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Why is There a Two-Minute Warning in Football? (Full Explanation)

The two-minute warning is a clock stoppage at or about the 2:00 mark of each half of an NFL contest.

Its original purpose was to alert the players, coaches, and fans when two minutes remained in each half of the game.

With billion-dollar stadiums featuring enormous scoreboards and game clocks that can be seen for miles, the two-minute warning is, in 2022, obsolete.

In this article, I will define the two-minute warning, review its origins, and address why this obsolete event remains embedded in the NFL fabric.

Key Takeaways

  • The two-minute warning is the stoppage of play at or around the two-minute mark of an NFL game’s first and second halves.
  • Implemented in 1942, the two-minute warning is two minutes long and exclusive to the NFL.
  • Contrary to its name, the two-minute warning frequently occurs with less than two minutes remaining.

What is the Two-Minute Warning?

Instituted by the NFL in 1942, the two-minute warning refers to the stoppage of all play at or around the final two minutes of an NFL football game’s first and second halves (overtime implementation is discussed later). [1]

The two-minute warning is essentially a built-in timeout for both teams and is two minutes long.

The two-minute warning results in a stoppage of the game clock and a reset of the play clock.

Does the Two-Minute Warning Always Occur at 2:00? 

The answer is NO.

The two-minute warning occurs at precisely two minutes remaining in each half, provided the ball is not in play.

If the ball is in play when the game clock reads 2:00, the two-minute warning will occur at the conclusion of said play.

For example, if the offense snaps the ball with 2:05 left on the clock in the fourth quarter, and the play runs for fifteen seconds of game time, the play will end with 1:50 left on the game clock.

The referee will blow his whistle at this point, signaling the two-minute warning.

In this instance, the two-minute warning occurs with 1:50 remaining on the game clock.


Origins of Two-Minute Warning:

When pro football arrived in 1892, there were no game clocks plastered on enormous scoreboards for everyone to see, and the two-minute warning did not exist.

The official game clock was merely a stopwatch that one of the referees kept in his pocket, and whenever someone wanted to know the amount of time remaining, they would ask the referee.

During all games, the referee notified the team captains of the time left in each half at a random moment between ten and five minutes remaining. 

In 1942, the NFL implemented the two-minute warning at the ends of both halves, stopping the clock and alerting players and fans that two minutes remained in the game. [2]

Therefore, in a four-quarter NFL game, there are two two-minute warnings. Additionally, a third two-minute warning occurs during the ten-minute overtime period of a regular season NFL game.

However, there is no two-minute warning during an NFL playoff game’s first fifteen-minute overtime period, although a two-minute warning exists in each subsequent overtime period. [3

 Why Do We Still Have the Two-Minute Warning?

The two-minute warning alerted players and fans of the time remaining in the game when only the referee was aware of the time.

In the 1960s, stadiums installed official game clocks that were visible to all players and fans. Players and fans no longer needed the two-minute warning as they could look at the game clock.

Therefore, the two-minute warning has been rendered unnecessary and obsolete for the last sixty years.

You may wonder why the two-minute warning still exists.  

When this question was posed to Rich McKay, chairman of the NFL competition committee, he responded, “Teams rely on the two-minute warning as an extra timeout, and it gives the league another opportunity for commercials, so don’t look for that to change.” [4]

According to Ethan Trex in 2009, “The league didn’t want to do away with the two-minute warning, though, which had become an important strategic part of the game, helped build excitement during game-closing drives, and offered broadcasters an opportunity to sell an extra set of commercials.” [5]

Without sounding too cynical, there is only one reason that things rendered obsolete remain in existence: the almighty dollar.

Do Other Leagues Have a Two-Minute Warning?

The simple answer is no. 

There is no two-minute warning game stoppage in college or high school football; however, in college football, the referee notifies head coaches and team captains when two minutes are remaining in each half. 

In high school football, the referees notify the coaches of three minutes remaining in each half.

The Canadian Football League has a three-minute warning, while the Arena Football League has a one-minute warning [6]

The two-minute warning is unique to the NFL, and while the original purpose of the two-minute warning is long since gone, it now serves as a revenue stream that precludes its removal.



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