The fair catch kick is a rule at the professional and high school levels of American football that allows a team that has just made a fair catch to attempt a free kickfrom the spot of the catch. The kick must be either a place kick or a drop kick, and if it passes over the crossbar and between the goalposts of the opposing team's goal, a field goal, worth three points, is awarded to the kicking team.
The fair catch kick is considered to be an obscure rule and it is rarely attempted. Because most fair catches are made well out of field goal range, and a team making a fair catch has possession of the ball and a first down, it is rarely to a team's advantage to attempt a fair catch kick rather than run a play from scrimmage. A team may attempt a fair catch kick if it makes a fair catch within reasonable range when the clock expires at the end of either half, as a half must be extended in order to allow a fair catch kick attempt. At the professional level, the last successful fair catch kick was made by Ray Wersching of the San Diego Chargers in 1976.
The fair catch kick has its origins in rugby football's goal from mark, which has since been abolished in both major rugby codes; a similar rule, the mark, is a major part of Australian rules football.
The fair catch kick rule states that, after a player has successfully made a fair catch or has been awarded a fair catch as the result of a penalty such as kick catch interference, their team can attempt a kick from the spot of the catch;the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) rulebook also allows a kick to be made if the down following the fair catch or awarded fair catch has to be replayed. Prior to the kick, the opposing team must be lined up at least ten yards beyond the spot of the ball. The kick itself can be either a place kick or drop kick; a kicking tee cannot be used at the professional level, but use of a tee up to two inches in height is permitted at the high school level. Like other field goal attempts, the kicking team is awarded three points if the kick goes above the crossbar and between the goalposts of the opposing team's goal and did not touch a player of the kicking team after the kick. If the attempt fails, the opposing team is awarded control of the ball from the spot of the kick. The opposing team can also return the kick if it does not go out of bounds.
In the NFHS rulebook, the fair catch kick is specifically defined as a free kick.The National Football League (NFL) rulebook specifically states that the fair catch kick is not a free kick, instead considering the fair catch kick to be a distinct type of kick. Despite this, reporters at both levels describe the fair catch kick as a free kick.
The fair catch kick found in American football originated in rugby football. A similar rule in rugby, the goal from mark, allowed a player who had fair caught a ball to attempt an uncontested free kick from the spot of the fair catch. Both major codes of rugby have eliminated the rule; rugby league abolished the goal from mark in 1922, and rugby union removed it in 1977.Australian rules football has retained the rule, and it is a vital part of the Australian game; a "fair catch" of a ball kicked more than 15 meters in the air is called a mark, and the player making the mark is then awarded a free kick. The fair catch kick has been present in the NFL rulebook since the league's inception, and also remains in the NFHS rulebook. The fair catch kick is not legal in National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) football; the NCAA abolished the fair catch in 1950, but re-added it a year later. When the fair catch returned to the rulebook, however, the option to attempt a kick after the fair catch was removed.
The fair catch kick rule is very rarely invoked,and is one of the rarest plays in football. The rule has been regarded as "obscure", "bizarre", and "quirky". A unique set of circumstances is required for a fair catch kick to be a viable option. For one, the fair catch would need to be made at a point on the field where a field goal attempt has a reasonable chance of being successful; most fair catches are made well outside of field goal range.
Furthermore, for a fair catch kick to be a viable option near the end of the fourth quarter, the team attempting the kick needs to be either tied or behind by three points or fewer; even if such a situation were to occur, a coach might still decline to attempt a fair catch kick. For example, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, known for his knowledge and utilization of obscure football rules, declined the opportunity to attempt a 75-yard fair catch kick at the end of Super Bowl LI; although kicker Stephen Gostkowski was able to kick the ball that far and the game was tied, Belichick felt the risk of a return touchdown by the opposing team off a failed kick outweighed the opportunity to score from the kick.Art McNally, who led the officiating department of the National Football League from 1968 to 1990, said that even in the event a fair catch is made within field goal range, most teams would attempt to score a touchdown unless there is not enough time left to score one. Accordingly, most fair catch kick attempts occur when a team has fair-caught a ball from a punt from deep in their opponent's territory but there is not enough time left in the half to go for a touchdown.
Despite its drawbacks, there are several unique advantages to using the fair catch kick. Because the defense is required to be ten yards beyond the spot of the kick, the kicker can take a running start before kicking as opposed to the typical two steps taken on regular field goal attempts. Similarly, the kicker does not have to worry about a low snap because the ball is not snapped. The defense is not able to block the kick, allowing the kicker to give the ball a lower trajectory than usual. The fair catch kick would also be of a shorter distance than a normal field goal attempt from the same spot, because the fair catch kick is taken from the spot of the catch, while a typical field goal is taken seven yards back from the line of scrimmage.
The NFL does not keep a record of fair catch kick attempts, so the exact number of attempts is unknown.Out of the 26 recorded fair catch kick attempts in regular season and postseason games, six were successful; all five known attempts in exhibition games were unsuccessful. With one exception, all fair catch kick attempts were made within the last 30 seconds of either the 2nd or 4th quarter. The last successful attempt was made in 1976 by Ray Wersching of the San Diego Chargers (45 yards), and the longest successful attempt was made in 1964 by Paul Hornung of the Green Bay Packers (52 yards). The most recent fair catch kick attempt was by Carolina Panthers kicker Joey Slye, who missed a 60-yard fair catch kick wide right on October 13, 2019.
|Date||Kicker||Kicking team||Opponent||Yards||Result||Game time||Note(s)||Reference(s)|
|November 6, 1921||Curly Lambeau||Green Bay Packers||Evansville Crimson Giants||35||Good||2nd Quarter||Made after a "sky high" punt that went only about 25 yards.|
|November 8, 1925||George Abramson||Green Bay Packers||Chicago Cardinals||35||Missed||4th quarter||Game played in snow on a muddy field.|
|November 26, 1933||Ken Strong||New York Giants||Green Bay Packers||30||Good||3rd quarter|
|October 23, 1955||Ben Agajanian||New York Giants||Pittsburgh Steelers||56||Missed||2nd quarter (0:30)|
|November 2, 1958||Gordy Soltau||San Francisco 49ers||Detroit Lions||61||Missed||2nd quarter (0:15)|
|September 13, 1964||Sam Baker||Philadelphia Eagles||New York Giants||47||Missed||2nd quarter (0:00)|
|September 13, 1964||Paul Hornung||Green Bay Packers||Chicago Bears||52||Good||2nd quarter (0:00)||Longest recorded successful fair catch kick in NFL.|
|December 4, 1966||Fred Cox||Minnesota Vikings||Atlanta Falcons||40||Good||2nd quarter (0:00)|
|November 23, 1967||Bruce Gossett||Los Angeles Rams||Detroit Lions||55||Missed||2nd quarter (0:03)|
|November 3, 1968||Mac Percival||Chicago Bears||Green Bay Packers||43||Good||4th quarter (0:20)||Game-winning field goal|
|December 8, 1968||Fred Cox||Minnesota Vikings||San Francisco 49ers||47||Missed||2nd quarter (0:00)|
|October 5, 1969||Curt Knight||Washington Redskins||San Francisco 49ers||56||Missed||4th quarter (0:02)||The game finished as a 17–17 tie.|
|November 23, 1969||Tom Dempsey||New Orleans Saints||San Francisco 49ers||57||Missed||2nd quarter (0:00)|
|December 21, 1969||Sam Baker||Philadelphia Eagles||San Francisco 49ers||49||Missed||2nd quarter (0:00)|
|November 1, 1970||Curt Knight||Washington Redskins||Denver Broncos||49||Missed||2nd quarter (0:00)|
|November 8, 1971||David Ray||Los Angeles Rams||Baltimore Colts||45||Missed||2nd quarter (0:00)|
|November 21, 1976||Ray Wersching||San Diego Chargers||Buffalo Bills||45||Good||2nd quarter (0:00)||Last known successful fair catch kick in the NFL.|
|November 25, 1979||Mark Moseley||Washington Redskins||New York Giants||74||Missed||4th quarter||Longest field goal attempt on record until 2008.|
|September 29, 1980||Fred Steinfort||Denver Broncos||New England Patriots||73||Missed||2nd quarter (0:00)|
|November 18, 1984||Raul Allegre||Indianapolis Colts||New England Patriots||61||Missed||2nd quarter (0:00)||Fair catch was made on a botched squib kick.|
|January 1, 1989||Mike Cofer||San Francisco 49ers||Minnesota Vikings||60||Missed||2nd quarter (0:00)||NFC Divisional Playoff game|
|October 9, 2005||Rob Bironas||Tennessee Titans||Houston Texans||58||Missed||2nd quarter (0:00)|
|November 23, 2008||Neil Rackers||Arizona Cardinals||New York Giants||68||Missed||2nd quarter (0:05)|
|December 28, 2008||Mason Crosby||Green Bay Packers||Detroit Lions||69||Missed||2nd quarter (0:00)||Ball was on target but fell just short of the crossbar.|
|September 26, 2013||Phil Dawson||San Francisco 49ers||St. Louis Rams||71||Missed||2nd quarter (0:04)|
|October 13, 2019||Joey Slye||Carolina Panthers||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||60||Missed||2nd quarter (0:01)||Game played in London|
|Date||Kicker||Kicking team||Opponent||Yards||Result||Game time||Note(s)||Reference(s)|
|January 9, 1966||Lou Michaels||Baltimore Colts||Dallas Cowboys||57||Missed||2nd quarter (0:00)||Playoff Bowl game|
|July 29, 1972||Chester Marcol||College All-Stars||Dallas Cowboys||68||Missed||2nd quarter (0:00)||Chicago College All-Star Game|
|August 9, 1972||Mac Percival||Chicago Bears||Houston Oilers||60||Missed||4th quarter (0:15)|
|August 31, 1986||Rafael Septién||Dallas Cowboys||Houston Oilers||53||Missed||4th quarter (0:00)|
|August 8, 1993||Chris Gardocki||Chicago Bears||Philadelphia Eagles||63||Missed||2nd quarter (0:00)|
A drop kick is a type of kick in various codes of football. It involves a player dropping the ball and then kicking it as it touches the ground.
A free kick is an action used in several codes of football to restart play with the kicking of a ball into the field of play.
Gridiron football, also known as North American football or, in North America, simply football, is a family of football team sports primarily played in the United States and Canada. American football, which uses 11-player teams, is the form played in the United States and the best known form of gridiron football worldwide, while Canadian football, featuring 12-player teams, predominates in Canada. Other derivative varieties include indoor football and Arena football, football for smaller teams, and informal games such as touch and flag football. Football is played at professional, collegiate, high school, semi-professional, and amateur levels.
In gridiron football, an onside kick is a kickoff deliberately kicked short in an attempt by the kicking team to regain possession of the ball. This is in contrast with a typical kickoff, in which the kicking team intends to give the ball to the other team and thus kicks the ball far downfield in order to maximize the distance the receiving team has to advance the ball in order to score. The risk to the team attempting an onside kick is that if it is unsuccessful and the receiving team gets the ball, the receiving team usually has a much better field position than it might have with a normal kickoff. Rules and procedures for onside kicks differ between the different codes and leagues of gridiron football.
A fair catch is a feature of American football and several other codes of football, in which a player attempting to catch a ball kicked by the opposing team – either on a kickoff or punt – is entitled to catch the ball without interference from any member of the kicking team. A ball caught in this manner becomes dead once caught, i.e., the player catching the ball is not entitled to advance the ball, and the receiving team begins its drive at the spot where the ball was caught. Under NFL and NFHS rules, a team awarded a fair catch is also entitled to attempt a fair catch kick from the spot of the catch; however, this is rarely done. A player wishing to make a fair catch signals his intent by extending one arm above his head and waving it while the kicked ball is in flight.
In American football, a touchback is a ruling which is made and signaled by an official when the ball becomes dead on or behind a team's own goal line and the opposing team gave the ball the momentum, or impetus, to travel over or across the goal line. Since the 2018 season, touchbacks have also been awarded in college football on kickoffs that end in a fair catch by the receiving team between its own 25-yard line and goal line. Such impetus may be imparted by a kick, pass, fumble, or in certain instances by batting the ball. A touchback is not a play, but a result of events that may occur during a play. A touchback is the opposite of a safety with regard to impetus since a safety is scored when the ball becomes dead in a team's end zone after that team — the team whose end zone it is — caused the ball to cross the goal line.
American and Canadian football are gridiron codes of football that are very similar; both have their origins in rugby football, but some key differences exist.
Gameplay in American football consists of a series of downs, individual plays of short duration, outside of which the ball is dead or not in play. These can be plays from scrimmage – passes, runs, punts, or field goal attempts – or free kicks such as kickoffs and fair catch kicks. Substitutions can be made between downs, which allows for a great deal of specialization as coaches choose the players best suited for each particular situation. During a play, each team should have no more than 11 players on the field, and each of them has specific tasks assigned for that specific play.
A kickoff is a method of starting a drive in gridiron football. Typically, a kickoff consists of one team – the "kicking team" – kicking the ball to the opposing team – the "receiving team". The receiving team is then entitled to return the ball, i.e., attempt to advance it towards the kicking team's end zone, until the player with the ball is tackled by the kicking team, goes out of bounds, or scores a touchdown. Kickoffs take place at the start of each half of play, the beginning of overtime in some overtime formats, and after scoring plays.
In gridiron football, the safety or safety touch is a scoring play that results in two points being awarded to the scoring team. Safeties can be scored in a number of ways, such as when a ball carrier is tackled in his own end zone or when a foul is committed by the offense in their own end zone. After a safety is scored in American football, the ball is kicked off to the team that scored the safety from the 20-yard line; in Canadian football, the scoring team also has the options of taking control of the ball at their own 35-yard line or kicking off the ball, also at their own 35-yard line. The ability of the scoring team to receive the ball through a kickoff differs from the touchdown and field goal, which require the scoring team to kick the ball off to the scored upon team. Despite being of relatively low point value, safeties can have a significant impact on the result of games, and Brian Burke of Advanced NFL Stats estimated that safeties have a greater abstract value than field goals, despite being worth a point less, due to the field position and reclaimed possession gained off the safety kick.
High school football is gridiron football played by high school teams in the United States and Canada. It ranks among the most popular interscholastic sports in both countries, but its popularity is declining. According to the Washington Post, between 2009 and 2019, participation in high school football has declined by 9%.
A field goal (FG) is a means of scoring in gridiron football. To score a field goal, the team in possession of the ball must place kick, or drop kick, the ball through the goal, i.e., between the uprights and over the crossbar. American football requires that a field goal must only come during a play from scrimmage, while Canadian football retains open field kicks and thus field goals may be scored at any time from anywhere on the field and by any player. The vast majority of field goals, in both codes, are place kicked. Drop kicked field goals were common in the early days of gridiron football but are almost never done in modern times. In most leagues, a successful field goal awards three points.
The place kick is a type of kicking play commonly used in American football, association football (soccer), Canadian football, rugby league, and rugby union.
A return specialist or kick returner is a player on the special teams unit of a gridiron football team who specializes in returning punts and kickoffs. There are few players who are exclusively return specialists; most also play another position such as wide receiver, defensive back, or running back. The special teams counterpart of a return specialist is a kicking specialist.
The following terms are used in American football, both conventional and indoor. Some of these terms are also in use in Canadian football; for a list of terms unique to that code, see Glossary of Canadian football.
American football, referred to simply as football in the United States and Canada and also known as gridiron, is a team sport played by two teams of eleven players on a rectangular field with goalposts at each end. The offense, the team with possession of the oval-shaped football, attempts to advance down the field by running with the ball or passing it, while the defense, the team without possession of the ball, aims to stop the offense's advance and to take control of the ball for themselves. The offense must advance at least ten yards in four downs or plays; if they fail, they turn over the football to the defense, but if they succeed, they are given a new set of four downs to continue the drive. Points are scored primarily by advancing the ball into the opposing team's end zone for a touchdown or kicking the ball through the opponent's goalposts for a field goal. The team with the most points at the end of a game wins.
In gridiron football, a two-point conversion or two-point convert is a play a team attempts instead of kicking a one-point conversion immediately after it scores a touchdown. In a two-point conversion attempt, the team that just scored must run a play from scrimmage close to the opponent's goal line and advance the ball across the goal line in the same manner as if they were scoring a touchdown. If the team succeeds, it earns two additional points on top of the six points for the touchdown, for a total of eight points. If the team fails, no additional points are scored. In either case, if any time remains in the half, the team proceeds to a kickoff.
In gridiron football, a punt is a kick performed by dropping the ball from the hands and then kicking the ball before it hits the ground. The most common use of this tactic is to punt the ball downfield to the opposing team, usually on the final down, with the hope of giving the receiving team a field position that is more advantageous to the kicking team when possession changes. The result of a typical punt, barring any penalties or extraordinary circumstances, is a first down for the receiving team. A punt is not to be confused with a drop kick, a kick after the ball hits the ground, now rare in both American and Canadian football.
The conversion, try, or convert occurs immediately after a touchdown during which the scoring team is allowed to attempt to score one extra point by kicking the ball through the uprights in the manner of a field goal, or two points by bringing the ball into the end zone in the manner of a touchdown.
On January 11, 2015, the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers played an NFC Divisional Playoff game at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The game gained notoriety after a play in which Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant attempted to catch a pass from quarterback Tony Romo in the closing minutes of the 4th quarter. The pass was initially ruled a catch before controversially being overturned after officials determined Bryant did not complete the process of a catch while he was lunging towards the end zone. The Packers would get the ball on the turnover on downs and run out the clock. They won by a score of 26–21 and moved on to the NFC Championship game. In the proceeding years, the National Football League (NFL) changed the rules regarding catching a pass while falling to the ground. The new rules would have given Bryant a completed catch. This game has gone by such names as "Dez Caught It" or the "No-Catch Game."