American Football Database

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.[citation needed] Fair catch kicks are not permitted at the collegiate level under NCAA rules.[1]

The last successful fair catch kick in the NFL was by Ray Wersching in 1976 for the San Diego Chargers against the Buffalo Bills.[2] 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.[3] 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.[3]

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

Date Kicker Team Opponent Yards Result Game time Notes
November 20, 1933 Ken Strong New York Giants Green Bay Packers 30 good 3rd quarter [4]
October 23, 1955 Ben Agajanian New York Giants Pittsburgh Steelers 56 missed 0:30, 2nd [5]
November 2, 1958 Gordy Soltau San Francisco 49ers Detroit Lions 61 wide right 0:15, 2nd [6]
September 13, 1964 Sam Baker Philadelphia Eagles New York Giants 47 short 0:00, 2nd [7]
September 13, 1964 Paul Hornung Green Bay Packers Chicago Bears 52 good 0:00, 2nd [8]
December 4, 1966 Fred Cox Minnesota Vikings Atlanta Falcons 40 good 0:00, 2nd [9]
November 23, 1967 Bruce Gossett Los Angeles Rams Detroit Lions 55 short 0:03, 2nd [10]
November 3, 1968 Mac Percival Chicago Bears Green Bay Packers 43 good 0:20, 4th game-winning kick[11][12]
December 8, 1968 Fred Cox Minnesota Vikings San Francisco 49ers 47 short 0:00, 2nd [13]
October 5, 1969 Curt Knight Washington Redskins San Francisco 49ers 56 wide left 0:02, 4th Game tied 17-17[14]
November 23, 1969 Tom Dempsey New Orleans Saints San Francisco 49ers 57 short/wide left 0:00, 2nd [15]
November 1, 1970 Curt Knight Washington Redskins Denver Broncos 49 missed 0:00, 2nd [16]
November 8, 1971 David Ray Los Angeles Rams Baltimore Colts 45 missed 0:00, 2nd Monday Night Football[17]
November 21, 1976 Ray Wersching San Diego Chargers Buffalo Bills 45 good 0:00, 2nd Last known successful fair catch kick. [18]
November 25, 1979 Mark Moseley Washington Redskins New York Giants 74 short 4th quarter Longest FG attempt on record until 2008. [19]
September 29, 1980 Fred Steinfort Denver Broncos New England Patriots 73 missed 0:00, 2nd Monday Night Football[20]
November 18, 1984 Raul Allegre Indianapolis Colts New England Patriots 61 short 0:00, 2nd Fair catch of onside kick[21]
January 1, 1989 Mike Cofer San Francisco 49ers Minnesota Vikings 60 short 0:00, 2nd NFC Divisional Playoff[22]
October 9, 2005 Rob Bironas Tennessee Titans Houston Texans 58 short 0:00, 2nd [23]
November 23, 2008 Neil Rackers Arizona Cardinals New York Giants 68 short 0:05, 2nd [24]
December 28, 2008 Mason Crosby Green Bay Packers Detroit Lions 69 short 0:00, 2nd

Exhibition games

Date Kicker Team Opponent Yards Result Game time Notes
January 9, 1966 Lou Michaels Baltimore Colts Dallas Cowboys 57 wide 0:00, 2nd Playoff Bowl[25]
July 29, 1972 Chester Marcol College All-Stars Dallas Cowboys 68 short 0:00, 2nd All-Star Game[26]
August 11, 1972 Mac Percival Chicago Bears Houston Oilers 55 short 0:15, 4th [27]
August 31, 1986 Rafael Septien Dallas Cowboys Houston Oilers 53 missed 0:00, 4th [28]
August 8, 1993 Chris Gardocki Chicago Bears Philadelphia Eagles 63 short 0:00, 2nd [29]

Declined opportunities

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.

See also

  • Goal from mark


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