Safety (gridiron football score)

This article is about a form of scoring in gridiron football. For the defensive position, see Safety (American and Canadian football position). For the topic of football medical safety, see Health issues in American football. For other uses, see Safety (disambiguation).

In gridiron football, the safety (American football) or safety touch (Canadian football) is a scoring play that results in two points (or, in rare cases, one point) being awarded to the scoring team. Safeties can be scored in a number of ways, such as when a ball carrier is tackled in his own end zone or when a foul is committed by the offense in their own end zone. After a safety is scored in American football, the ball is kicked off to the team that scored the safety from the 20-yard line; in Canadian football, the scoring team also has the options of taking control of the ball at their own 35-yard line or kicking off the ball. The ability of the scoring team to receive the ball through a kickoff differs from the touchdown and field goal, which require the scoring team to kick the ball off to the scored upon team.[1] Despite being of relatively low point value, safeties can have a significant impact on the result of games,[2] and Brian Burke of Advanced NFL Stats estimated that safeties have a greater abstract value than field goals, despite being worth a point less, due to the field position and reclaimed possession gained off the safety kick.[1]

Safeties are the least common method of scoring in American football[3] but are not rare occurrences[2] – since 1932, a safety has occurred once every 14.31 games in the National Football League (NFL), or about once a week under current scheduling rules.[2] On October 21, 1973, Fred Dryer, playing for the Los Angeles Rams against the Green Bay Packers, became the only player in NFL History to score two safeties in a single game. A much rarer occurrence is the one-point safety, which can be scored by the offense on an extra point or two-point conversion attempt; those have occurred at least twice in NCAA Division I football since 1996, most recently at the 2013 Fiesta Bowl. No conversion safeties have occurred since at least 1940 in the NFL. A conversion safety by the defense is also possible, though highly unlikely; although this has never occurred, it is the only possible way a team could finish with a single point in an American football game.[upper-alpha 1]

Scoring a safety

American football

In American football, a safety is scored when any of the following conditions occur:[4][5][6]

Canadian football

In Canadian football, a safety touch is scored when any of the following conditions occur:[7]

Resuming play after a safety

American football

After a safety is scored, the ball is put into play by a free kick. The team that was scored upon must kick the ball from their own 20-yard line and can punt, drop kick, or place kick the ball. In professional play, a kicking tee cannot be used – however, a tee can be used in high school or college football. Once the ball has been kicked, it can be caught and advanced by any member of the receiving team, and it can be recovered by the kicking team if the ball travels at least 10 yards and bounces at least once or a player of the receiving team touches the ball.[8][9]

Canadian football

After scoring a safety touch, the scoring team has the option of taking control of the ball and beginning play from their own 35-yard line, kicking the ball off from their 35-yard line, or accepting a kickoff from the 25-yard line of the team that conceded the score.[10] If a kickoff is chosen it must be a place kick, and the ball can be held, placed on the ground, or placed on a tee prior to the kick. As in American football, the ball must go at least ten yards before it can be recovered by the kicking team.[11]

Elective safeties

In American football, intentionally conceded safeties are an uncommon strategy. Teams have utilized elective safeties to gain field position for a punt when pinned deep in their own territory[12][13] and, when ahead near the end of a game, to run down the clock so as to deny the other team a chance to force a turnover or return a punt.[14][15][16][17] Teams have also taken intentional safeties by kicking a loose ball out the back of their end zone, with the intent of preventing the defense from scoring a touchdown.[18][19]

Elective safeties are more common in Canadian football, where they can result in better field position than a punt. The 2010 Edmonton Eskimos surrendered a Canadian Football League (CFL)-record 14 safeties, a factor that led CFL reporter Jim Mullin to suggest increasing the value of the safety touch from two to three points as a deterrent.[20]

Conversion safety

In American football, if what would normally be a safety is scored on an extra point or two-point conversion attempt (officially known in the rulebooks as a try), one point is awarded to the scoring team.[21][22][23] This is commonly known as a conversion safety or one-point safety[24] and it can be scored by the offense.[21][23] There are at least two known occurrences of the conversion safety in Division I college football – a November 26, 2004 game in which Texas scored against Texas A&M, and the 2013 Fiesta Bowl in which Oregon scored against Kansas State.[25] In both games the PAT kick was blocked, recovered by the defense, and then fumbled or thrown back into the end zone.[26] Coincidentally, play-by-play commentator Brad Nessler called both of these games.[27] No conversion safeties have been scored in the NFL since 1940, although it is now slightly more likely after the rule change in 2015 which allowed the defense to take possession and score on a conversion attempt. Before 2015, the only scenario in which a one-point safety could have been scored in the NFL would have involved the defense kicking or batting a loose ball out the back of the end zone without taking possession of it.[28] After the 2015 rule change, a one-point safety can also be scored after the defense takes possession and fumbles out of their own end zone or is tackled in it after leaving it, as in the NCAA.

In college football and the NFL, a conversion safety could also be scored by the defense.[22] To accomplish this, the kicking team would have to retreat all the way back to their own end zone (the most likely way this would happen is an incredibly errant long snap that goes far over the placeholder's head) and then fumble the ball out of it or be tackled in it.[24] A more plausible scenario would involve a turnover on the extra point attempt followed by a lost fumble before the defensive player reaches the end zone, with the ball finally being downed by the offense in its own end zone. While such a conversion safety has never been scored by the defense, it is the only possible way in which a team could finish with a single point in an American football game.[24][upper-alpha 1]

See also


  1. 1 2 At some levels of play, a forfeit would be recorded as a 10 result.
  1. 1 2 Burke, Brian (September 22, 2008). "What's a Safety Really Worth?". Advanced NFL Stats. Retrieved March 10, 2013.
  2. 1 2 3 Belson, Ken (December 8, 2011). "All That Work for 2 Points". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved November 5, 2012.
  3. Romer, David (April 2006). "Do Firms Maximize? Evidence from Professional Football" (PDF). Journal of Political Economy. University of Chicago. 114 (2): 364. doi:10.1086/501171. Retrieved October 23, 2012.
  4. NFL Rules 2012, pp. 5960.
  5. NCAA Rules 2011–2012, pp. 8081.
  6. NFHS Rules 2012, pp. 6667.
  7. CFL Rules 2011, p. 27.
  8. NFL Rules 2012, pp. 2930.
  9. NCAA Rule, 5253">NFHS Rules 2012, pp. 15, 46, 5253.
  10. CFL Rules 2011, p. 29.
  11. CFL Rules 2011, pp. 3639.
  12. "Belichick's gamble pays off for Patriots". Retrieved March 10, 2013.
  13. Lewerenz, Dan (October 23, 2004). "No. 25 Iowa 6, Penn State 4". Retrieved March 10, 2013.
  14. Antonik, John (December 1, 2007). "Ouch!". West Virginia Mountaineers Sports. Retrieved December 20, 2010.
  15. "Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. Texas A&M Aggies". Retrieved December 25, 2011.
  16. "UCLA Bruins vs. California Golden Bears". Retrieved December 25, 2011.
  17. Craft, Kevin (February 4, 2013). "The Moral of Super Bowl XLVII: Pay Attention to Special Teams". The Atlantic. Retrieved March 10, 2013.
  18. "Warner, St. Louis Struggle Past Tampa Bay". The Washington Post. January 24, 2000. Retrieved October 22, 2012.
  19. Manfred, Tony (October 21, 2012). "Mark Sanchez Intentionally Kicks The Ball Out Of The Back Of The Endzone In The Saddest Play Of The Weekend". Business Insider. Retrieved March 10, 2013.
  20. Mullin, Jim. "Mullin: Changing the Game - 3 point safety". Retrieved March 10, 2013.
  21. 1 2 NFL Rules 2012, pp. 5657.
  22. 1 2 NCAA Rules 2011–2012, pp. 7779.
  23. 1 2 NFHS Rules 2012, pp. 6566.
  24. 1 2 3 Easterbrook, Greg (December 19, 2007). "TMQ Nation Fires Back". Retrieved November 5, 2012.
  25. Myerburg, Paul (January 4, 2013). "One-point safety adds spice to dull Fiesta Bowl". USA Today. Retrieved March 10, 2013.
  26. Greenburg, Chris (January 4, 2013). "Oregon 1-Point Safety: Kansas State Blocks Ducks' Extra Point Attempt But Gives Up Unlikely Point". The Huffington Post. Retrieved March 10, 2013.
  27. Burke, Timothy (January 3, 2013). "Only Two One-Point Safeties Have Ever Happened In NCAA Football History, And Brad Nessler Called Them Both". Deadspin. Retrieved March 17, 2013.
  28. Bialik, Carl (January 3, 2013). "In Praise of the One-Point Safety". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved March 9, 2013.


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