In gridiron football, a safety is scored when the ball becomes dead behind the goal line of the team in possession of the ball. Due to their uncommon nature, there are a number of records relating to safeties.

Games in which a team scored only a safety

According to Pro-Football Reference, only 37 games in NFL history (including the AFPA, AAFC and AFL, leagues that were later merged into the NFL) and only seven since the NFL/AFL merger of 1970 have ended with one team scoring only a safety (or multiple safeties).[1]

Date Winner Winning Score Loser Losing Score
01923-11-29November 29, 1923 Akron Pros 2 Buffalo All-Americans 0
01926-11-21November 21, 1926 Kansas City Cowboys 2 Buffalo Rangers 0
01928-11-29November 29, 1928 Frankford Yellow Jackets 2 Green Bay Packers 0
01932-10-16October 16, 1932 Green Bay Packers 2 Chicago Bears 0
01938-09-18September 18, 1938 Chicago Bears 2 Green Bay Packers 0
01921-10-30October 30, 1921 Dayton Triangles 3 Cleveland Indians 2
01926-10-24October 24, 1926 Chicago Cardinals 3 Milwaukee Badgers 2
01931-11-01November 1, 1931 Green Bay Packers 6 Chicago Bears 2
01970-12-12December 12, 1970[2] Dallas Cowboys 6 Cleveland Browns 2
01926-10-31October 31, 1926 Kansas City Cowboys 7 Hartford Blues 2
01926-11-28November 28, 1926 Kansas City Cowboys 7 Chicago Cardinals 2
01993-12-12December 12, 1993[3] New England Patriots 7 Cincinnati Bengals 2
01929-10-06October 6, 1929 Green Bay Packers 9 Chicago Cardinals 2
01926-11-21November 21, 1926 Duluth Eskimos 10 Canton Bulldogs 2
01923-11-25November 25, 1923 Racine Legion 10 Chicago Cardinals 4^
01923-09-30September 30, 1923 Milwaukee Badgers 13 Oorang Indians 2
01926-10-10October 10, 1926 Milwaukee Badgers 13 Racine Tornadoes 2
01983-12-05December 5, 1983[4] Detroit Lions 13 Minnesota Vikings 2
01926-09-26September 26, 1926 Columbus Tigers 14 Canton Bulldogs 2
01929-10-13October 13, 1929 Green Bay Packers 14 Frankford Yellow Jackets 2
01935-11-28November 28, 1935 Detroit Lions 14 Chicago Bears 2
01937-09-19September 19, 1937 Chicago Bears 14 Green Bay Packers 2
01962-11-11November 11, 1962[5] Baltimore Colts 14 Los Angeles Rams 2
01937-10-10October 10, 1937 Chicago Bears 20 Cleveland Rams 2
01926-11-11November 11, 1926 Providence Steam Roller 21 Canton Bulldogs 2
01933-09-20September 20, 1933 New York Giants 23 Pittsburgh Pirates 2†
01963-09-14September 14, 1963[6] Detroit Lions 23 Los Angeles Rams 2
01972-12-17December 17, 1972[7] Pittsburgh Steelers 24 San Diego Chargers 2
01980-12-14December 14, 1980[8] New England Patriots 24 Buffalo Bills 2
02012-01-08January 8, 2012 [1] New York Giants 24 Atlanta Falcons 2‡
01957-12-22December 22, 1957[9] Pittsburgh Steelers 27 Chicago Cardinals 2
01936-10-11October 11, 1936 Green Bay Packers 31 Boston Redskins 2
01965-09-19September 19, 1965[10] Dallas Cowboys 31 New York Giants 2
01968-09-22September 22, 1968[11] Kansas City Chiefs 34 Denver Broncos 2
01949-11-06November 6, 1949[12] Cleveland Browns 35 Chicago Hornets 2
01972-10-01October 1, 1972[13] San Francisco 49ers 37 New Orleans Saints 2
01953-12-05December 5, 1953[14] Los Angeles Rams 45 Baltimore Colts 2

^ This is the only game in NFL history that finished with either the winning or the losing team scoring a total of 4 points.[1]
† This was the first ever game of the Pittsburgh Steelers, then the Pirates, thus scoring the franchise's first points on a safety.
‡ This is the only playoff game where a team scored a total of 2 points.


The NFL team record for safeties in a game is three, which all occurred in the third quarter of play by the Los Angeles Rams against the New York Giants on September 30, 1984.[15] The individual record is two, by the Rams' Fred Dryer against the Green Bay Packers on October 21, 1973.[15] Jared Allen, Ted Hendricks and Doug English share the NFL career record for safeties with four.[15]

League-wide, the record for most safeties scored by all teams in a regular season is 26 in 1988. The fewest safeties scored across the league is 0, occurring in 1943. The season with the greatest frequency of safeties was 1932, with 8 safeties in 48 games (one safety every six games). The season with the lowest frequency of safeties, outside of the 1943 season, was 1966, with 3 safeties in 105 games (one safety every 35 games).[16]

Only two regular-season NFL games have ever ended in overtime with a safety: in 1989 when the Minnesota Vikings defeated the Los Angeles Rams 23–21 when Mike Merriweather blocked a punt into the end zone, and in 2004 when the Chicago Bears defeated the Tennessee Titans 19–17 when Billy Volek fumbled in his own end zone and a teammate recovered it but was unable to get out of the end zone. In a 1989 pre-season game, the New York Jets defeated the host Kansas City Chiefs 15–13 in overtime when Jets defensive lineman Dennis Byrd sacked Chiefs third-string quarterback Mike Elkins in the end zone.[17]

The National Collegiate Athletic Association does not keep individual statistics for safeties. Three Division I-A teams have scored three safeties in a game: Arizona State in 1996 (in a 19-0 victory over then-No. 1 and two-time defending national champion Nebraska, ending the Cornhuskers' 26-game winning streak); North Texas in 2003; and Bowling Green in 2005. In Division I-AA, the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2007 scored only six points in a game, from three safeties against Rhode Island. UMass had also scored three safeties in a game against Albany in 2005, a Division I-AA record. In 2004, when Iowa defeated Penn State 6–4, because of Iowa's two field goals and Penn State's two safeties, it was the only instance of such a score in the modern era, and it was the first time since Florida lost to Miami 31–4 in 1987 that a team finished a game with exactly four points. The only other occasion on which a game ended with that score was when Rutgers defeated Princeton in 1869 by six "runs" to four in what is recognized as the first intercollegiate football game.

Notable safeties

1929 Rose Bowl

On January 1, 1929, the California Golden Bears faced the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Midway through the second quarter, Roy Riegels, who played center, picked up a fumble by Tech's Jack "Stumpy" Thomason. Just 30 yards away from the Yellow Jackets' end zone Riegels scooped up the fumble, but somehow was turned around and ran 69 yards in the wrong direction.[18] Teammate and quarterback Benny Lom chased Riegels and screamed at him to stop. Lom finally caught up with Riegels at California's 3-yard line and tried to turn him around, but he was hit by a wave of Tech players and thrown back to the 1-yard line. The Bears chose to punt rather than risk a play so close to their own end zone, but Tech's Vance Maree blocked Lom's punt for a safety, giving Georgia Tech a 2–0 lead. Georgia Tech would ultimately win the game—and their second national championship—by a final score of 8–7. The play is often cited as the worst blunder in the history of college football.[19]

The Baugh/Marshall Rule

In the first quarter of the 1945 NFL Championship Game, the Washington Redskins had the ball at their own 5-yard line. Dropping back into his own end zone, quarterback Sammy Baugh threw, but the ball hit the goal post (which at the time were on the goal line instead of at the back of the end zone) and bounced back to the ground in the end zone. Under the rules at the time, this was ruled as a safety and thus gave the Cleveland Rams a 2–0 lead. The Rams went on to win 15–14, as the safety proved to be the margin of victory. Redskins owner George Preston Marshall was so incensed at the outcome that he became a major force in passing the following major rule change after the season: A forward pass that strikes the goal posts is automatically ruled incomplete. This change later became known as the "Baugh/Marshall Rule".[20] The rule later became obsolete when the goalposts were moved to the back of the end zone, eliminating the possibility of a forward pass striking them.

The wrong way run

On October 25, 1964, Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jim Marshall recovered a San Francisco 49ers fumble but ran 66 yards the wrong way into his own end zone.[21] He subsequently tossed the ball out of the end zone, thinking he had scored a touchdown. Instead, the 49ers were credited with two points (a safety). The Vikings still won, 27–22, with the game-winning play coming on a fumble recovery caused by Marshall.

Intentional safety gone awry

On November 21, 1998, Notre Dame hosted LSU in a college game. With Notre Dame leading 39–34 in the final seconds, their head coach Bob Davie ordered quarterback Jarious Jackson to kneel down in his own end zone after time had expired. However, just as Jackson knelt down to take the intentional safety, a pair of LSU defenders hit him and sprained his right MCL.[22] Ranked No. 10 with a 9–1 record, Notre Dame needed just one more win at unranked USC to clinch a BCS bowl game, but the Irish failed to score a point with two back-up quarterbacks at the helm in an eventual 10–0 loss. Notre Dame settled for a bid to the Gator Bowl, and lost that game 35–28 to No. 17 Georgia Tech.[23]

"Impetus" safeties lead to 2001 rule change

Prior to the 2001 NFL season, a safety was awarded when a defensive player's momentum or impetus in recovering a fumble carried him into his own end zone; on the other hand, if that same defender was intercepting a pass and his momentum carried him into the end zone, the ball would then be spotted at the point where the interception occurred.[24] The former scenario happened twice during the 2000 season:

On September 17, the Carolina Panthers were trailing the Atlanta Falcons, 13–10, with 2:12 remaining in the fourth quarter. Falcons running back Jamal Anderson ran 42 yards to the Carolina 16-yard line before he was stripped by Panthers defensive back Doug Evans. Evans then grabbed the fumble at the 2-yard line, but his momentum carried him through the side of his own end zone. The play was ruled a safety, and the Falcons held on to win, 15–10. After the game, Panthers head coach George Seifert told reporters that he was confused by the call, saying, "from what I understand right now, it's a different rule than it is if you intercept the ball and momentum carries you into the end zone then it is for a fumble recovery ... That is something that possibly would be looked into with the Competition Committee".[24]

Then on December 16, the Seattle Seahawks trailed the Oakland Raiders, 24–19, in the fourth quarter in a game played in a rainstorm at Husky Stadium. Seahawks running back Ricky Watters ran 53 yards to the Oakland 28-yard line, before he was stripped of the ball by the Raiders' Charles Woodson. In the ensuing scramble for recovery, the ball was batted multiple times towards the Oakland goal line. Raiders safety Marquez Pope eventually recovered the ball at the Oakland 2-yard line, but with the wet field, his momentum caused him to slide into the Oakland end zone before being touched. This play was also ruled a safety, and with the score now 24–21, the Seahawks then rallied for a late touchdown and a 27-24 victory. And just like Seifert did during the Falcons-Panthers game, Raiders head coach Jon Gruden complained about the safety call.[25]

The losses were costly to both teams. The Panthers were never able to sustain any momentum after that early season loss and finished, out of the playoffs, with a 7–9 record. For the Raiders, the loss dropped Oakland to 11–4 and eliminated the Raiders from contention for the AFC's first seed. The Raiders did clinch the AFC West division, but ultimately lost to the Baltimore Ravens, the eventual Super Bowl XXXV champions, in the AFC Championship Game. The following season, the NFL modified the rules so that fumble recoveries, as well as interceptions, would now be awarded at the spot of the recovery, not where the player's momentum carries him, even into his own end zone.

Dan Orlovsky blunder

On October 12, 2008, Detroit Lions quarterback Dan Orlovsky inadvertently ran out of the back of his own end zone in a game against the Minnesota Vikings.[26] When the officials blew their whistles, Orlovsky did not know why the play was being stopped. According to Tom Pedula in USA Today, Orlovsky said, "When they started blowing the whistle, I was like, 'Did we false start or were they offsides or something?' Then I looked and I was like, 'You are an idiot.'"[27] The two points proved to be the difference in a 12–10 Vikings victory. The media labeled the play as emblematic of the Lions' struggles during their eventual 0–16 season.[28]

Instant replay oddity

On October 5, 2009, the Green Bay Packers faced the host Minnesota Vikings on Monday Night Football. The Packers trailed the Vikings 28–14 mid-way through the fourth quarter. With the ball at the Green Bay one-yard line, the Packers attempted a pass from their own end zone. Vikings defensive end Jared Allen grabbed Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers from behind for a sack, with Rodgers appearing to fumble the ball at the one-yard line and Allen recovering. Referee Gene Steratore ruled Vikings possession inside the one-yard line. Packers head coach Mike McCarthy challenged the play and asserted that Rodgers' knee was down in his own end zone before the fumble, asking Steratore to award the Vikings a safety and increase their lead to 30–14.

Strategically, the move made sense: the Vikings would have a 16-point lead (still a two-possession game — two touchdowns and two two-point conversions), and the Packers would be allowed to free kick from their own 20-yard line. Had McCarthy not challenged, the score would have remained 28–14, but the Vikings would have almost assuredly increased their lead to a three-possession game with a field goal or touchdown.

Steratore reversed his own ruling[29] and awarded a safety to the Vikings. The Packers added a touchdown (missing a two-point conversion) and a field goal, but lost by the score of 30–23.

A four-point quarter

On Sunday, November 6, 2011, the St. Louis Rams posted the first four-point quarter in NFL history.[30] Leading 9–6 in the third quarter, the Rams' James Hall sacked Arizona quarterback John Skelton in the end zone for the first safety. The Rams' next possession ended in a punt, then, on the Cardinals' first subsequent play from scrimmage, Skelton was flagged for intentional grounding in the end zone. The Rams did not score in the remainder of the quarter, thus scoring a total four points in that quarter. The Rams lost in overtime, 19–13.

Safety, not touchback

On January 1, 2012, the Detroit Lions opened up the scoring in the first quarter with a touchdown, in a game against the Green Bay Packers. On the ensuing kickoff, Packers returner Patrick Lee muffed the ball in his own end zone. The ball bounced off of Lee and left the end zone, still in bounds. Lee, not realizing the ball had fully cleared the goal line, reached over the goal line and brought the ball back into the end zone, where he took a knee for what he thought was a touchback. After discussion among the officials and a replay challenge by Green Bay, the Lions were credited with a safety and a 9–0 lead.[31] Green Bay would however rally to win, 45–41.

Super Bowl safeties

To this date, a safety has been scored in the Super Bowl eight times, or one every 5.88 Super Bowls, with the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants each being involved in three such instances, with each scoring a safety in two instances and giving up a safety in another. Safeties have occurred in back to back Super Bowls three times, Super Bowl IX and Super Bowl X, Super Bowl XX and Super Bowl XXI, and Super Bowl XLVI and Super Bowl XLVII.

Super Bowl IX

In what had been a defensive struggle for most of the first half of Super Bowl IX between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings, the only score in the first half came on a second quarter safety by the Steelers. Steelers defensive end Dwight White had downed Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton in the end zone after Tarkenton landed on a Dave Osborn fumble in the end zone which had been kicked toward the goal line by the Steelers' other defensive end, L.C. Greenwood. Aside from being the first Super Bowl safety, it was also notable in that White nearly missed the game due to a bout with pneumonia. The Steelers went on to win 16–6.

Super Bowl X

The Pittsburgh Steelers trailed the Dallas Cowboys 10–7 early in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl X when Dallas punter Mitch Hoopes was forced to punt from inside his own goal line. As Hoopes stepped up to make the kick, Steelers running back Reggie Harrison broke through the line and blocked the punt. The ball went through the end zone for a safety, cutting the Dallas lead to 10–9. Then Pittsburgh's Mike Collier returned the ensuing free kick 25 yards to the Cowboys 45-yard line. Roy Gerela later kicked a 36-yard field goal to give Pittsburgh its first lead of the game, 12–10, and the Steelers went on to repeat as Super Bowl champions with a 21–17 victory.

Super Bowl XX

In the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XX, the Chicago Bears scored a safety against the New England Patriots when defensive lineman Henry Waechter sacked quarterback Steve Grogan into the end zone. Grogan had been the backup quarterback, and he had replaced Tony Eason in the second quarter due to Eason's ineffectiveness, and he did throw a touchdown pass in the game. The Bears dominated the game, especially the second half, on both offense and defense, and won easily 46–10.

Super Bowl XXI

In the second quarter of Super Bowl XXI, the New York Giants scored a safety against the Denver Broncos when defensive end George Martin sacked John Elway into the end zone, cutting the Broncos' 10–7 lead to 10–9. The Giants, who had been ahead earlier, would later retake the lead and go on to win the game 39–20.

Super Bowl XXV

In the second quarter of Super Bowl XXV between the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants, Bills defensive end Bruce Smith sacked Giants quarterback Jeff Hostetler in the end zone for a safety, giving the Bills a 12–3 lead. Buffalo ultimately lost the game 20–19 after their kicker, Scott Norwood, missed the game-winning field goal.

Super Bowl XLIII

In the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLIII between the Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals, Steelers center Justin Hartwig committed a holding penalty in the Steelers own end zone, wiping out a 20-yard Ben Roethlisberger pass to Santonio Holmes on third-and-10. The automatic safety cut the Steelers' lead to 20–16 (and subsequently put them behind 23–20 after Larry Fitzgerald caught a 63-yard touchdown pass by Kurt Warner on the Cardinals' ensuing drive after the free kick), but Pittsburgh went on to win 27–23. It was the first time that a safety in the Super Bowl was the result of a penalty.

Super Bowl XLVI

In the first quarter of Super Bowl XLVI between the Giants and the New England Patriots, New England quarterback Tom Brady was called for intentional grounding in his own end zone after he threw the ball toward the center of the field while under pressure and where no receivers were on his team's first offensive play of the game. This was the second time after Super Bowl IX that the first score of the game was a safety, and the second time after Super Bowl XLIII that a safety was the result of a penalty. The Giants went on to win 21–17.

Super Bowl XLVII

In the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLVII between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Fransisco 49ers, with the score 34 - 29, the Ravens in the lead, and 12 seconds remaining, Ravens punter Sam Koch ran the clock for 8 seconds in the end zone before being run out of bounds for a 49ers safety. The Baltimore Ravens would go on to win the game with the 49ers being unable to return the ball in the remaining 4 seconds.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 "All Game Scores in Pro Football History". Retrieved 2010-12-20.
  2. "Dallas Cowboys at Cleveland Browns - December 12th, 1970". 1970-12-12. Retrieved 2011-11-21.
  3. "Cincinnati Bengals at New England Patriots - December 12th, 1993". 1993-12-12. Retrieved 2010-12-20.
  4. "Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions - December 5th, 1983". 1983-12-05. Retrieved 2010-12-20.
  5. "Baltimore Colts at Los Angeles Rams - November 11th, 1962". 1962-11-11. Retrieved 2010-12-20.
  6. "Detroit Lions at Los Angeles Rams - September 14th, 1963". 1963-09-14. Retrieved 2010-12-20.
  7. "Pittsburgh Steelers at San Diego Chargers - December 17th, 1972". 1972-12-17. Retrieved 2010-12-20.
  8. "Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots - December 14th, 1980". 1980-12-14. Retrieved 2010-12-20.
  9. "Pittsburgh Steelers at Chicago Cardinals - December 22nd, 1957". 1957-12-22. Retrieved 2010-12-20.
  10. "New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys - September 19th, 1965". 1965-09-19. Retrieved 2010-12-20.
  11. "Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs - September 22nd, 1968". 1968-09-22. Retrieved 2010-12-20.
  12. "Chicago Hornets at Cleveland Browns - November 6th, 1949". 1949-11-06. Retrieved 2010-12-20.
  13. "San Francisco 49ers at New Orleans Saints - October 1st, 1972". 1972-10-01. Retrieved 2010-12-20.
  14. "Baltimore Colts at Los Angeles Rams - December 5th, 1953". 1953-12-05. Retrieved 2010-12-20.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 "NFL Records". Archived from the original on 2008-05-04. Retrieved 2010-12-20.
  17. Eskenazi, Gerald (1989-09-02). "FOOTBALL; Toon Hurt as Jets Win on Safety in Overtime". The New York Times.
  18. Roy Riegels, 84, Who Took Off In Wrong Direction in Rose Bowl
  19. "Where Are They Now? Roy Riegels Worst Football Blunder". Retrieved 2009-10-12.
  20. "Rules of the Name, or How The Emmitt Rule Became the Emmitt Rule". Professional Football Researchers Association, Mirrored at the Internet Archive. Archived from the original on 2007-12-11. Retrieved 2009-03-31.
  21. " - Writers - Embarrassing moments (cont.)". CNN. 2006-08-02. Retrieved 24 January 2011.
  22. "Player Bio: Jarious Jackson - University of Notre Dame Official Athletics Site". Retrieved 2010-12-20.
  23. "Notre Dame Fighting Irish football under Bob Davie - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia". Retrieved 2010-12-20.
  24. 24.0 24.1 "Panthers' Seifert confused by call". 2000-09-18. Archived from the original on 2000-10-17. Retrieved 2012-02-21.
  25. Bush, David (2000-12-17). "Bizarre Play Stuns Raiders". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2012-02-21.
  26. akbarjohnson (October 13, 2008). "This is how bad the Lions SUCK!! Dan Orlovsky BLUNDER HAHAHA". YouTube. Retrieved 2010-12-20.
  27. Pedulla, Tom (2008-10-13). "'Idiot' move? Orlovsky's safety costly in Lions' loss to Vikings". USA Today. Retrieved 2010-12-20.
  28. Ganguli, Tania (2002-07-16). "So bad you can’t look away: The worst teams in Sports history". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved 2010-12-20.
  29. 04:59 (2009-10-05). "NFL Videos: Vikings 30, Packers 23". Retrieved 2010-12-20.
  31. Packers give up safety on kickoff. 2012-01-01. Retrieved 2012-02-20.

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