A field goal (formerly "goal from the field") in U.S. football and Canadian football is a goal that may be scored during general play ("from the field").
A field goal may be scored by a placekick or the very rare drop kick. The ball must pass "through the uprights", that is, over a crossbar that is 10 feet off the ground and between upright posts that are 18 feet 6 inches (5.64 m) apart, to count, and the kick must not be a kickoff or a free kick following a safety. A field goal can still be good even if the ball hits an upright or the crossbar. The rules of the particular sanctioning authority may impose additional requirements. A successful field goal scores three points.
Field goals are measured with the height as distance from the crossbar to the ground and the width as the distance between the two upright poles.
The standard upright dimensions are:
- NFL, CFL, and NCAA (since 1991): height 10 feet (3.0 meters), width 18 feet 6 inches (5.64 meters)
- High school: height 10 feet (3.0 meters), width 23 feet 4 inches (7.11 meters) (games may be played on fields with uprights by state adoption)
- Arena Football: height 15 feet (4.57 meters), width 9 feet (2.74 meters)
Because a field goal is worth only three points, while a touchdown scores at least six (usually seven with the PAT
), teams will generally only attempt a field goal 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 generally within the opponent's 35-yard line.
- There are only a few seconds left in the first half.
- There are only a few seconds left in the second half, and the team on offense needs three points to win or tie.
- The game is in overtime, and scoring any points will end the game.
Except in desperate situations, a team will generally attempt a field goal 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; in the NCAA it's at the spot of the snap). Even under ideal conditions, the best kickers in the NFL have difficulty making kicks longer than 50 yards consistently (the NFL record is 63 yards and the CFL record, 62 yards). If a team chooses not to attempt a field goal on fourth down (third in Canada), it can punt to the other team. A punt can't score any points in American football (though it can result in a single in Canadian football), but it may push the other team back toward its own end.
How field goals are kicked
When a team decides to kick a field goal, it will generally line up in a very tight formation, with all but two players lined up on 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. The defense can only try to block the kick at the line; it cannot attempt to bat down a field-goal attempt at the uprights like a goalie. 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 attempt to return the field goal; like 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 attempt, 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 attempted a return. Thus, teams will usually only attempt a return towards the end of a half or in a particularly desperate situation.
The holder usually lines up 7 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.
Missed and blocked field goals
In the NFL, missed field goals attempted from the 20-yard line or closer result in the opposing team taking possession at the 20-yard line. 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 position at the line of scrimmage, unless the kick was made from inside the 20.
Prior to the 1974 season, missed field goals resulted in the opposing team gaining possession at the line of scrimmage or the 20-yard line, whichever was closer to the goalpost.
Under NHFS (High School) rules a field goal attempt is no different than 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 touch back. If the ball becomes dead on the field the defensive team will next put the ball in play from that point.
The opposing team may also catch a missed field goal and attempt to return it. This is only rarely performed, as on average the opposing team would not be able to return the ball to the spot of the kick. However, it is occasionally done, particularly when a very long kick is attempted at the end of the first half. On November 4th 2007, Antonio Cromartie of the San Diego Chargers returned a missed field-goal from Ryan Longwell (Minnesota Vikings) for 109 yards and a touchdown, the longest play in NFL history. (Three of the four longest plays in NFL history are returns of missed field goals for touchdowns.) One reason for returning missed field goals is the kicking team typically consists of mostly linemen, unlike on punts where a dedicated cover team is used. Thus a well timed return can easily lead to a touchdown for the returner.
In the NCAA, the opposing team takes possession at the line of scrimmage rather than at the spot of the kick.
In American football, 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 through the uprights.
In Canadian football, the opposing team must return the missed field goal. If they do not, or if the missed field goal goes through the end zone, then the kicking team scores a single point, also called a "rouge". This may occasionally lead to situations at the end of a close game where the team on defense stations a player behind the goal posts to kick the ball out of the end zone in case of a missed field-goal attempt to preserve a victory or tie. Also in the CFL, 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 the hopes of recovering the ball in the end zone for a touchdown.
Occasionally (about once in 40 field-goal attempts in the NFL), 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 or missed field goal and can only be advanced by the defense, unless a defensive player fumbles the ball, after which an offensive player can advance it.
There are several styles kickers have used for kicking field goals over the years. The soccer style is the most widely used kicking style in football today.
"Soccer style" gets its name from the game of soccer
and the manner in which soccer players kick a ball. A soccer style field goal kicker kicks the ball with the instep of his foot and approach the ball from an angle. Typically a kicker will take 3 steps straight back and 2 side steps to the left (if right footed). This will put them in the proper position for approaching the ball. Some kickers, such as Adam Vinatieri
, start farther to the side and facing away from the line, then proceed to "swing" their body around, almost in a semicircle motion, kicking the ball in with the same final motion.
Soccer style is the most widely used in American football today. In this style the ball is snapped to a holder lined up about 9 yards from the line of scrimmage. It was formerly 7 yards, but the rule was changed during the off-season preceding the 2007–2008 season to prevent kickers from making field goals from such great distances. The length of the field goal recorded is thus normally around 19 yards more than the distance to the end zone, the last 10 yards being the end zone itself.
Popularized by Jan Stenerud, soccer-style kicking has greatly improved placekickers' accuracy. Hall of Fame kicker Lou "The Toe" Groza made only 58% of his field-goal attempts; today's best kickers make nearly 80% of their attempts.
In the "straight-ahead" or "straight-on" style, the kicker takes several steps back and kicks the ball with the toe of his shoe. This style was widely used until the soccer style took over beginning in the early 1960s.
Unlike the soccer-style, the straight-ahead style requires the use of a special shoe that has a flattened toe and is reinforced to be extremely rigid. Additionally, some kickers wore a kicking shoe that was one or even two sizes smaller than normal. Hall of Famer George Blanda, a straight-ahead kicker who also played quarterback, wore a modified shoe that allowed him to play both positions without changing shoes. However, many modern kickers (the "soccer-style" term has all but disappeared) use a shoe that features a smooth contact surface.
Mark Moseley was the last full-time straight-ahead place kicker in the NFL, retiring after the 1986 season. Mosely was also among the best kickers of any style, having been the only NFL kicker to ever be named league MVP. Steve Cox kicked the last straight-ahead field goal in the NFL in 1987. Cox was a punter who also kicked off and occasionally kicked long field goals.
A drop kick is made when the kicker drops the ball and then kicks it when it bounces off the ground. This kick was popular in the early 1900s. However, the modern American football is more pointed on both ends, making the bounce less reliable. The main advantages of the drop kick are that 1) the kicking team gains an additional blocker and 2) there is one less person (the holder) who has to do their job perfectly to succeed. Because the advantage of an extra blocker is minimal and professional teams practice their special teams so frequently (meaning the holds are usually good), drop kicks are rarely seen because only straight-on kickers can do it for the most part.
The last successful drop kick in the NFL was made on January 1, 2006 by New England Patriots quarterback Doug Flutie for an extra point. It was the first time in 64 years that a drop kick was converted for an extra point in the NFL.
The last successful drop-kick extra point in the NCAA was by Aaron Fitzgerald of the University of LaVerne on November 10, 1990 against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.
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 3 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, the standard width for high school posts today.
- In 1988 the NCAA banned the kicking tee, requiring kicks from the ground.
- In 1991 the college goalposts were reduced in width to 18 feet 6 inches, 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 apart. In 1993, the NCAA narrowed the distance between the hashmarks to 40 feet (which was the width of hashmarks in the NFL until 1972, when they were narrowed to 18 feet 6 inches).
- 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.
- In 1967, the NFL adopted the "slingshot" goalpost, with a single post curving to support the crossbar. 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-A 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.
For the NFL records on field goals, see NFL records page
Longest field goals
Canadian Football League
Arena Football League
- 69 yards: Ove Johansson, Abilene Christian (W 17–0) v East Texas State, October 16, 1976 (2-inch tee) Shotwell Stadium, Abilene. NAIA.
- 67 yards: Russell Erxleben, Texas (W 72–15) v Rice, October 1, 1977 (2-inch tee)
- 67 yards: Steve Little, Arkansas (L 9–13) v Texas, October 15, 1977 (2-inch tee)
- 67 yards: Joe Williams, Wichita State (W 33–7) v Southern Illinois, October 21, 1978 (2-inch tee)
- 67 yards: Tom Odle, Fort Hays State (W 22–14) v Washburn, November 5, 1988 (2-inch tee), NCAA Division II.
- 65 yards: John Triplett Haxall, Princeton (L 1g,1s-2g,2t,1s) v Yale, November 30, 1882 (w/out tee) The Polo Grounds, 5th Avenue at 110th Street, New York City.
- 65 yards: J.P. Ross, Birmingham A.C. (W 5–4) v Alabama, November 12, 1892 (drop-kick)
- 65 yards: Tony Franklin, Texas A&M (W 24–0) v Baylor, October 16, 1976 (2-inch tee) (after Johansson's 69–yarder)
- 65 yards: Martin Gramatica, Kansas State (W 73–7) v Northern Illinois September 12, 1998 (longest in NCAA history without a tee)
- 64 yards: Jose Martinez, UTEP (W 58–13) v UCF, September 27, 2008
- 64 yards: Tony Franklin, Texas A&M (W 24–0) v Baylor, October 16, 1976 (2-inch tee) (before Johansson's 69–yarder)
- 64 yards: Russell Erxleben, Texas (W 13–6) v Oklahoma (2-inch tee) October 8, 1977
- 63 yards: Joe Duren, Arkansas State (W 22–20) v McNeese State, November 23, 1974 (2-inch tee) NCAA Division II
- 63 yards: Scott Roper, Arkansas State (W 27–20) v North Texas State, November 7, 1987 (2-inch tee) NCAA Division 1-AA
- 63 yards: Bill Gramática, South Florida v. Austin Peay, November 18, 2000 (longest field goal at sea level w/o tee in NCAA history)
- 62 yards: Jason Hanson, Washington State University vs. University of Nevada at Las Vegas, September 28, 1991 (w/o tee)
- 62 yards: Derek Doerfler, Baker University vs. William Jewell College, 2007
- 61 yards: Bill Shear, Cortland State (NY) vs. Hobart, 1966. 1st 60+ yard field goal at any level of organized football
- 61 yards: Steve Little, Arkansas (L 9–3) v Tulsa, September 25, 1976 (2-inch tee)
- 60 yards: Bill McClard, Arkansas (W 36–3) v SMU, November 14, 1970 (2-inch tee)
- 60 yards: Russell Erxleben, Texas (W 26–0) v Texas Tech October 29, 1977
- 60 yards: Kevin Butler, Georgia (W 26–23) v. Clemson 1984
- 60 yards: Pete Garces, Idaho State v Cal State Northridge, 1998
- 60 yards: Mason Crosby, Colorado v Iowa State, 2004
- 60 yards: Gary Cismesia, Florida State University (L 12–45) vs. University of Florida, 2007
- 59 yards: Jan Stenerud, Montana State v Montana, 1964
- 59 yards: Joe Petrone, Idaho State (W 53–32)v Portland state, 1968
- 59 yards: Cloyce Hinton, Ole Miss v Georgia, October 11, 1969
- 59 yards: Jared Siegel, Oregon v UCLA , 2002
- 58 yards: Jon Bacon, University of Cincinnati (T 17–17) @ Miami, Ohio 1994
- 58 yards: Mason Crosby, Colorado (L 23–3) @ Miami, 2005
- 57 yards: Gene Branum, Austin College (T 24–24) v Concordia College, December 12, 81 (NAIA Division II National Championship Game)
- 57 yards: Ryan Harrison, Air Force (W 20–17) v Texas Christian, September 13, 2007
- 57 yards: Derek Doerfler, Baker University vs. Culver-Stockton College, 2007
Tony Franklin is the only kicker with 2 field goals over 60 yards in the same game.
Russell Erxleben kicked 3 field goals over 60 yards in 1977, an NCAA record.
Scott Lewis attempted the longest field goal in college football history, 72 yards, Arizona State vs USC, October 4, 1980.
Kevin Butler attempted a 72 yard field goal, Georgia vs. Florida State, 1984 Citrus Bowl.
- 67 yards: Rusty Curry, Duluth High School (Duluth, GA) (W 13—6) v Norcross High School (Norcross, GA), 1999
- 67 yards: Russell Cowsert, Dallas Christian HS (TX) (W 67–0) v Fort Worth Nolan HS (TX), 1987
- 67 yards: Ed Nee 1985
- 67 yards: Tim DeArmond, Eudora High School (Kansas) (w 31–0) v Baldwin HS (KS), October 3, 2007
- 67 yards: Matthew Gerk, Fort Morgan HS(CO) (W 54–6) v Brush HS(CO), 2006
- 67 yards: Mike Billengas, Tecnologico de Monterrey Campus Mexico City ([Mexico City, Mexico]) (L 22–14) v UVM (MEX), July 27, 2006
- 67 yards: Andrew Bailey, Alamo Heights High School (Texas) (W 24–17) v Fredericksburg HS(TX), October 12, 2007
Famous field goals and missed attempts
- November 8, 1970: Tom Dempsey, 63 yards New Orleans Saints (W 19–17) vs Detroit Lions with only 2 seconds left to give the Saints a much-needed win. Dempsey kicked the ball in the straight-ahead fashion. This kick is famous as the longest regular-season NFL kick in history and because Dempsey was born with a right club foot and no toes (this was his kicking foot).
- January 17, 1971: Rookie kicker Jim O'Brien of the Baltimore Colts kicked a 32-yard field goal with 9 seconds remaining in Super Bowl V for the deciding margin in the Colts' 16–13 win over the Dallas Cowboys.
- October 16, 1976: Tony Franklin kicked two 60+ yard field goals in one game. His first one of 64 yards broke the collegiate record. Later in the game he kicked a 65 yard field goal. On the same day however, Ove Johansson kicked a 69 yard field goal to break Franklin's record.
- December 12, 1982: With the score tied 0–0 late in the fourth quarter in a blinding snowstorm in Foxborough and the ball deep in Miami Dolphins territory, the New England Patriots called a timeout and brought a snowplow on the field to clear a lane for kicker John Smith. The kick was good, and the Patriots held on for a 3–0 lead in what has been dubbed the "Snowplow Game.' The NFL has since banned this practice, which was not addressed in the rule book at the time.
- November 30, 1985: Van Tiffin, 52 yards Alabama Crimson Tide (W 25–23) vs Auburn Tigers on the final play of the Iron Bowl Article
- January 27, 1991: Scott Norwood misses 47 yards Buffalo Bills (L 20–19) vs New York Giants in the final seconds of Super Bowl XXV, allowing Giants to win, famously missing wide right. Article
- October 25, 1998: Jason Elam, 63 yards Denver Broncos (W 37–24) vs Jacksonville Jaguars at the end of the first half. This tied Dempsey's record. Elam used the soccer-style kick.
- January 17, 1999: After a perfect regular season with the Minnesota Vikings of 35-for-35 field goals and 59-for-59 points-after-touchdown, kicker Gary Anderson missed a potential game-winning field goal with less than two minutes to go in the NFC Championship game against the Atlanta Falcons which the Vikings led at the time, 27–20. After the miss, the Falcons drove 71 yards and tied the score on a Chris Chandler to Terence Mathis touchdown, sending the game into sudden-death overtime. Atlanta won 30–27 on a Morten Andersen field goal nearly 12 minutes into the extra period.
- February 3, 2002: Adam Vinatieri, 48 yards New England Patriots (W 20–17) vs St. Louis Rams final play of Super Bowl XXXVI.
- November 10, 2002: In a CFL playoff game, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers partially blocked a field goal attempt by B.C. Lions kicker Matt Kellett. Winnipeg's Arland Bruce returned the missed kick 112 yards for a touchdown in a game the Bombers eventually won 30–3. (Readers unfamiliar with Canadian football should note that the CFL field is 110 yards long between the end zones, and each end zone is 20 yards deep, thus allowing for the longer yardage.)
- January 14, 2006: Mike Vanderjagt missed 46 yards, wide right. Indianapolis Colts (L 18–21 ) vs Pittsburgh Steelers with 18 seconds remaining in AFC Divisional Playoffs. The NFL would later announce that a botched call earlier in the game should have not gone in favor of the Colts, which led to the field goal. Four days after the miss, Vanderjagt appeared on The Late Show, which is hosted by Indianapolis native and Colts fan David Letterman. In his appearance, he completed a 46-yard field goal on West 53rd Street, outside the Ed Sullivan Theater.
- June 28, 2007: BC Lions P/K Paul McCallum missed a field goal from 32 yards which was subsequently caught just inside the end line (the far end of the end zone) by Toronto Argonauts KR Bashir Levingston, who then returned the ball the entire length of the field for the longest possible missed field goal return for a touchdown in all of professional football, 129 yards.
- September 15, 2007: University of Virginia placekicker Chris Gould kicked a 48-yard field goal in the third quarter of a game against the University of North Carolina. The kick went through the uprights but was ruled a miss by the officials standing beneath the uprights. Virginia coach Al Groh challenged the ruling after his staff advised him that the kick was good, and instant-replay review reversed the "no-good" ruling.
- November 4, 2007: Oakland Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski attempted a 64-yard record attempt before halftime against Houston Texans on a windless Oakland afternoon in McAfee Coliseum, while it had the distance, it slammed the right upright and came back out.
- November 18, 2007: Cleveland Browns place kicker Phil Dawson attempted a field goal in the closing seconds of the 4th quarter to tie the game against the Baltimore Ravens. The kick carried through the air, and bounced off the left upright, back onto the rear curved post, which bounced the football back out into the end zone. Officials reviewed the play for several minutes, and decided that, according to the rules, the kick was good, as announced by referee Pete Morelli. At this point the Baltimore Ravens, already celebrating in the locker room, were called back out onto the field to proceed to an overtime period. Cleveland went on to win in overtime on a Dawson field goal.
- November 26, 2007: Pittsburgh Steelers place kicker Jeff Reed scores a 24 yard field goal in atrocious conditions against Miami Dolphins. It was the solitary score of the game with only 17 seconds left on the clock. The game remained scoreless for longer than any other in 64 years, since New York Giants held the Lions to a scoreless tie in Detroit on November 7, 1943.
- January 20, 2008: In the NFC Championship game between the New York Giants and the home team, the Green Bay Packers, Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes missed two field goal attempts in the 4th quarter, which either of those could have ended the game. One was at 43 yards out with 6:53 left to go in the ballgame, which it sailed wide left. The second was a 36 yard attempt with just 4 seconds left, missing that kick as well. Rookie snapper Jay Alford snapped the ball too high, which gave the football the hook wide left. In overtime however, after Corey Webster intercepted the last pass of quarterback Brett Favre's career with the Packers, Tynes got redemption after kicking a 47 yard field goal with 12:34 in OT. It was the longest field goal ever in Lambeau Field postseason history from a visiting team.
- September 28, 2008: Sebastion Janikowski of the Oakland Raiders attempted a 76 yard field goal. It fell short and wide right.
Four-point field goals
experimented with a rule that awarded four points for any field goal kicked 50 yards or more. Thus, the forty-yard line was analogous to basketball's three point line
and Australian rules football's Super Goal
. The proposed New USFL
also plans on adopting this rule, although the required distance was increased to 55 yards.
In Arena Football, a field goal scored by drop kick is worth four points.
The American Indoor Football Association offers four points for kicking a three-point field goal and then immediately kicking the goal through the uprights on the ensuing kickoff for a single.
In six-man football field goals are worth four points.