After reading this post about soccer or football (for europeans), What is the on-field role of the captain? i was curious about this issue in american football.

What is the role of the football captain(s) besides the coin toss?

Also, how many captains are there on the football (american) team? Is there one captain per team (special teams, defense, offense)?

2 Answers 2


In both the NFL and NCAA, there are official capacities that the captain must fulfill. Only one designated captain (at a time) is permitted to communicate the teams official decision of a penalty (to accept or decline) to the referee, and there are rules about how you can change captains.


Rule 18 Guidelines for Captains Article 1 * One hour and thirty minutes prior to kickoff: Respective coaches designate the captain(s) a maximum of six per team.

Article 2 Coin toss:

(a) Up to six captains per team can participate in the coin toss ceremony; only one captain from the visiting team (or captain designated by Referee if there is no home team) can declare the choice of coin toss.
(b) The team that won the toss may then have only one captain declare its option.
(c) The team that lost the coin toss may then have only one captain declare its option.

Article 3 Choice on Penalty Option: Only one captain is permitted to indicate the team’s penalty option.

Article 4 Change of Captains:
(a) The coach has prerogative of informing Referee when he wishes to make a change in team captains; or
(b) A captain who is leaving can inform the Referee which player will act as captain in his place when he is substituted for; or
(c) When a captain leaves the game, the incoming substitute is permitted to inform the Referee which player the respective coach has designated as captain.
Note: A captain on the field has no authority to request a change of fellow team captain when that captain remains on the field


Rule 1, Section 1, Article 5. Each team shall designate to the referee not more than four players as its field captain(s). One player at a time shall speak for his team in all dealings with the officials.

Rule 3, Section 1, Article 1. b) Three minutes before the scheduled starting time, the referee shall toss a coin at midfield in the presence of not more than four field captains from each team and another game official, first designating the field captain of the visiting team to call the coin toss. Before the second half, the referee will obtain the teams’ second-half options

Rule 3, Section 3, Article 7, g) The field captain must exercise his penalty option before he or a teammate consults with his coach on a sideline during a timeout.

  • +1, I didn't realize that was in the official rules, however from a practical standpoint, the coach typically handles all of those duties during the game. Not doubting what you're saying, as it's obviously in the rulebook, but it seems like those rules are not very strict. Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 13:45

While team captains have been elected by their clubs throughout the history of football, the team captain was only an official part of the NFL starting in 2007.

Their role on the field is not anything more than representing the team during the coin toss. If they are on the field during a penalty, they are typically the one who communicates with the referee about accepting or declining the penalty, but this is not always so. In the NFL, each team elects a captain (either by vote of the players or appointed by the coaching staff) from the offense, defense and special teams based on leadership on and off the field. In the NCAA, most schools have three team captains but this varies from school to school and the responsibilities of the captain are the same as in the NFL.

During special event games such as the Super Bowl or a BCS Bowl, schools will often bring in former players or VIP's from the school to serve as honorary team captains.

  • I'm sorry, but almost everything in the second paragraph is factually incorrect. See my answer below, particularly text in bold.
    – corsiKa
    Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 8:57

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