The Chain Gang

images-1With the Super Bowl headed to town, Tampa will be filled with two weeks of total football….ahhh, the bliss.

The game of football conjures up so many childhood memories, but none precede that Friday night under the lights, in a small Louisiana town.  High school football was THE community event.  To this twelve year old, the field turned magical on Friday nights – the lights, the sounds, the cheerleaders….

Oh sure, it was the same field that our junior high team played on early in the week – but Friday nights were special.

“Hey kid!”

I remember was being called out of the stands during pregame warm-ups that Friday night.  One of the old men who usually manned the first down chains didn’t show…and I got the call.  It would be my job to stand on that magical field, somewhere between my giant senior football heroes and the on field action….just a little slice of Heaven to a sports crazed preteen.

I was now a temporary official member of The Chain Gang.images-2

The New York Times recently ran an article about the Uber Chain Gang:

The N.F.L.’s chain gang is a seven-person crew, hired for game-day duty by the home teams. Four people work on one side of the field, where the chains are, under the direction of the head linesman, an on-field official dressed in the familiar black-and-white-striped shirt.

A three-person auxiliary crew works the other side, without chains, mostly as a backup system and to provide approximate down-and-distance indicators for that side of the field. The two crews flip sides of the field at halftime.

Wearing black-and-yellow-striped bibs, two people hold the chains. A third person, a “box man” wearing a red bib, marks the approximate spot of the ball after each play with a down marker. (The term “box man” refers to a cube that once sat atop the marker and was rotated after each play to reflect the down. Today, a dial flips the numbers, 1 through 4.)

On first downs, the box man estimates the spot, using the ball placed on the field or the foot of a side judge as a gauge. One end of the chains is placed on the same spot, the other stretched 10 yards up field.

A fourth crew member fastens a clip to the chain to denote the nearest 5-yard increment on the field. If a team has a first down on its 27-yard line, for example, the clip is placed at the 30-yard line.

The clip has two functions. First, it indicates where the chains should be put back if they are jostled off their settings. Second, during a measurement on the field, it tells the officials where the chains should be placed.

Of course, each placement — of the ball, of the chains, of the clip — is an estimation performed by the naked eye. Precision is made more difficult because the chains and the markers sit six feet beyond the sideline — six feet away from any yard line on the field — and at least 76 feet away from the nearest start of the next play, on the nearest hash mark.

Accuracy may be further compromised by unpredictable elements, ranging from bad weather, a pocked field and a hasty last-minute drive that leaves the chain gang scrambling to get into place before the ball is snapped.

Then again, while plenty of games are famously remembered for results caused by poor officiating, none are recalled for the sloppy work of the chain gang. Whenever there is a questionable spot on a key play, the debate is over the position of the ball — not the position of the chains. The chains, it seems, are viewed as accurate arbiters of distance, just as they have been for more than 100 years.

The Clip Man – that was me.  While I never got to hold the coveted poles or even the down marker, I did get to place the clip on the chain marking the approximate location of the ball.  I guess the “Clip Man” is an important part of the game too.

Kinda like The Body of Christ – comprised of many parts. There are limbs, organs, and various members that, when left alone, are useless, but when assembled make up the entire body. 1 Corinthians 12:12-14 describe it like this: “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.”

This means each Christian is an equal part of the body of Christ!

The next time you hear the referee throw his hand forward and yell “First Down!!!”, remember that he first had to take a look at The Chain Gang –  we all play an equally important role in the advancement of The Kingdom.



One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Mom on January 19, 2009 at 3:44 PM

    A great analogy son. Love you, Mom

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