Football Chain Gang: Stake for Start of Drive?

On the sidelines of NFL football games, there’s a guy who holds a stake marking the start of the drive (where the offense first gained possession). I think the stake as “O” or “X” at the top, I forget which. It doesn’t move until the next change of possession.

Does this stake serve any purpose for the officials?

You aren’t talking about the first down markers or the line of scrimmage markers, are you?

No, there is a third marker that designates the start of the drive.


I’ve never seen one of those before in the hundreds of high school and college football games I’ve been to. Is it limited to professional games?.. do you have a picture of one?

I know it’s used in NFL games. It’s hard to see on TV except when the team has first gained possession, but it bothers me every time I’m at an NFL game. I’m reading the NFL rulebook now, to see if I can find any reference to “start-of-drive”.

PS: My NFL RULEBOOK is out-of-date, does anybody have a link to the complete NFL rules (the summarized, condensed versions on the web aren’t detailed enough for this).

Check this out

This is a site that sells chain gang sets. They sell the set of three markers for either end of the chain and line of scrimmage and also most of the way down the page you will see a start of drive marker for sale.


Hajario: LOL, because I considered this possibility. But somebody (the home team?) has to pay the chain gang, and I can’t comprehend the cost-justification for paying someone to hold a stake on the sidelines if it’s not an NFL requirement. It could be just a FYI convenience to the fans or statisticians, but shouldn’t require hiring a warm-body to hold a stake at the spot!

They are used in college games as well, and no, I have no idea why.

And interestingly, they don’t move the marker until the play clock starts on the next possession. That is, Team A punts to Team B, officials call time out for a commercial, when they come back, and Team B lines up at the line, and the referee starts the play clock, the “start of possession” officials hauls ass from where they were to the new line of scrimmage.

I would certainly be interested in the answer to this question.

It is a a reference spot so they can find their spot when they take the chains out on the field, and find the exact spot when they move back to the edge of the field, It is plaaced at one of the yard markers and it moves on every first down.

NO herman_and_bill ! We’re talking about the stake with the “X” at the top (in NFL games) which stays at the “Start-of-Drive” yardline, and does NOT move on every first down. (It stays way back at the kickoff-return point, even if the offense has achieved many first downs in their drive).

Somebody today started a similar link 2/15 regarding the separate question of a typical measurement.

Thanks “hajario”, for the link to buying “chain sets” - now I want to buy a “down marker” to put in my family room!

I believe that Michael Feldman has dealt with this question. Check online to see what he’s stated.

Do you mean DAVID Feldman (of Imponderables) ? Yes, he has answered the question of a typical first down measurement in his book DO PENGUINS HAVE KNEES (Harper Collins 1991) .

That’s NOTHING to do with this thread!

The first down markers are connected by a ten yard long chain. This is used to determine if the offensive team has made a first down. Does that help?


I don’t have an answer for you, but you can see a picture of the NFL standard set of down markers at the Gilman website.

Gilman is the excusive supplier of field equipment to the NFL and NFL Europe.

To see the picture, go to Products>Football Field Equipment>Gridiron> and click on ProSet.

I’ve often wondered about the X marker too. The only thing I can think of is that if the drive results in a score, then they will know how long the drive was by referencing the X marker.

Theory: maybe the “X” marker is held by the “apprentice” member of a chain gang , gives him something to do while learning the trade. And the “apprentice” can fill in for a fellow chain-gang member who gets clobbered on the sidelines during a game.

I know statisticians and broadcasters (and fans in the stadium) might be interested in the length of a drive, but this statistic could be easily recorded in the pressbox and flashed on the scoreboard.

My thoery is that it is no more than an easy was for the fan in the stadium and broadcasters to easily tell where the drive started.

The other possilbility is that the chain gangers are unionized and the contracts call for an extra worker. :wink:


NFL chain gang members are usually college or high school referees.

Unlike college chain gangs, which are usually high school refs or some other people connected to the home team.

And high school chain gangs, which are either interested parents or guys from the JV team or somebody rounded up from the snack bar.

In the NFL, the official chains switch sides at halftime. In college ball, they are always on the side opposite the press box. The NFL uses a full set of chains on both sides, but in college football they just use a line of scrimmage marker and a first down strip on the other side. And in college football, the line of scrimmage guy on the opposite side of the field doesn’t move until the next play has started. He’s sort of the last resort guy.

[sub]Okay, I’ve never done this before, but here goes:[/sub]


The NFL Kit offered by Gilman includes: 1 Ten-Yard Chain Set, 1 Drive Start Stick, 1 Bullseye Marker, 2 Down Markers.

The “official” sideline would have the Chain Set, Drive Start, and a down marker (also used to designate the official line of scrimmage). The other sideline would have the Bullseye marker and down marker, mirroring the first-down end of the chain set and the “official” down marker respectively. Using another chain set would be superfluous as there is only one “official” ten yard distance needed for a first down.