Head linesman blowing the whistle on a football field

How and When to Blow the Whistle

We do not blow our whistles to protect players. It’s human nature to get on our whistle quickly when a receiver signals for a fair catch and the kicking team is sprinting down the field hell-bent on destroying the receiver and the ball arrives and we blow our whistle and oh crap! The receiver muffs the ball and we have an IW.

Or, there is a fumble and players are diving on the pile and we want to rush to the pile
to figure out who has the ball and we blow our whistles and oh crap! The ball has squirted out the side of the pile and no one is in possession. So we have another IW. (By the way, those were my two IWs; or at least the ones I know about.)

We do not blow our whistles unless we can see the ball!

It’s okay to have a play end without a whistle if none of the officials can see the ball. This is common when there is a big pile in the middle of the field. Coaches may complain (“Blow the whistle, you have to protect my players!”) I’ll tell the coach I couldn’t see the ball, so I’m not going to blow my whistle.

Another common IW moment is when a team runs the option, the RB runs into the pile and falls down, the wing blows the whistle, and the QB has the ball and is running around the end heading for an easy TD. Bottom line, we have to discipline ourselves to NOT blow the whistle unless we can see the ball.

We’ll often hear coaches tell their players to “play until the whistle”

This is incorrect. We blow our whistle to indicate the ball is dead by rule. If a runner is still churning his legs and the pile is moving forward, we’ll hold our whistles because forward progress has not stopped (and especially because we probably can’t see the ball). Players are responsible for their actions, and players cannot crash into the pile or into a defenseless player because we haven’t blown the whistle.

We need to have slow whistles

Let the ball bounce twice after an incomplete pass. We must mentally comprehend the play before we blow the whistle. It’s rare, but sometimes a runner will roll over a defender on the ground without any part of his body touching the ground and will be able to rise and continue running.

We need to have strong whistles

A short “chirp” is not correct. We need to blow our whistle loud enough for the fans to hear it in the stands and for about a second. We blow a loud “tweet, tweet, tweet” to stop player action when they continue to play after the ball is dead by rule (typically when a runner’s forward progress is stopped or when a player steps out of bounds along the sideline and continues to run).

We blow a “tweet, tweet, tweet” as a “look at me!” whistle after the down ends and we’ve thrown a flag or see a flag on the ground. We blow a “tweet, tweet, tweet” when a coach calls a timeout and we need to get the R’s attention.

Only the covering official should blow the whistle

The wings mark forward progress so one of the wings should typically be the only official to blow the whistle after most downs. Wings need to be disciplined to hold the whistle if they are not the primary covering official (unless the covering official cannot see the ball, which is rare). If the ball is downed in a side zone and the covering official blows the whistle, the official on the opposite should stay off the whistle! We should rarely have two whistles after a play is over and almost never have three or more.

If we have too many whistles, we have too many ball-watchers. The umpire should rarely blow his whistle (unless he sees a snap infraction or other pre-snap foul or he sees the runner down by rule and the wings miss it). The umpire can go an entire game without blowing his/her whistle. The referee may blow the whistle more often since the referee has the runner until he crosses the LOS.