Football is a game dependent upon timing. Therefore, all eleven players must move in unison to execute a successful play.
A traditional snap count enables all offensive players to move together as the center snaps the football.
However, in noisy environments, the traditional snap count is useless. Teams must use the silent snap count when the offensive players cannot hear the quarterback.
In this article, I’ll explore the silent count, how it works, its impact on pro football, and who introduced the practice to pro football.
- A silent count is when the snap of the football relies on visual cues rather than the quarterback’s voice.
- The silent count revolutionized pro football, as no longer were offensive linemen dependent on hearing the quarterback’s snap count. They simply watched for the center’s signal and counted internally, allowing them to remain focused on their blocking assignments.
- The silent count provided a miraculous remedy for excessive crowd noise that had rendered offensive line coordination and communication impossible.
What is the Silent Count?
The silent count employs visual cues rather than the quarterback’s voice (auditory cues) to snap the football.
The silent snap count is used in noisy environments when the traditional snap count, which relies on hearing the quarterback, is impossible.
The silent count enables the offensive linemen to remain focused on the defensive linemen they are assigned to block, despite being unable to hear the quarterback.
Prior to the advent of the silent count in 1998, offensive linemen needed to watch the center snap the football and only then turn their focus to the defensive linemen. Such a half-second delay provided a great advantage to the defensive linemen.
You might ask, “Why did the offensive linemen watch the snap if it disrupted their ability to block”?
Offensive linemen must move precisely as the center snaps the football. If they cannot hear the quarterback’s snap count, they must watch for the snap of the football. If the linemen move before the snap, they are penalized five yards for a false start penalty. Conversely, if the linemen are delayed in their movement, the defender gains a considerable advantage. 
The silent count allows offensive linemen to get off the ball with pinpoint timing without the need to hear the quarterback or watch the center snap the football.
When offenses use the silent count, linemen watch for the center’s signal and count internally to themselves, enabling their focus to remain squarely on their blocking assignments.
How Does the Silent Count Work?
The execution of the silent count is straightforward. Suppose the quarterback tells the offense that the football is snapped “on three.” If the quarterback is under center, he signals to the center that he is ready to receive the ball by tapping the center on the rear end. The center then lifts his head and looks at the defensive player across from him.
Lifting the head by the center is the visual signal to the rest of the offensive line that the silent snap count is starting. The offensive linemen all count to themselves, “One-one-thousand,” “Two-one-thousand,” and at “three-one-thousand,” the center snaps the football. 
If the quarterback tells the offense that the football is snapped “on two,” the same process is followed, but the center snaps the football on “two-one-thousand.”
The initial example involved a silent snap count “on three.” The center snaps the football after lifting his head and then counting silently to himself, “one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand,” while snapping the football when he reaches “three-one-thousand” in his head.
The silent count is very different from the traditional snap count with which every football fan is familiar.
A traditional snap count (non-silent) refers to the number of times a quarterback vocalizes a particular word, usually “hut,” before the ball is snapped by the center to the quarterback, signaling the beginning of a play.
In the traditional snap count, where the football is also snapped “on three,” the quarterback approaches the line of scrimmage in a semi-quiet environment and says a particular word, usually “hut,” three times, and the ball is snapped on the third “hut”. 
Quantifying the Impact of the Silent Count
The silent snap count first appeared in the NFL in 1998, and by 2000 its implementation was widespread.
For those wondering about the effectiveness of the silent snap count, consider this: a single team has recorded more than sixty sacks in a season on twenty occasions. Only one of those seasons occurred after 2000; the 2006 San Diego Chargers recorded 61 sacks. 
Additionally, the official leader in NFL sacks is Bruce Smith, with two hundred. Reggie White is second on that list with 198 official sacks. No other player in NFL history owns a sack total in excess of 160. Both Smith and White began their careers in 1985, while ending their careers in 2003 and 2000, respectively.
Read more: WHO IS THE OLDEST ACTIVE PLAYER IN THE NFL?
It’s no coincidence that these two Hall of Famers amassed their unreachable sack totals almost entirely before the advent of the silent count. 
Who Brought the Silent Count to the NFL?
After an injury-shortened Pro Bowl career as an offensive guard from 1964-1970, Howard Mudd went on to enjoy a decorated coaching career for forty years.
At the time of Mudd’s hire, the Colts were perennial leaders in sacks allowed, and they drafted generational talent and future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning with the first selection in the 1998 NFL Draft.
The Colts assigned Mudd the unenviable task of keeping Manning upright, a job he performed brilliantly via the implementation of the silent count.
The silent snap count revolutionized the NFL, allowing offensive linemen to watch the men they were assigned to block instead of first watching for the football snap and then turning their heads to address the pass rushers. 
While Mudd deserves credit for implementing the silent snap count in the NFL, the architect was Andy Macdonald, who spent his early coaching career at the Michigan School for the Deaf.
Macdonald had ingeniously invented a system for the offensive line to communicate in silence. When Macdonald and Mudd both served as assistant coaches for the Seattle Seahawks in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Mudd recalls a conversation with Macdonald about his coaching experience at Flint’s Michigan School for the Deaf.
Mudd asked, “How do they coordinate the offensive line for the snap?” If a deaf team could launch a play in silence, why couldn’t an NFL team? 
Nearly two decades after the Macdonald/Mudd conversation, Howard Mudd delivered the silent snap count to pro football and forever altered the NFL landscape.