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19 Fumble


Chapter 19. Fumbles
Pg. 90

Officials have specific duties when a
pile forms on top of a fumble. The ball
will be spotted and the process will
be much simpler if each crew member
does his job.
When an official sees a fumble, he
must drop a bean bag at the yard line
at which the ball was fumbled (the spot
may be used for penalty enforcement if
a foul occurs while the ball is loose). He
must also continue officiating.
If the covering official sees a player
recover the fumble from a prone
position, he should blow the play dead.
If the defense recovers, the stop-theclock
signal is given, followed by a
point in the direction of the recovering
team. Only point once; do not use a
“tomahawk chop.”
If the offense recovers, the covering
official should only signal the next down
(unless a first down was achieved; in
that case, the stop-the-clock signal
is given, followed by a point in the
direction of the recovering team).
If a fumble results in players from
both teams forming a pile that prevents
the covering official from determining
possession, the ball must be “dug out”
of the pile. The official closest to the
pile becomes the “digger,” the official
responsible for unpiling the players and
determining who has recovered the
fumble. The official nearest the digger
signals the clock to stop and looks at
the clock to be sure it is stopped. The
remaining nearby officials echo the
signal if the clock has not stopped and
assist with unpiling players.
Assuming the pile consists of four
or more players, the digger begins by
getting the players on top of the pile
to get up. One method is to tap those
players and say, “You don’t have it;
get up.” Pay attention when you get
close to the pile; you don’t want a
mouthful of helmet. The digger must
aggressively search for the ball. The ball
is somewhere on the ground; the digger
should be, too.
If the players are slow to unpile,
another official can approach the pile
and assist the digger; the remaining
officials should practice dead-ball
officiating and observe the players not
on the pile.
Another digger’s trick is to grasp
the arm of the player who is clearly in
possession of the ball at the bottom of
the pile. By saying, “I’ve got the ball;
everyone off the pile,” the digger can
ensure the proper team is awarded
possession while getting the players to
If the digger can clearly see the ball
or is certain he knows which player
has recovered it, he verbally relays that
information to the Referee by color or
team name. If Team A has recovered,
the Referee announces the next down
and restarts the clock (or signals the
first down if Team A has achieved a first
down). If Team B has recovered and a
digger is involved, the Referee alone
signals the change of possession.
The digger can help statisticians and
spectators by pointing to or otherwise
identifying the player who recovered the
fumble once the pile has dispersed.
When a fumble is recovered between
two officials and the pile consists of four
or fewer players, there is usually no need
for a digger. The officials should make
eye contact and confirm what they’ve
seen (e.g. “I’ve got red ball.” “So do I.”).
If they agree, and the Referee is near,
allow the Referee to give the proper
signals. If they don’t agree, one must
serve as the digger.
Anytime the Referee is in the area of
the pile, the recovery information should
be verbally relayed to the Referee. The
Referee alone then signals.