Ask Farmer: Any funny pranks or stories in NFL lore about the headsets?

Sometimes coaches don't hear what they want to hear in their headsets. Just ask Jeff Fisher and Mike Heimerdinger.
(Mark Humphrey / Associated Press)
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My question is about the headsets between coaches, and coaches and players. Any funny pranks or stories in NFL lore about the headsets?

Chris Rising



Farmer: Tons of them. The headsets and coach-to-quarterback radios malfunction on occasion these days — it happened with the Rams this season — but nowhere near as frequently as they did in years past. I wrote a story back in 2003 that chronicled some of the headset hilarity.

There was the time that the late Mike Heimerdinger, then offensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans, peered down from the visiting coaches’ box and tried to call a play against the Detroit Lions at the old Silverdome. Instead of a response from Titans coach Jeff Fisher, Heimerdinger heard the urgent voice of a woman saying, “Suite 30 needs more hors d’oeuvres right away!”

In that same stadium two weeks earlier, Wilbert Montgomery, then running backs coach of the St. Louis Rams, had trouble communicating with fellow coaches because his radio frequency crackled with uninvited guests.

“We kept getting a lot of truckers talking out on the highway,” he said. “They were cutting in and out when we were trying to get people out on the field.”

Once, during an exhibition game in Philadelphia, Baltimore Ravens coaches shared the airwaves with a pizza-delivery service.

The first player to wear an in-helmet radio was Cleveland Browns quarterback George Ratterman in 1956. He got half his instructions in practice from legendary coach Paul Brown, and half from police cruisers patrolling the area.


NFL rules stipulate that only one coach can speak to the quarterback via radio, and that coach has to be at field level. The radio is one-way — the quarterback can only listen – and cuts off with 15 seconds remaining on the play clock. There is one designated defensive player who wears an in-helmet radio as well. The wired helmets are marked with a small green sticker on the back.


What constitutes a red-zone possession? If you have first and 10 at the 25 and you wind up with third and four from the 19, and don’t make it, is that considered being in the red zone?

Jeff Horn

Sherman Oaks

Farmer: Regardless of the down, if a ball is snapped anywhere from the 19-yard line in to the goal line, it’s considered a red-zone attempt.

And by the way, the ball just needs to be inside (not touching) the 20.