What Is The Chain Gang In Football

In football, the term chain gang refers to the group of assistants to the referee. These assistants manage the large orange poles you see marking the first down line.

This crew sets the ten-yard chain up whenever a first down occurs and ensures that the location of the ball is measured correctly.

The chain gang is also responsible for holding up the down sign you see on the sideline.

How Do The Chains Work In The NFL?

When a player scores a first down the referee places his foot onto the turf. This displays the location in which the ball should be placed.

It is at this spot the chain gang will put up the back signal pole. Since the chain is exactly ten yards long the front signal pole will be carried ten yards forward until the chain is tense.

This second marker will represent where the ball needs to travel in order to get a first down. As each down occurs the chain gang down box operator will change the number on his sign from 1,2,3, and finally 4 for fourth down.

If the line of scrimmage moves a few yards it is up to the Ball Judge to spot the ball and does not require any movement from the chain gang unless it is a first down.

When the chain gang spots a first down they will mark the chain at the five or ten-yard line closest to the rear pole. So if the 1st and 10 started on a team’s own 29-yard line there would be a mark one yard into chain that would line up perfectly with the 30-yard line.

This way when the chain gang is called out on the field they should find that their mark on their chain should align exactly with the thirty-yard line. This is just another tactic used by the chain gang to improve their accuracy.

How Much Does The Chain Crew Make Per Game?

Typically the chain gang makes roughly $100 dollars per crew member for a game at the NFL level. They are expected arrive an hour and a half prior to the game starting and work for its entirety.

Though I believe the majority of those working the chain gang don’t do it for the money. But rather for a chance to be on the sideline during many NFL games.

Why do They Still Use A Chain Gang?

With all the technological advancements made over recent years many football fans wonder why we are still using a chain crew. Below are several reasons why I believe the chain gang is here to stay.


If you were to go outside and attempt to measure ten yards right now what would you do? Would you try to use some sort of high tech system? Or would you simply grab a measuring tape or ruler to measure something?

The same stands for a football game. A ten-yard chain is always going to be a great way to measure ten yards. At the end of the day it is the Ball judge’s placement of the ball that is going to cause slight accuracy errors not the chain gangs measurement.

And if you need further proof that a chain crew is the right choice. Just think of the “unofficial” first down line. The yellow you see on TV is made using high tech equipment yet it has to be labelled as “unofficial”. This is due to it’s potential inaccuracy.


The other reason we believe the chain gang should stay in football is because of the theatrics. There are few things more exciting in a game of football than the chain gang running out for a measurement.

Waiting to see if the tip of the ball is past the chain as both teams huddle around is always a great moment to watch.

If you used a high tech system to determine first downs it would simply be a ref going into a booth to make the call. Bringing out the chains adds a large level of excitement to the game.

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