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Ask Farmer: Explaining the purpose of the referee's black wristbands

Referee Carl Cheffers, center, talks with down judge Tom Symonette (100) and umpire Clay Martin, right, during the second half of Thurday's game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New England Patriots.
Referee Carl Cheffers, center, talks with down judge Tom Symonette (100) and umpire Clay Martin, right, during the second half of Thurday's game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New England Patriots. (Phelan M. Ebenhack / AP)

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: sam.farmer@latimes.com

What's the purpose of the black wristband worn by NFL referees?

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Max Vanderslice

Greenwich, Conn.

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Farmer: Those wristbands are to remind officials of the down, where the ball should be spotted relative to the hash marks and even which team has possession. The wristband has a string on it that can be looped around a finger.

Every official has a preferred system of keeping track, but a common one is to loop the string around the index finger for first down, middle finger for second, ring finger for third, and pinkie for fourth.

Sometimes, the referee, umpire and back judge will wear bands around both wrists, using the second band to remember specifically where the ball is spotted either inside or outside the hash marks.

Depending on the situation, one of those three is responsible for spotting the ball.

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Believe it or not, when they're focused on one play at a time, officials can even lose track between downs of which team has the ball, so some officials put a mark on their wristband and have it facing up or down, depending on which team has possession.

"If you don't have any skin in the game, it's hard to remember what the down was," former NFL referee Mike Carey said. "A fan says, 'My team has the ball,' or, 'My team is on defense.' But an official doesn't have a team, so they have to remember.

"I haven't had a problem with that, but some people will make that mark on their wristband."

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It's a curious TV lineup for Sunday, with the Seahawks and Rams, both NFC teams, on CBS, and the Chargers at the New York Giants on KCAL 9. What was the NFL thinking?

Alexander Helmke

Santa Clarita

Farmer: Typically, Seattle at Rams would be a Fox game, but the league wanted to make sure that the marquee matchup of Green Bay at Dallas aired in Los Angeles. So Packers-Cowboys is on Fox, and Seahawks-Rams was "cross-flexed" to CBS.

The early matchup of Chargers at the New York Giants, which would normally be a CBS game, was moved to Channel 9. Therefore, if that game runs long, it doesn't risk bumping into the Rams' kickoff.

For the second Sunday in a row, Los Angeles fans are getting two morning and two afternoon games.

The NFL calls it a "double doubleheader," and it also will happen in Weeks 10 and 11.

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