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Fair catch kick

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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 kick[A] from 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 defensive team's goal, a field goal, worth three points, is awarded to the offensive team.

The fair catch kick has its origins in rugby football. The rule is considered to be obscure and unusual, as most fair catches are made well out of field goal range, and in most cases a team that has a fair catch within theoretical range will attempt a normal drive to score a touchdown. The fair catch kick is generally used when a team has fair caught a ball within field goal range and there is insufficient time to score a touchdown. At the professional level, the last successful fair catch kick was made in 1976.


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;[1][2] 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.[1] Prior to the kick, the opposing team must be lined up at least ten yards beyond the spot of the ball.[3][4] The kick itself can be either a place kick or drop kick;[5][6] 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.[4][7] 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 offensive team after the kick.[8][9] If the attempt fails, the opposing team is awarded control of the ball from the spot of the kick.[10][11] The opposing team can also return the kick if it does not go out of bounds.[3][11]

In the NFHS rulebook, the fair catch kick is specifically defined as a free kick.[12] The National Football League (NFL) rulebook specifically states that the fair catch kick is not a free kick,[4] instead considering the fair catch kick to be a distinct type of kick.[13] Despite this, reporters at both levels describe the fair catch kick as a free kick.[14][15][16]


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.[17] 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.[18] The fair catch kick has been present in the National Football League (NFL) rulebook since the league's inception,[14] and also remains in the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) rulebook.[19] The fair catch kick is not legal in National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) football (nor is it legal for high school football in Massachusetts and Texas, which play largely by NCAA rules with a few modifications); 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.[20]


The fair catch kick rule is very rarely invoked,[14][16][17] and is one of the rarest plays in football.[16][17] The rule has been regarded as "obscure",[14][15] "bizarre",[17] and "quirky".[21] 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;[22] most fair catches are made well outside of field goal range (even more so since 1974, when the goal posts were moved back to the end line, adding 10 yards to such attempts).[23]

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.[24] Art McNally, who led the officiating department of the National Football League from 1968 to 1990, notes 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.[25] 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, and there is not enough time left in the half to go for a touchdown.[17]

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.[22]

Known attempts in the NFL[edit]

The following tables contain all confirmed fair catch kick attempts in the NFL; the NFL does not keep a record of fair catch kick attempts, so the true number of attempts is unknown.[25] Out of the twenty-four recorded fair catch kick attempts in non-exhibition games, only six were successful; all five known attempts in exhibition games were unsuccessful. With the exception of the second recorded attempt, which was made in the 3rd quarter, all fair catch kick attempts were made within the last thirty 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 San Francisco 49ers kicker Phil Dawson, who missed a 71-yard fair catch kick on September 26, 2013.

Regular season and post-season games[edit]

List of known fair catch kick attempts in regular and post-season games[B]
Date Kicker Kicking team Opponent Yards Result Game time Note(s) Reference(s)
November 8, 1925 George Abramson Green Bay Packers Chicago Cardinals 35 Good 4th quarter Game played in snow on a muddy field.


November 20, 1933 Ken Strong New York Giants Green Bay Packers 30 Good 3rd quarter [27]
October 23, 1955 Ben Agajanian New York Giants Pittsburgh Steelers 56 Missed 2nd quarter (0:30) [28]
November 2, 1958 Gordy Soltau San Francisco 49ers Detroit Lions 61 Missed 2nd quarter (0:15) [29]
September 13, 1964 Sam Baker Philadelphia Eagles New York Giants 47 Missed 2nd quarter (0:00) [30]
September 13, 1964 Paul Hornung Green Bay Packers Chicago Bears 52 Good 2nd quarter (0:00) Longest recorded successful fair catch kick in NFL. [25][31]
December 4, 1966 Fred Cox Minnesota Vikings Atlanta Falcons 40 Good 2nd quarter (0:00) [32]
November 23, 1967 Bruce Gossett Los Angeles Rams Detroit Lions 55 Missed 2nd quarter (0:03) [33]
November 3, 1968 Mac Percival Chicago Bears Green Bay Packers 43 Good 4th quarter (0:20) Game-winning field goal [14][34]
December 8, 1968 Fred Cox Minnesota Vikings San Francisco 49ers 47 Missed 2nd quarter (0:00) [35]
October 5, 1969 Curt Knight Washington Redskins San Francisco 49ers 56 Missed 4th quarter (0:02) The game finished as a 17–17 tie. [36]
November 23, 1969 Tom Dempsey New Orleans Saints San Francisco 49ers 57 Missed 2nd quarter (0:00) [37]
December 21, 1969 Sam Baker Philadelphia Eagles San Francisco 49ers 49 Missed 2nd quarter (0:00) [38]
November 1, 1970 Curt Knight Washington Redskins Denver Broncos 49 Missed 2nd quarter (0:00) [39]
November 8, 1971 David Ray Los Angeles Rams Baltimore Colts 45 Missed 2nd quarter (0:00) Aired on Monday Night Football. [40]
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. [21][41][42]
November 25, 1979 Mark Moseley Washington Redskins New York Giants 74 Missed 4th quarter Longest field goal attempt on record until 2008. [43]
September 29, 1980 Fred Steinfort Denver Broncos New England Patriots 73 Missed 2nd quarter (0:00) [44]
November 18, 1984 Raul Allegre Indianapolis Colts New England Patriots 61 Missed 2nd quarter (0:00) Fair catch was called off an onside kick. [45]
January 1, 1989 Mike Cofer San Francisco 49ers' Minnesota Vikings 60 Missed 2nd quarter (0:00) NFC Divisional Playoff game [46]
October 9, 2005 Rob Bironas Tennessee Titans Houston Texans 58 Missed 2nd quarter (0:00) [47][48]
November 23, 2008 Neil Rackers Arizona Cardinals New York Giants 68 Missed 2nd quarter (0:05) [48][49]
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. [50]
September 26, 2013 Phil Dawson San Francisco 49ers St. Louis Rams 71 Missed 2nd quarter (0:04) Thursday Night Football [51][52]

Exhibition games[edit]

List of known fair catch kick attempts in exhibition games[C]
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[D] [54]
July 29, 1972 Chester Marcol College All-Stars Dallas Cowboys 68 Missed 2nd quarter (0:00) Chicago College All-Star Game [55]
August 9, 1972 Mac Percival Chicago Bears Houston Oilers 60 Missed 4th quarter (0:15) [42]
August 31, 1986 Rafael Septién Dallas Cowboys Houston Oilers 53 Missed 4th quarter (0:00) [56]
August 8, 1993 Chris Gardocki Chicago Bears Philadelphia Eagles 63 Missed 2nd quarter (0:00) [57]


  1. ^ Although the National Football League (NFL) does not consider the play a free kick, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and media analysts regard it as being a free kick.
  2. ^ The games included are only confirmed instances; the NFL does not keep record of individual fair catch kicks, and the exact number of attempts is unknown.[25]
  3. ^ The games included are only confirmed instances; the NFL does not keep record of individual fair catch kicks, and the exact number of attempts is unknown.[25]
  4. ^ The Playoff Bowl matched up the runners-up of the NFL's two conferences; although the game was effectively for third-place in the league, the NFL considers Playoff Bowl games to have been exhibition games, not playoff games.[53]
  1. ^ a b NFHS Rulebook, p. 46.
  2. ^ NFL Rules, p. 55.
  3. ^ a b NFHS Rulebook, p. 52.
  4. ^ a b c NFL Rules, p. 59.
  5. ^ NFHS Rulebook, p. 32.
  6. ^ NFL Rules, p. 57.
  7. ^ NFHS Rulebook, pp. 15, 32.
  8. ^ NFHS Rulebook, pp. 55, 66.
  9. ^ NFL Rules, p. 56-59.
  10. ^ NFHS Rulebook, p. 37.
  11. ^ a b NFL Rules, p. 58.
  12. ^ NFHS Rulebook, p. 55.
  13. ^ NFL Rules, p. 13.
  14. ^ a b c d e Mayer, Larry (March 9, 2012). "Bears shocked Packers with last-minute free kick". Retrieved June 9, 2013.
  15. ^ a b Smith, Michael Davi (November 23, 2008). "Rackers Botches Fair Catch Kick". Pro Football Talk. NBC Sports. Retrieved June 10, 2013.
  16. ^ a b c Smith, Cameron. "Rare free kick leads to huge, last-minute win in Miami". Yahoo! Sports. Retrieved June 10, 2013.
  17. ^ a b c d e Pet, Brian (February 4, 2013). "The Rarest Play in the NFL". Slate. Retrieved June 9, 2013.
  18. ^ Australian Football League. "Laws of Australian Football 2013" (PDF). Australian Football League. Retrieved 5 November 2013.
  19. ^ Nelson 1993, p. 235.
  20. ^ Nelson 1993, pp. 233-235.
  21. ^ a b Kantowski, Ron (January 14, 2012). "Fair catch kick would add old-time pizzazz to playoffs". Las Vegas Review-Journal. Retrieved June 10, 2013.
  22. ^ a b Pexa, Ron (November 28, 2008). "Ron Pexa: What About That Call?". East Iowa Herald. Retrieved June 10, 2013.
  23. ^ Radcliffe, JR (October 27, 2010). "The little-known fair catch kick". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved June 10, 2013.
  24. ^ DeCosta-Klipa, Nick (February 7, 2017). "Bill Belichick passed up an opportunity to end Super Bowl 51 in the weirdest possible way". The Boston Globe. Retrieved February 7, 2017.
  25. ^ a b c d e "Monolithic Packers-Bears Rivalry Evokes Numerous Memories". September 16, 2004. Retrieved June 10, 2013.
  26. ^ Crusinberry, James (Nov. 9, 1925). "Cards Win 9-6; Driscoll's Toe Tells Tale". Chicago Daily Tribune, p. 23. Retrieved January 14, 2015.
  27. ^ Kelley, Robert F. (Nov. 27, 1933). "Giants turn back Green Bay by 17-6". The New York Times, p. 21. Retrieved June 23, 2013.
  28. ^ Effrat, Louis (Oct. 24, 1955). "Giants defeated by Steelers in seesaw contest at Polo Grounds". The New York Times, p. 31. Retrieved June 23, 2013.
  29. ^ "Old-timers Perry, McElhenny, Tittle star in 24-21 rally". (Nov. 3, 1958). Los Angeles Times, p. c1. Retrieved June 23, 2013.
  30. ^ Wallace, William N. (Sep. 14, 1964). "Safetyman blitz shackles Tittle". The New York Times, p. 44. Retrieved June 23, 2013.
  31. ^ White, Gordon S., Jr. (Sep. 14, 1964). "Rout of Chicago led by Hornung". The New York Times, p. 44. Retrieved June 23, 2013.
  32. ^ Rollow, Cooper (Dec. 11, 1966). "Berry almost blanked out on play that whipped the Bears". Chicago Tribune, p. E3. Retrieved June 23, 2013.
  33. ^ Florence, Mal (Nov. 25, 1967). "Wanted three points". Los Angeles Times, p. a2. Retrieved June 23, 2013.
  34. ^ "Bears upset Packers, 13 to 10, on free kick in final seconds". (Nov. 4, 1968). The New York Times, p. 62. Retrieved June 23, 2013.
  35. ^ Dozer, Richard (Dec. 9, 1968). "Vikings stay alive". Chicago Tribune, p. g1. Retrieved June 23, 2013.
  36. ^ "Redskins tie 49ers, 17-17". (Oct. 6, 1969). The New York Times, p. 64. Retrieved June 23, 2013.
  37. ^ Rollow, Cooper (Nov. 30, 1969). "Pro football patter". Chicago Tribune, p. b4. Retrieved June 23, 2013.
  38. ^ "Another Fair Catch Kick Found". Quirky Research. Retrieved 22 September 2017.
  39. ^ "Jurgensen on target". (Nov. 2, 1970). Los Angeles Times, p. d8. Retrieved June 23, 2013.
  40. ^ Oates, Bob (Nov. 9, 1971). "L.A.'s special teams cost win in Baltimore". Los Angeles Times, p. d1. Retrieved June 23, 2013.
  41. ^ "The Answer Man, Series 8, Volume 3". March 9, 2012. Retrieved June 10, 2013.
  42. ^ a b "NFL fair catch kick attempts". Quirky Research. July 17, 2006. Retrieved 22 September 2017.
  43. ^ Katz, Michael (Nov. 26, 1979). "Giants topple Redskins, 14-6". The New York Times, p. C1. Retrieved June 23, 2013.
  44. ^ Roberts, Ernie (Jan. 21, 1981). "Color Rockingham grey". The Boston Globe, p. 1. Retrieved June 23, 2013.
  45. ^ "Colt 'free kick' no consequence". (Nov. 14, 1984). Indianapolis News, p. 30. Retrieved June 23, 2013.
  46. ^ "One play gave New York 2 hits". (Jan. 3, 1989). Los Angeles Times, p. 2. Retrieved June 23, 2013.
  47. ^ "McNair guides Titans past winless Texans". October 9, 2005. Retrieved June 10, 2013.
  48. ^ a b Herman, Brian (November 27, 2008). "Fair catch kick is Cox flashback". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Retrieved June 10, 2013.
  49. ^ "Box Score". November 23, 2008. Retrieved November 24, 2008.
  50. ^ "Crosby's free kick attempt fails". December 9, 2008. Retrieved June 10, 2013.
  51. ^ "Box Score". September 26, 2013. Retrieved September 26, 2013.
  52. ^ "49ers pull in front of Rams 14-3 at the half". Belleville News-Democrat. September 26, 2013. Retrieved September 26, 2013.
  53. ^ King, Steve (January 7, 2013). "This Day in Browns History – Jan. 7". Cleveland Browns. Retrieved February 14, 2013.
  54. ^ "Matte's passing paces Colts to 35-to-3 upset of Cowboys in Playoff Bowl". (Jan. 10, 1966). The New York Times, p. 19. Retrieved June 23, 2013.
  55. ^ Damer, Roy (Jul. 29, 1972). "Morton leads pro kings". Chicago Tribune, p. n_c1. Retrieved June 23, 2013.
  56. ^ "Oilers 17, Cowboys 14". (Aug. 31, 1986). The New York Times, p. S9. Retrieved June 23, 2013.
  57. ^ Mitchell, Fred (Aug. 9, 1993). "63-yard fg try on free kick falls short". Chicago Tribune, p. 4. Retrieved June 23, 2013.