American Football Game-Play Referee Signals
Delay of game.
The referee signals a delay of game by folding his arms in front of his chest. This signal also means that a team called a timeout when it had already used all its allocated timeouts.
The referee places his hands on his hips to signal that an offside, encroachment, or neutral zone infraction occurred.
The referee gestures with his hand in front of his face and makes a downward pulling motion to signal that a player illegally grabbed the face mask of another player.
False start/illegal formation.
The referee rotates his forearms over and over in front of his body to signify a false start, an illegal formation, or that the kickoff or the kick following a safety is ruled out of bounds.
The referee places both hands on top of his head to signal that a team made an illegal substitution or had too many men on the field on the preceding play.
Illegal use of hands.
The referee grabs one wrist and extends the open hand of that arm forward in front of his chest to signal illegal use of the hands, arms, or body.
Illegally touched ball.
The referee uses the fingertips of both hands and touches his shoulders to signal that the ball was illegally touched, kicked, or batted.
Illegally touched pass.
The referee is sideways and uses a diagonal motion of one hand across another to signal an illegal touch of a forward pass or a kicked ball from scrimmage.
Invalid fair catch.
The referee waves one hand above his head to signal an invalid fair catch of a kicked ball.
The referee clenches his fist with the thumb extended, a gesture also used in hitchhiking, to signal that a player has been ejected from the game.
The referee raises his arms above his head and strikes one wrist with the edge of his other hand to signify a personal foul. If the personal foul signal is followed by the referee swinging one of his legs in a kicking motion, it means roughing the kicker. If the signal is followed by the referee simulating a throwing motion, it means roughing the passer. Finally, if the signal is followed by the referee pretending to grab an imaginary face mask, it’s a major face mask penalty, which is worth 15 yards.
Reset 25-second clock.
The referee makes an open palm with his right hand and pumps that arm vertically into the air to instruct the timekeeper to reset the 25-second play clock.
Reset 40-second clock.
With the palms of both hands open, the referee pumps both arms vertically into the air to instruct the timekeeper to reset the 40-second play clock.
Stop the clock.
The referee raises one arm above his head with an open palm to signify that excessive crowd noise in the stadium has made it necessary for the timekeeper to stop the clock. This signal also means that the ball is dead (the play is over) and that the neutral zone has been established along the line of scrimmage.
The referee signals a timeout by waving his arms and hands above his head. The same signal, followed by the referee placing one hand on top his head, means that it’s an official timeout, or a referee-called timeout.
The referee repeats the action of placing the right foot behind the heel of his left foot to signal a tripping penalty.
The referee puts his arms outstretched with palms down to signal an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.