeman performed a toss in which the coin didn’t flip. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers called tails and the Frisbee-flat toss landed on heads. The Packers complained that the coin didn’t flip, so Blakeman re-tossed it — but didn’t ask for Rodgers to call it again, just assuming he still wanted tails. The Cardinals won the toss — and the game — and Rodgers fumed about the toss, saying later that he might have changed his call but didn’t get the chance.

Before last season, the NFL further clarified its rule to include: “If the coin does not turn over in the air or is compromised in any way,” the ref is to toss it again. The rule also states that “Captain’s choice stands,” meaning the original call cannot be changed, even for a second flip.


When a team is close to scoring and really close to the end zone, there’s sometimes a real scrum to get the ball over the line. Has anyone tried hoisting the ball carrier into the end zone in a gymnastics-style launch? Launching the guy into the air with cupped hands that he can step his foot into and then he could fly over the scrum?

Andrea Davis


Farmer: Certainly somebody has tried that over the years, but it’s not legal.

It’s called “aiding the runner,” and you’re not allowed to push, pull or hoist a player that way. He has to get there on his own power, although officials don’t always catch everything.