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Field goal (football)

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Field goal (football)

For field goals in rugby league and rugby union, see Drop goal.

A field goal is a means of scoring in American football and Canadian football. To score a field goal, the team in possession of the ball must place kick the ball through the goal, i.e., between the uprights and over the crossbar, during a play from scrimmage. A field goal is also scored if the ball is drop kicked through the goal; this was common in the early days of football but is almost never done in modern times. In most leagues, a successful field goal awards 3 points (a notable exception is in six-man football where, due to the difficulty of making a successful field goal due to the small number of players available to stop the opposing team from attempting a block, a field goal is worth 4 points).

The field goal is distinct from the fair catch kick – which also awards 3 points for kicking the ball through the goal – and the extra point – which awards one point. Because a successful field goal is worth only three points, as opposed to touchdowns which are worth six, field goals are usually attempted only during specific situations.

The goal structure consists of a horizontal crossbar suspended 10 feet (3.0 m) above the ground, with two vertical goalposts 18 feet 6 inches (5.64 m) apart extending vertically from each end of the crossbar.[1] In American football the goals are centered on each end line; in Canadian football the goals are centered on each goal line.


Because a field goal is worth only three points, while a touchdown scores at least six (usually seven with the extra point, and potentially 8 with a two-point conversion), teams will generally attempt a field goal only in the following situations:

  • It is fourth down (third down in Canadian rules), especially if the offense is more than a yard or two from a new first down, and within about 45 yards of the goal posts.
  • In the first half, there is enough time remaining to execute only one more play.
  • In the second half, there is enough time remaining to execute only one more play, and the team on offense needs three points to win or tie (four points in a few leagues given special circumstances).
  • The game is in overtime, and a FG is the quickest, easiest, and least risky way to end the match.

Except in desperate situations, a team will generally attempt field goals only when keeping a drive alive is unlikely, and their kicker has a significant chance of success, as a missed field goal results in a turnover at the spot of the kick (in the NFL) or at the line of scrimmage (in the NCAA). In American high school rules and Canadian football, where a missed field goal is treated the same as a punt, most teams still opt not to attempt field goals from very long range, since field goal formations are not conducive to covering punts. Even under ideal conditions, the best professional kickers historically had difficulty making kicks longer than 50 yards consistently (the NFL record is 63 yards and the CFL record, 62 yards).[2] If a team chooses not to attempt a field goal on their last down, they can punt to the other team. A punt cannot score any points in American football unless the receiving team touches the ball first and the kicking team recovers it (though it can result in a single in Canadian football), but it may push the other team back toward its own end.

The longest field goal kick in NFL history is 63 yards, a record set by Tom Dempsey and shared by Jason Elam, Sebastian Janikowski, and David Akers. High school, college and most professional football leagues offer only a three-point field goal; however, some professional leagues have encouraged more rare kicks through four-point field goals. NFL Europe encouraged long field goals of 50 yards or more by making those worth four points instead of three (much like Australian rules' Super Goal or basketball's three-point line), a rule since adopted by the Stars Football League. Similarly, the sport of arena football sought (unsuccessfully) to repopularize the drop kick by making that worth four points; it failed, since only one kicker (Brian Mitchell) was able to do it with any semblance of proficiency. (In six-man football, where there is no offensive line, all field goals are worth four points instead of the usual three.)

The overall field goal percentage during the 2010 NFL season was 82.3. In comparison, Jan Stenerud, the only pure kicker in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, had a career field goal percentage of 66.8 from 1967 to 1985.[2]

How field goals are kicked

File:Field Goal.ogg When a team decides to attempt a field goal, it will generally line up in a very tight formation, with all but two players lined up along or near the line of scrimmage: the placekicker and the holder. The holder is usually the team's punter or backup quarterback. Instead of the regular center, a team may have a dedicated long snapper trained especially to snap the ball on placekick attempts and punts.

The defense will likewise line up all or nearly all of its players near the line of scrimmage to try to block the kick. If there is a significant likelihood of a miss and the strategic game situation warrants it, the defense may leave one player well behind the line of scrimmage to return a missed field goal; as with other kicks, a missed field goal can be returned for a yardage gain up to and including a touchdown. The risk in this is that if there is a return, then unless there is a score the defense will take over at the spot where the returner is brought down, which may be a considerably worse position than where they would have taken over had they not returned the kick. Thus, teams will usually return a kick only towards the end of a half or in a particularly desperate situation.

The holder usually lines up seven to eight yards behind the line of scrimmage, with the kicker a few yards behind him. Upon receiving the snap, the holder holds the ball against the ground vertically, with the stitches away from the kicker. The kicker begins his approach during the snap, so the snapper and holder have little margin for error. A split-second mistake can throw everything off.

The measurement of a field goal's distance is from the goalpost to the point where the ball was positioned for the kick by the holder. In American football, where the goalpost is located at the back of the end zone (above the end line), the ten yards of the end zone are added to the yard line distance at the spot of the hold.

In the early days of the sport, placekickers approached the ball straight on, with the toe making first contact with the ball. The technique of kicking the ball "soccer-style", by approaching the ball at an angle and kicking it with the instep, was introduced by kicker Pete Gogolak in the 1960s.[3] The Hungarian-born Gogolak, reflecting his roots in European soccer, observed that kicking the ball at an angle could cover more distance than kicking straight on.

Successful field goals

The method of resuming play after a successful field goal, if there is any time left in the half, has some differences between American and Canadian football. In American football the scoring team kicks off to the opposing team. In Canadian football the scored-against team has three choices: scrimmage from its 35-yard line, kick off, have the scoring team kick off.

Missed field goals

A missed field goal is said to be "no good". If it misses to the kicker's left it may be called "wide left" and conversely "wide right" if it misses to the kicker's right. It may also be described as being "short" if it is aimed correctly but does not have the distance to go over the cross bar and through the uprights.

If a field goal attempt is missed and does not go out of bounds, a defensive player may catch the ball and return it like a punt or kickoff. This type of play usually occurs during an extremely long field goal attempt when, anticipating that the kicker will most likely miss, the defense lines up a player downfield in the end zone to catch the ball. The longest play ever on a missed field goal in NFL history was a 109-yard missed field goal return by Antonio Cromartie of the San Diego Chargers on November 4, 2007, against the Minnesota Vikings.[4]

If a ball caroms off one of the goal posts or the crossbar, but lands in the field of play, the ball is considered dead and cannot be returned. (This is not the case in arena football, where large "rebound nets" surround the goal posts for the explicit purpose of keeping the ball in play.) However, if the ball caroms off one of the goal posts or the crossbar and continues into the goal, the score counts.

Situations where the defense does not return a missed field goal vary between leagues and levels of play:

Missed field goals attempted from the 20-yard line or closer result in the opposing team taking possession at the 20-yard line from which the ball was kicked. Missed field goals attempted from beyond the 20-yard line result in the opposing team taking possession at the spot of the kick. (Until 1994, the opposing team would take possession at the line of scrimmage, unless the kick was attempted from inside the 20-yard line. And prior to the 1974 season, missed field goals resulted in the opposing team gaining possession at the 20-yard line if the kick was not or could not be returned.)
The opposing team takes possession at the line of scrimmage rather than at the spot of the kick.
High school
Under NFHS (high school) rules, a field goal attempt is no different from any other scrimmage kick (punt, drop kick). If the field goal attempt is no good and becomes dead in the end zone it is a touchback. If the ball becomes dead on the field the defensive team will next put the ball in play from that point. If a field goal is blocked behind the line of scrimmage either team may pick it up and return it until they are ruled down, out of bounds, or score a touchdown.
Canadian football
If the defense does not return a missed field goal out of the end zone, or if a missed field goal attempt goes through the end zone, then the kicking team scores a single point. This sometimes results in the team on defense stationing their punter behind the goal posts to punt the ball out of the end zone, in case of a missed field-goal attempt, to preserve a victory or tie. Also, a missed field goal may be played by any onside player on the kicking team, that being the kicker and anyone behind him at the time of the kick. It is risky to have anyone positioned behind the kicker when the ball is being kicked since those player(s) would be unable to help prevent the defending players from blocking the kick; however, on occasion teams might intentionally miss a field goal in hope of recovering the ball in the end zone for a touchdown. Returning a missed field goal is much more likely in Canadian football than in American rules for a few reasons. First, since the goal posts are on the goal line in front of a 20-yard endzone (rather than at the back of a 10-yard endzone), a missed field goal is much less likely to go out of bounds while in the air. Also, returning the ball out of the end zone allows the defense to avoid giving up a single point, which may be crucial in a tight game. Moreover, the wider field of the Canadian game makes the average return longer. However, many CFL coaches judge that conceding a single and taking possession at the 35-yard line to be a better gamble than returning a missed field goal and avoiding a single.

Blocked field goals

Occasionally, the defense will succeed in blocking a field goal. If a blocked field goal is in or behind the neutral zone, it is treated like a fumble and can be advanced by either team. Beyond the neutral zone, a blocked kick is treated like a punt and can be advanced only by the defense, unless a defensive player fumbles the ball, after which an offensive player can advance it.


In the early days of football, kicking was highly emphasized.

  • In 1883 the scoring system was devised and field goals counted 5 points while touchdowns and conversions counted 4 each.
  • In 1897 the touchdown was raised to 5 points while the conversion was lowered to 1 point.
  • The field goal was changed to 4 points in 1904 and then to the modern 3 points in 1909.
  • The touchdown was changed to 6 points in 1912 (in American football; the Canadian game did not change this until 1956).
  • In 1924 the conversion was spotted at the 3-yard line.
  • In 1925–1928 it was moved to the 5-yard line.
  • In 1929 it was moved to the 2-yard line.
  • Finally, in 1968 it was moved back to the 3-yard line.
  • The goalposts were originally located on the goal line; this led to many injuries and sometimes interfered with play, and the NCAA moved the goal posts to the rear of the end zone in 1927. The NFL (still following NCAA rules at the time) followed suit, but moved the posts back to the goal line in 1932, where they remained until 1974. The Canadian game still has posts on the goal line.
  • In 1959 the NCAA goalposts were widened to 23 feet 4 inches (7.11 m), the standard width for high school posts today.
  • The "slingshot" goalpost, with a single post curving to support the crossbar, was invented by Joel Rottman in Montreal, Canada. The first set were built by Alcan and displayed at Expo 67.[5] The NFL adopted the "slingshot" for the 1967 season. The NCAA later adopted the same rule, but later allowed the use of "offset" goalposts, with two posts rather than one. Three schools in Division I FBS currently use two posts instead of one for goalposts in their stadiums: Florida State, LSU, and Washington State. A special exemption was allowed by the NFL for the New Orleans Saints to use the offset goalposts during their 2005 season, when they used LSU's stadium for home games in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
  • In 1989 the NCAA banned the kicking tee, requiring kicks from the ground.[6][7]
  • In 1991 the college goalposts were reduced in width to 18 feet 6 inches (5.64 m), the width of NFL goal posts. In 1991 and 1992, this meant severe angles for short field goal attempts, since the hashmarks were still located 53 feet 4 inches (16.26 m) apart. In 1993, the NCAA narrowed the distance between the hashmarks to 40 feet (12.2 m) (which was the width of hashmarks in the NFL until 1972, when they were narrowed to 18 feet 6 inches (5.64 m)).
  • Like the collegiate goalposts, the NFL goal posts were located on the goal line. They were moved to the rear of the end zone in 1974, as a result of the narrowed hashmark distance of 1972, which had made for easier field-goal angles.
  • During the 2011 NFL season, a record 90 field goals of 50 yards or longer were made.[8] During the 2012 NFL season, this record was increased to 92 field goals of 50 yards or longer.[8]

Longest field goal records

As recorded in Guinness World Records:

The record for a field goal at any level is 69 yards. It was kicked by Ove Johansson of the Abilene Christian University Wildcats in the 1976 game against East Texas State University Lions in Shotwell Stadium, Abilene, Texas.[9]


The longest field goal attempt ever in an NFL game was by Sebastian Janikowski (Oakland Raiders) of 76 yards on September 28, 2008. Attempted just prior to the end of the first half of play and into the wind, the kick was well short and wide right. To date, Janikowski is also the only NFL player to kick two 60-yard field goals in a career.

In the history of the NFL regular season, only twelve field goals have been made from at least 60 yards. They are:

Distance Kicker Team Result Opposition Date Notes Location Elevation Weather
63 yards Tom Dempsey New Orleans Saints 19–17 Detroit Lions November 8, 1970 straight-ahead; born with deformed right (kicking) foot; game-winning kick as time expired; Tulane Stadium Sea level
63 yards Jason Elam Denver Broncos 37–24 Jacksonville Jaguars October 25, 1998 First field goal to tie record; soccer-style kicker Mile High Stadium 5,280 ft (1,610 m)
63 yards Sebastian Janikowski Oakland Raiders 23–20 Denver Broncos September 12, 2011 left-footed Sports Authority Field at Mile High 5,280 ft (1,610 m) Light rain early
63 yards David Akers San Francisco 49ers 30-22 Green Bay Packers September 9, 2012 left-footed; end of first half; ball bounced off crossbar before crossing the plane Lambeau Field 640 ft (200 m) 70°F Mostly Cloudy Wind: N at 7 mph Humidity: 43%
62 yards Matt Bryant Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23–21 Philadelphia Eagles October 22, 2006 game-winning kick as time expired Raymond James Stadium 35 ft (11 m)
61 yards Sebastian Janikowski Oakland Raiders 9–23 Cleveland Browns December 27, 2009 left-footed Cleveland Browns Stadium 580 ft (180 m)
61 yards Jay Feely Arizona Cardinals 16-19 (OT) Buffalo Bills October 14, 2012 right-footed; game tying field goal with 1:09 remaining in the 4th quarter, missed a 38-yard field goal that would have won the game at the end of regulation University of Phoenix Stadium 1,150 ft (350 m) Dome
60 yards Steve Cox Cleveland Browns 9–12 Cincinnati Bengals October 21, 1984 straight-ahead kick; on Astroturf Riverfront Stadium 490 ft (150 m)
60 yards Morten Andersen New Orleans Saints 17–20 Chicago Bears October 27, 1991 left-footed; on Astroturf; first 60-yard kick done indoors Louisiana Superdome Sea level Dome
60 yards Rob Bironas Tennessee Titans 20–17 Indianapolis Colts December 3, 2006 Right-footed; game winner as time expired The Coliseum 400 ft (120 m)
60 yards Dan Carpenter Miami Dolphins 10–13 Cleveland Browns December 5, 2010 Sun Life Stadium 5 ft (1.5 m) 77 °F (25 °C), wind SW at 14 mph (23 km/h)
60 yards Greg Zuerlein St. Louis Rams 19-13 Seattle Seahawks September 30, 2012 in his rookie season (record); also kicked a 58 yard field goal in the game Edward Jones Dome 466 ft (142 m) Dome

Prior to Dempsey's 1970 kick, the longest field goal in NFL history was a 56-yard field goal by Bert Rechichar in 1953. A 55-yard field goal, achieved by a drop kick, was recorded by Paddy Driscoll in 1924, and stood as the unofficial record until that point; some sources indicate a 54-yarder by Glenn Presnell in 1934 as the record, due to the inability to precisely verify Driscoll's 55-yarder.

In a pre-season NFL game Denver Broncos vs Seattle Seahawks on August 29, 2002, Ola Kimrin kicked a 65-yard field goal.[10]


College football

  • 69 yards, Ove Johansson, Abilene Christian University vs. East Texas State on October 16, 1976. Longest Verified Field Goal Ever. (NAIA)
  • 67 yards, Tom Odle, Fort Hays State vs. Washburn, 1988. (NCAA)
  • 67 yards, Joe Williams, Wichita State vs. Southern Illinois, 1978. (NCAA Division I)
  • 67 yards, Russell Erxleben, Texas vs. Rice, 1977. (NCAA Division I)
  • 67 yards, Steve Little, Arkansas vs. Texas, 1977.[12] (NCAA Division I)

The longest known drop-kicked field goal in college football was a 62-yard kick from Pat O'Dea, an Australian kicker who played on the Wisconsin Badgers football team. O'Dea's kick took place against Northwestern University on November 15, 1898.[13]

High school

Independent amateur

  • 68 yards, Fabrizio Scaccia, Treasure Coast Bobcats (FL), March 29, 2009[18] (world record for a kick without the aid of a tee, which was banned for field goal attempts in the NCAA in 2008)


External links

  • The Evolution of the NFL's Field Goal Record
  • Official NFL Field Goal Records

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