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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, or drop kick, the ball through the goal, i.e., between the uprights and over the crossbar, during a play from scrimmage. The vast majority of field goals are placed kicked. Drop kicked field goals were common in the early days of football, but are 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 because of 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. Since a field goal is worth only three points, as opposed to a touchdown which is worth six, it is usually attempted in specific situations (see below under section, 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.
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:
Except in desperate situations, a team will generally attempt field goals only when keeping a drive alive, 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 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.
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 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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 offense 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.
Situations where the defense does not return a missed field goal vary between leagues and levels of play:
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 has since maintained. In 1968, the NCAA diverged from the NFL rules in moving the spot back to the original 3-yard line. Canadian rules spot 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.
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 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 1974, when they were moved back 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. 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 feet 6 inches (5.64 m), matching the width of NFL goal posts. For the 1991 and 1992 seasons, this meant potentially 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), matching what was the width of hashmarks in the NFL until 1972; the NFL has since narrowed the hashmarks to 18 feet 6 inches (5.64 m).
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. 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.
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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 ever in an NFL game was 76 yards by Sebastian Janikowski on September 28, 2007.
In the history of the NFL regular season, only fourteen field goals have been made from at least 60 yards:
|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.||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; 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|
|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|
|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||LP Field||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.
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.
Four field goals have been returned for at least 107 yards:
|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|
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.
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