The fair catch kick is a rarely used rule in some forms of American football that allows a team, after making a fair catch of an opponent's kick, to attempt a field goal freely from the spot of the catch. At one time a very similar rule existed in rugby union called goal from mark.
Rules and variations
Fair catch kicks can only occur when a member of the receiving team signals for, and successfully makes, a fair catch (or is awarded a fair catch after a kick-catch interference penalty). The receiving team then has the option of resuming play either by snap or fair catch kick. If the receiving team elects the fair catch kick option, their kicker can make a field goal attempt from the spot where the fair catch was made and the opposing team must line up at least ten yards downfield. The kicker then may either place kick the ball from a teammate's hold (a kickoff tee may be used in high school) or drop kick the ball. At this point, all general rules apply as for a field goal attempt from scrimmage. The clock starts when the ball is kicked. Three points are awarded for kicking the ball through the uprights. If the kick is unsuccessful, the rules are similar to that of a normal missed field goal: the opposing team has the option of fielding the ball and attempting a runback, or of taking possession at the spot of the kick. A successful fair catch kick is followed by a normal kick off.
The fair catch kick, which was originally considered by the NFL as a type of a free kick, has unique rules which distinguish it from free kicks, such as kickoffs. Most significantly, it is the only variant in which a kicking team can score a field goal. Also, onside kicks are not permitted; the ball cannot be recovered by the kicking team unless first touched by the receiving team. In high school football, if the kicking team can recover or catch the ball beyond the receiving team's free-kick line before the ball becomes dead, they take possession of the ball.
Fair catch kicks are permitted in the National Football League and at the high school level. Under National Federation of State High School Associations rules, a fair catch kick can be attempted under more circumstances; the option remains available if a dead ball foul occurs before the next play, or if a live ball foul occurs which leads to a replay of the down. Fair catch kicks are not permitted at the collegiate level under NCAA rules.
The last successful fair catch kick in the NFL was by Ray Wersching in 1976 for the San Diego Chargers against the Buffalo Bills. Since then, seven fair-catch kicks have been attempted. Most recently, Mason Crosby of the Green Bay Packers attempted an unsuccessful 69-yard fair catch kick against the Detroit Lions on December 28, 2008. This kick missed by only a few yards. Had he made the kick, it would have been considered the longest kick in league history, as it would have exceeded the record of 63 yards currently shared by Tom Dempsey, Jason Elam, Sebastian Janikowski, and David Akers for a traditional field goal.
Circumstances of use
A fair catch kick is very rarely attempted, as only a specific combination of circumstances makes it advantageous for the receiving side. The punt or free kick must be fair-caught at a point close enough to make a field goal attempt plausible. There will usually be insufficient time to run more than one play from scrimmage, so is only likely to be seen when the punt would otherwise be the last or next-to-last play of the half. If occurring in the second half, the receiving team would presumably be tied or trailing by three points or fewer so that a successful field goal is significant. Finally, when these rare circumstances are present, a well-coached kicking team should recognize that it is not in their best interests to allow their opponents to make a successful fair catch. They may thus employ any of several tactics to avoid that outcome, such as deliberately kicking the ball out of bounds or far away from any opponent, or running a non-punting play from scrimmage that allows the game clock to expire safely.
In the NFL, a fair catch kick may still be attempted if the half or overtime ends on the fair catch play. This is not automatic; a team's captain or coach must exercise this option.
There are several reasons to prefer a fair catch kick to a normal field goal attempt from scrimmage. A fair catch kick is taken from the same yard-line of the catch rather than the usual seven to eight yards back. The defending team must remain 10 yards downfield before the kick. This allows the placekicker a full running start rather than the normal two-step approach, with no concerns about a poor snap from center or a low angle of trajectory that might allow the defense to block the kick.
Known attempts in the NFL
- All attempts in this list are from National Football League games. The "Game time" column shows the time remaining in minutes and seconds, and the number of the quarter.
Regular season and postseason
|November 20, 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||0:30, 2nd|||
|November 2, 1958||Gordy Soltau||San Francisco 49ers||Detroit Lions||61||wide right||0:15, 2nd|||
|September 13, 1964||Sam Baker||Philadelphia Eagles||New York Giants||47||short||0:00, 2nd|||
|September 13, 1964||Paul Hornung||Green Bay Packers||Chicago Bears||52||good||0:00, 2nd|||
|December 4, 1966||Fred Cox||Minnesota Vikings||Atlanta Falcons||40||good||0:00, 2nd|||
|November 23, 1967||Bruce Gossett||Los Angeles Rams||Detroit Lions||55||short||0:03, 2nd|||
|November 3, 1968||Mac Percival||Chicago Bears||Green Bay Packers||43||good||0:20, 4th||game-winning kick|
|December 8, 1968||Fred Cox||Minnesota Vikings||San Francisco 49ers||47||short||0:00, 2nd|||
|October 5, 1969||Curt Knight||Washington Redskins||San Francisco 49ers||56||wide left||0:02, 4th||Game tied 17-17|
|November 23, 1969||Tom Dempsey||New Orleans Saints||San Francisco 49ers||57||short/wide left||0:00, 2nd|||
|November 1, 1970||Curt Knight||Washington Redskins||Denver Broncos||49||missed||0:00, 2nd|||
|November 8, 1971||David Ray||Los Angeles Rams||Baltimore Colts||45||missed||0:00, 2nd||Monday Night Football|
|November 21, 1976||Ray Wersching||San Diego Chargers||Buffalo Bills||45||good||0:00, 2nd||Last known successful fair catch kick. |
|November 25, 1979||Mark Moseley||Washington Redskins||New York Giants||74||short||4th quarter||Longest FG attempt on record until 2008. |
|September 29, 1980||Fred Steinfort||Denver Broncos||New England Patriots||73||missed||0:00, 2nd||Monday Night Football|
|November 18, 1984||Raul Allegre||Indianapolis Colts||New England Patriots||61||short||0:00, 2nd||Fair catch of onside kick|
|January 1, 1989||Mike Cofer||San Francisco 49ers||Minnesota Vikings||60||short||0:00, 2nd||NFC Divisional Playoff|
|October 9, 2005||Rob Bironas||Tennessee Titans||Houston Texans||58||short||0:00, 2nd|||
|November 23, 2008||Neil Rackers||Arizona Cardinals||New York Giants||68||short||0:05, 2nd|||
|December 28, 2008||Mason Crosby||Green Bay Packers||Detroit Lions||69||short||0:00, 2nd|
|January 9, 1966||Lou Michaels||Baltimore Colts||Dallas Cowboys||57||wide||0:00, 2nd||Playoff Bowl|
|July 29, 1972||Chester Marcol||College All-Stars||Dallas Cowboys||68||short||0:00, 2nd||All-Star Game|
|August 11, 1972||Mac Percival||Chicago Bears||Houston Oilers||55||short||0:15, 4th|||
|August 31, 1986||Rafael Septien||Dallas Cowboys||Houston Oilers||53||missed||0:00, 4th|||
|August 8, 1993||Chris Gardocki||Chicago Bears||Philadelphia Eagles||63||short||0:00, 2nd|||
- This list includes only fair catches made with no time remaining in a half, or where the fair-catching team attempted a field goal on the next play.
- Tied at 24, the Lions fair caught a punt on the Baltimore 42 with 24 seconds left. However, they inexplicably decided to attempt a 50-yard FG from scrimmage rather than the 42-yard free kick; Wayne Walker's attempt was low, nearly blocked, and came up short. The game ended in a 24–24 tie.
- Tied at 24, the Chiefs Dennis Homan fair caught a punt at his own 32 as time ran out in regulation. Chiefs' coach Hank Stram feared a Mercury Morris return of a short miss of the 68-yard FG, and decided not to kick. Also playing into Stram's decision was the fact Jan Stenerud missed two field goals earlier in the game, including a 32-yard attempt with 35 seconds left that would have won the game. Stenerud had a 42-yard attempt in the first overtime blocked, and Garo Yepremian later missed a 52-yard attempt in the first overtime. Yepremian then ended the longest game in NFL history with a 37-yard field goal 7:40 into the second overtime, giving Miami a 27–24 victory.
- Down 31–24, New England's Irving Fryar inexplicably fair caught a punt deep in his own territory with no time left. The Patriots did not request the kick (the distance was prohibitive and a successful field goal would have had no effect on the outcome), nor did the referees ask them if they wanted one. Referee Jerry Seeman said after the game that "it's the player's responsibility to come and ask for the extension."
- Wane McGarity fair caught a punt on the Atlanta 47 with no time left in the first half. Dallas coach Chan Gailey knew of the rule, and had specifically instructed McGarity to fair catch the punt if it was inside the 50, but Gailey forgot that he would be able to attempt the kick with no time left on the clock. Instead, the Cowboys went to the locker room.
- Tied at 13, Eddie Drummond fair caught a punt at his own 28 with no time left in regulation. The Lions reasonably declined the chance at making an 82-yard free kick, and the game went to overtime.
- Down 16–14, Troy Walters fair caught a punt at his own 33 with no time left in regulation. Arizona's Robert Griffith was offside on the punt, but Rams coach Scott Linehan declined the penalty, thinking the game was over. Neil Rackers and the Cardinals' field goal unit lined up for the 77-yard free kick, but the Rams, given another chance to accept the penalty, did so, and downed the ball on the final play of the game.
- Markbreit, Jerry (2005-11-16). "Jerry Markbreit's answers: The former NFL referee answers readers' questions every week throughout the season". Chicago Tribune. http://chicagosports.chicagotribune.com/sports/football/bears/askthereferee/cs-051116askjerrymarkbreit,1,4258807.story?coll=cs-bears-asktheref-headlines.
- Silverstein, Tom (December 28, 2008). "Packers Replay/What If...". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. http://www.jsonline.com/sports/packers/36814409.html. Retrieved 2009-01-07.
- Kelley, Robert F. (Nov. 27, 1933). "Giants turn back Green Bay by 17-6". The New York Times, p. 21.
- Effrat, Louis (Oct. 24, 1955). "Giants defeated by Steelers in seesaw contest at Polo Grounds". The New York Times, p. 31.
- "Old-timers Perry, McElhenny, Tittle star in 24-21 rally". (Nov. 3, 1958). Los Angeles Times, p. c1.
- Wallace, William N. (Sep. 14, 1964). "Safetyman blitz shackles Tittle". The New York Times, p. 44.
- White, Gordon S., Jr. (Sep. 14, 1964). "Rout of Chicago led by Hornung". The New York Times, p. 44.
- Rollow, Cooper (Dec. 11, 1966). "Berry almost blanked out on play that whipped the Bears". Chicago Tribune, p. E3.
- Florence, Mal (Nov. 25, 1967). "Wanted three points". Los Angeles Times, p. a2.
- "Bears upset Packers, 13 to 10, on free kick in final seconds". (Nov. 4, 1968). The New York Times, p. 62.
- Mayer, Larry (2012-03-09). "Bears shocked Packers with last-minute free kick". Chicagobears.com. http://www.chicagobears.com/news/article-1/Bears-shocked-Packers-with-last-minute-free-kick/3D918F1C-7F1F-4740-AB17-D213D2398015. Retrieved 2012-09-09.
- Dozer, Richard (Dec. 9, 1968). "Vikings stay alive". Chicago Tribune, p. g1.
- "Redskins tie 49ers, 17-17". (Oct. 6, 1969). The New York Times, p. 64.
- Rollow, Cooper (Nov. 30, 1969). "Pro football patter". Chicago Tribune, p. b4.
- "Jurgensen on target". (Nov. 2, 1970). Los Angeles Times, p. d8.
- Oates, Bob (Nov. 9, 1971). "L.A.'s special teams cost win in Baltimore". Los Angeles Times, p. d1.
- Katz, Michael (Nov. 26, 1979). "Giants topple Redskins, 14-6". The New York Times, p. C1.
- Roberts, Ernie (Jan. 21, 1981). "Color Rockingham grey". The Boston Globe, p. 1.
- "Colt 'free kick' no consequence". (Nov. 14, 1984). Indianapolis News, p. 30.
- "One play gave New York 2 hits". (Jan. 3, 1989). Los Angeles Times, p. 2.
- NFL recap
- "ESPN - NY Giants vs. Arizona - Box Score - November 23, 2008". Sports-ak.espn.go.com. http://sports-ak.espn.go.com/nfl/boxscore?gameId=281123022. Retrieved 2008-11-24.
- "Matte's passing paces Colts to 35-to-3 upset of Cowboys in Playoff Bowl". (Jan. 10, 1966). The New York Times, p. 19.
- Damer, Roy (Jul. 29, 1972). "Morton leads pro kings". Chicago Tribune, p. n_c1.
- Pierson, Don (Aug. 11, 1972). "Bears defeat Oilers 20-17". Chicago Tribune, p. c1.
- "Oilers 17, Cowboys 14". (Aug. 31, 1986). The New York Times, p. S9.
- Mitchell, Fred (Aug. 9, 1993). "63-yard fg try on free kick falls short". Chicago Tribune, p. 4.
- Strickler, George (Nov. 26, 1965). "Colts tie Lions, 24-24, in 4th quarter". Chicago Tribune, p. e1.
- Markus, Robert (Dec. 28, 1971). "Along the sports trail". Chicago Tribune, p. c3.
- "Jets hold off Patriots to win, 31-24". (Oct. 13, 1986). The Washington Post, p. C6.
- "Dallas". (Sep. 22, 1999). The New York Times, p. D6.
- Detroit vs Chicago gamebook(PDF)
- NFL Game Center: Game Recap - St. Louis Rams at Arizona Cardinals - 2006 3
- National Football League. Digest of Rules
- NCAA (College) and NFHS (High School) Rules and Rules Changes