A field goal (FG) 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, or drop kick, the ball through the goal, i.e., between the uprights and over the crossbar. American football requires that a field goal must only come during a play from scrimmage, while Canadian football retains open field kicks and thus field goals may be scored at any time from anywhere on the field and by any player. The vast majority of field goals, in both codes, are placed kicked. Drop kicked field goals were common in the early days of Gridiron football but are almost never done in modern times. In most leagues, a successful field goal awards three points (a notable exception is in six-man football where, due to the difficulty of making a successful field goal because of the small number of players available to stop the opposing team from attempting a block, a field goal is worth four points).
A field goal may also be scored through a fair catch kick, but this is extremely rare. Since a field goal is worth only three points, as opposed to a touchdown, which is worth six points, it is usually only attempted in specific situations (see Strategy).
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. In American football the goals are centered on each end line; in Canadian football the goals are centered on each goal line.
As a field goal is worth only three points, while a touchdown scores at least six (which usually becomes seven with a successful conversion, 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 its 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 kick returns. Even under ideal conditions, the best professional kickers historically had difficulty making kicks longer than 50 yards consistently (the NFL record is 64 yards and the CFL record, 62 yards). 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 64 yards, a record set by Matt Prater on December 8, 2013. The previous record was 63, originally set by Tom Dempsey and then matched 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.
How field goals are kicked
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 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 disrupt the entire attempt.
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. 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
If there is any time left in the half, the method of resuming play after a successful field goal varies between leagues.
- The scored-against team receives a kickoff.
- The scored-against team receives a kickoff.
- The scored-against team can choose to either receive a kickoff or kick off themselves. (In practice, almost all choose to receive.)
- The scored-against team may elect to either kick off, receive a kickoff, or scrimmage from the 35 yard line. The option of scrimmaging from the 35 yard line was eliminated for the 2009 CFL season, but the change proved unpopular and was reversed the following year.
Missed field goals
A missed field goal is said to be "no good" if the kicked ball does not cross between the uprights and/or over the crossbar of the goal posts. If it misses to the posts' left it may be called "wide left" and "wide right" if it misses to the posts' right. A field goal attempt may be described as "short" if it does not have sufficient distance to go over the cross bar. Some commentators will only describe a field goal attempt as being short if it appears to have been aimed correctly while others will describe an attempt appearing to lack both accuracy and distance as being both wide and short.
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 due to the distance the defense must travel to reach the returner. If there is a significant likelihood of a miss and the strategic game situation warrants it, the defense places a player downfield, in or near their end zone, to catch the ball. The risk in this is that the return man may be tackled deep in his own territory, at a considerably worse position than he could have gotten by letting the ball go dead (see below); furthermore, should the returner fumble the ball, the kicking team can recover it and gain a new set of downs (the advantage is that the kicking team is lined up very close together to stop kick blockers, and not spread across the field like a kickoff or punt team, and is therefore in poor position to defend the return). Thus, teams will usually return a kick only towards the end of a half (when the kick will be the final play) or in a particularly desperate situation.
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:
- National Football League
- Missed field goals attempted from the defending team's 20-yard line or closer result in the defense taking possession at their 20-yard line. Missed field goals attempted from behind 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, in which case the opposing team would take possession at the 20-yard line.)
- The opposing team takes possession at the line of scrimmage rather than at the spot of the kick. If the line of scrimmage is inside the 20-yard line, the opposing team takes possession at the 20.
- 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 enters 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 (see below).
- 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 out the back of 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, (onside players 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, not returning the ball out of the end zone results in the defense conceding a single point, which may be crucial in a close game. Moreover, the wider field of the Canadian game makes the average return longer (in terms of yardage). However, many Canadian football coaches judge that conceding a single and taking possession at the 35-yard line is preferable to returning a missed field goal and avoiding a single at the cost of poor field position.
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, with field goals counting for 5 points, and touchdowns and conversions worth 4 apiece. In 1897, the touchdown was raised to 5 points while the conversion was lowered to 1 point. Field goals were devalued 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 followed suit in 1956.
The spot of the conversion has also changed through the years. In 1924, NCAA rules spotted the conversion at the 3-yard line, before moving it back to the 5-yard line in 1925. In 1929, the spot was moved up to the 2-yard line, which the NFL had done until 2014. In 1968, the NCAA diverged from the NFL rules in moving the spot back to the original 3-yard line. Canadian rules originally spotted the conversion at the 5-yard line, which remains closer than in the American code as the goalposts are at the front of the end zone. In 2015, to make conversion kicks harder, the NFL and CFL moved the spot of the kick to the 15 and 25-yard lines, respectively. In addition, the CFL moved the spot for a two-point conversion up to the 3-yard line to entice more teams to go for 2 points as opposed to one.
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 89 years ago in 1927. The NFL (still following NCAA rules at the time) followed suit, but moved the posts back to the goal line starting in the 1932 NFL Playoff Game, a change made necessary by the size of the indoor Chicago Stadium and kept when the NFL rules stopped mirroring the NCAA rules in 1933. The NFL kept the post at the goal line until 42 years ago, when they were moved back to the rear of the end zone for the 1974 season. This was partly a result of the narrowed hashmark distance of 1972, which had made for easier field-goal angles. The Canadian game still has posts on the goal line.
The width of the goalposts and the hashmarks have also varied throughout the years. In 1959, the NCAA goalposts were widened to 23 feet 4 inches (7.11 m), the standard width for high school posts today. In 1991, the college goalposts were reduced in width to 18 ft 6 in (5.64 m), matching the NFL. For the 1991 and 1992 seasons, this meant potentially severe angles for short field goal attempts, since the hashmark width remained at 53 ft 4 in (16.26 m). In 1993, the NCAA narrowed the distance between the hashmarks to 40 ft (12.19 m), matching what was the width of hashmarks in the NFL from 1945 through 1971; the NFL narrowed the hashmarks in 1972 to goalpost width at 18.5 feet (5.64 m).
The NFL increased the height of the uprights above the crossbar to 20 feet (6.10 m) in 1966 and 30 feet (9.14 m) in 1974. In 2014, they were raised five feet to 35 feet (10.67 m) after the adoption of a proposal by New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.
The "slingshot" goalpost, with a single post curving to support the crossbar, was invented by Joel Rottman in Montreal, Canada. The first were built by Alcan and displayed at Expo 67, the World's fair in Montreal. The NFL had standardized the goalposts in 1966 and 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 dual-support posts: 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 the 2005 season, when they used LSU's stadium for home games after Hurricane Katrina.
Goalposts at the professional level today are sometimes equipped with a camera mounted to the stanchion immediately behind the center of the crossbar. Since these cameras are both above and slightly behind the crossbar, a field goal attempt will be judged good if it strikes this equipment.
In 1989, the NCAA banned the kicking tee, requiring kicks from the ground.
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.
The longest field goal made was 64 yards by Matt Prater of the Denver Broncos on December 8, 2013. The longest field goal attempt in an NFL game was 76 yards by Sebastian Janikowski on September 28, 2007.
|64 yards||Matt Prater||Denver Broncos||51–28||Tennessee Titans||December 8, 2013||End of 1st half||Sports Authority Field at Mile High||5,280 ft (1,610 m)||13 °F; Sunny; Wind: S at 3 mph; Humidity: 72%|
|63 yards||Tom Dempsey||New Orleans Saints||19–17||Detroit Lions||November 8, 1970||Born with a stub for a right foot. Game-winning kick as time expired. Detroit kicker Errol Mann had kicked a field goal with :08 remaining to give Lions the lead.||Tulane Stadium||16 ft (4.9 m)|
|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||FirstEnergy Stadium||580 ft (180 m)|
|61 yards||Jay Feely||Arizona Cardinals||16–19 (OT)||Buffalo Bills||October 14, 2012||right-footed; longest 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)||Retractable roof closed|
|61 yards||Justin Tucker||Baltimore Ravens||18-16||Detroit Lions||December 16, 2013||Right-footed; game-winning field goal with 43 seconds remaining; sixth field goal of the game||Ford Field||601 ft (183 m)||Dome|
|61 yards||Greg Zuerlein||St. Louis Rams||18–21 (OT)||Minnesota Vikings||November 8, 2015||Right-footed||TCF Bank Stadium||869 ft (265 m)||58 °F (14 °C); sunny|
|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 with six seconds remaining||LP Field||400 ft (120 m)|
|60 yards||Dan Carpenter||Miami Dolphins||10–13||Cleveland Browns||December 5, 2010||End of 1st half||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); longest field goal in third quarter; also kicked a 58-yard field goal in the first quarter||Edward Jones Dome||466 ft (142 m)||Dome|
|60 yards||Chandler Catanzaro||Arizona Cardinals||18–33||Buffalo Bills||September 25, 2016||longest field goal in career||New Era Field||600 ft (180 m)|
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 between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks on August 29, 2002, Ola Kimrin kicked a 65-yard field goal. However, because pre-season games are not counted toward official records, this accomplishment is not the official record.
- 62 yards, Paul McCallum, Saskatchewan Roughriders vs. Edmonton Eskimos, October 27, 2001
- 60 yards, Dave Ridgway, Saskatchewan Roughriders vs. Winnipeg Blue Bombers, September 6, 1987
- 69 yards, Ove Johansson, Abilene Christian University vs. East Texas State on October 16, 1976. (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. (NCAA Division I)
- 65 yards, J. T. Haxall, Princeton vs. Yale, 1882.
All of the above kicks were successful with the use of a kicking tee, which was banned by the NCAA prior to the 1989 season.
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 in a blizzard against Northwestern University on November 15, 1898.
- 68 yards, Dirk Borgognone, Reno High School vs. Sparks High School (Nevada), September 27, 1985
- 67 yards, Austin Rehkow, Central Valley High School (Spokane Valley, Washington) vs. Shadle Park High School (Spokane, Washington), October 18, 2012 (tied with two others)
- 62 yards, David Rosenbaum, Woodrow Wilson High School (Washington, D.C.) vs. Spingarn High School, October 3, 2003. While no records are kept, considered to be the longest extra point scored. Penalties due to excessive celebration, unsportsmanlike conduct, and taunting.
- 68 yards, Fabrizio Scaccia, Treasure Coast Bobcats (FL), March 29, 2009 (world record for a kick without the aid of a tee, which was banned for field goal attempts in the NCAA in 1989)
Longest missed field goal return records
Field goal returns are rare in the NFL, since an attempt with sufficient distance that misses the uprights will automatically be dead. Returns are possible when a field goal is short, but in that case returners will usually down the ball so as to scrimmage from the spot of the kick. Normally, a return will only be attempted when there is not enough time left in the half to run a play from scrimmage. Nevertheless, four field goals have been returned for at least 107 yards in the 21st century:
|Distance returned||Returner||Team||Opposing kicker||Opposing team||Distance attempted||Date||Location|
|109 yards||Antonio Cromartie||San Diego Chargers||Ryan Longwell||Minnesota Vikings||58 yards||November 4, 2007||Metrodome|
|108 yards||Devin Hester||Chicago Bears||Jay Feely||New York Giants||52 yards||November 12, 2006||Giants Stadium|
|108 yards||Nathan Vasher||Chicago Bears||Joe Nedney||San Francisco 49ers||52 yards||November 13, 2005||Soldier Field|
|107 yards||Chris McAlister||Baltimore Ravens||Jason Elam||Denver Broncos||57 yards||September 30, 2002||Ravens Stadium|
Because the goalposts in Canadian football are on the goal line, and because downing the ball in the end zone results in the kicking team scoring a single point, field goal returns are much more common. The longest missed field goal return in the CFL is 131 total yards. Against the Montreal Alouettes on August 22, 1958, the Toronto Argonauts' Boyd Carter ran 15 yards, then threw a lateral to Dave Mann, who then returned it for the final 116 yards. This return, which started 21 yards behind the goal line, was during the era of 25-yard end zones and therefore cannot be met or exceeded on the modern field with 20-yard end zones. Since the shortening of the end zones, a field goal has been returned for the maximum 129 yards on two occasions: by Tristan Jackson of the Saskatchewan Roughriders on July 14, 2012 and by Trent Guy of the Montreal Alouettes on September 23, 2012.
In NCAA college football, only five missed field goals returns for touchdowns have ever been returned 100 yards or more.:
- September 17, 1966: Don Guest (California Golden Bears), 108-yard return for a touchdown after a failed 47-yard field goal attempt by Washington State.
- September 28, 1968: Richie Luzzi (Clemson Tigers), 108-yard return for a touchdown after a failed 47-yard field goal attempt by Georgia.
- September 7, 2013: Odell Beckham, Jr. (LSU Tigers), 109-yard return for a touchdown after a failed 59-yard field goal attempt by UAB.
- November 30, 2013: Chris Davis, Jr. (Auburn Tigers), 109-yard return for a touchdown after what would have been a tie-breaking 57-yard field goal attempt by Alabama fell short as time expired, what some writers and fans call the greatest play in college football history.
- September 3, 2016: Brandon Wilson (Houston Cougars), 109-yard return for a touchdown after a failed 53-yard field goal attempt by Oklahoma
- Jeremy Botelho of the Manitoba Bisons playing against the Simon Fraser Clansmen on September 11, 2009
- Jedd Gardner of the Guelph Gryphons playing against the McMaster Marauders on October 8, 2010
- Tunde Adeleke of the Carleton Ravens playing against the Ottawa Gee-Gees on October 5, 2013
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