A fair catch kick is an extremely obscure and rarely used rule in American Football, which allows a team that makes a fair catch of a punt or kickoff to immediately attempt to score with a free kick. If the free kick goes through the uprights, the kicking team scores three points, as if they had kicked a field goal.

The fair catch kick differs from a normal field goal attempt in several crucial respects. Unlike a field goal attempt, the ball is spotted and kicked from the location of the fair catch, rather than seven or eight yards back. The defense is not allowed to rush the kicking team, but instead must line up 10 yards back from the spot of the ball. This allows the kicker to get a full running start (as in a kickoff) rather than a two step start as in a normal field goal attempt. The fair catch kick also does not use up any time, nor require there to be any time left on the clock, so it may be attempted even if there is no more time left in the game.

The fair catch kick is an ancient holdover from the original rules of rugby. It is still legal in American high school football and the NFL but has long since been made illegal in college football and is no longer legal even in rugby. In current high school rules, the kicker is allowed to use a tee, just as in a kickoff, but in the NFL the kicker must either drop kick the ball or have a teammate hold it.

The fair catch kick is so rare because there are hardly any situations where it would make any sense to use it. Most punts or kickoffs send the ball deep into the offense's territory, too far away from the uprights for a kick to make it through. Thus if there is any time at all on the clock, most teams would rather run one or more plays from scrimmage in an effort to either score a touchdown or get closer for an attempt at a normal field goal. Thus, attempting a fair catch kick only makes sense at the very end of the first or second half, when there is no time left on the clock, and the opposing team punts or kicks a ball short enough to be fair caught relatively close to their uprights. This sort of situation is made even rarer by the fact that most well-coached teams will be aware of this obscure rule and attempt to avoid letting it come into play by kicking the ball as far as possible or kicking it out of bounds. And even if the situation does come into play, it only makes sense to try for a fair catch kick if the three points might reasonably make a difference in the game.

Only five fair catch kicks have ever been successfully completed in all of NFL history, the most recent occurring in 1976. Another 16 fair catch kicks have been attempted but failed. The most recent attempt occurred in 2008.

Fair Catch Kick Attempts in NFL History

Date Kicker Team Opponent Yards Result Game time
November 20, 1933 Ken Strong New York Giants Green Bay Packers 30 good 3rd quarter
October 23, 1955 Ben Agajanian New York Giants Pittsburgh Steelers 56 missed 0:30, 2nd
November 2, 1958 Gordy Soltau San Francisco 49ers Detroit Lions 61 wide right 0:15, 2nd
September 13, 1964 Sam Baker Philadelphia Eagles New York Giants 47 short 0:00, 2nd
September 13, 1964 Paul Hornung Green Bay Packers Chicago Bears 52 good 0:00, 2nd
December 4, 1966 Fred Cox Minnesota Vikings Atlanta Falcons 40 good 0:00, 2nd
November 23, 1967 Bruce Gossett Los Angeles Rams Detroit Lions 55 short 0:03, 2nd
November 3, 1968 Mac Percival Chicago Bears Green Bay Packers 43 good 0:20, 4th
December 8, 1968 Fred Cox Minnesota Vikings San Francisco 49ers 47 short 0:00, 2nd
October 5, 1969 Curt Knight Washington Redskins San Francisco 49ers 56 wide left 0:02, 4th
November 23, 1969 Tom Dempsey New Orleans Saints San Francisco 49ers 57 short/wide left 0:00, 2nd
November 1, 1970 Curt Knight Washington Redskins Denver Broncos 49 missed 0:00, 2nd
November 8, 1971 David Ray Los Angeles Rams Baltimore Colts 45 missed 0:00, 2nd
November 21, 1976 Ray Wersching San Diego Chargers Buffalo Bills 45 good 0:00, 2nd
November 25, 1979 Mark Moseley Washington Redskins New York Giants 74 short 4th quarter
September 29, 1980 Fred Steinfort Denver Broncos New England Patriots 73 missed 0:00, 2nd
November 18, 1984 Raul Allegre Indianapolis Colts New England Patriots 61 short 0:00, 2nd
January 1, 1989 Mike Cofer San Francisco 49ers Minnesota Vikings 60 short 0:00, 2nd
October 9, 2005 Rob Bironas Tennessee Titans Houston Texans 58 short 0:00, 2nd
November 23, 2008 Neil Rackers Arizona Cardinals New York Giants 68 short 0:05, 2nd
December 28, 2008 Mason Crosby Green Bay Packers Detroit Lions 69 short 0:00, 2nd

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