free kick after a fair catch??? What's that rule?

Seems that there’s some rule - and clearly I have a very vague handle on it - that if a player signals for a fair catch, his team can then kick the ball from placement without any defensive pressure. But that’s not totally right. What am I thinking of? Is it an NFL rule?

Yes after a fair catch, the team may put the ball into play from scrimmage or by free kick. They kick for a field goal from that spot (I don’t believe a tee is allowed). The defense must be 10 yards away and may not rush. Even if time runs out on the previous punt the free kick is allowed.

I’ve only ever seen it used with seconds before half time or the end of the game. I suppose it might be used in overtime to win by sudden death.

The NFL calls it a fair catch kick in the rules. A free kick is the kick after a safety, but the fair catch kick is often called a free kick as well. It’s also allowed in high school but not college ball.

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Its an arcane remnant from footballs roots in Rugby.
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It’s one of the rarest plays in the NFL. As the Wikipedia article that OldGuy linked to shows, it’s only been tried a handful of times in the past few decades (I’d totally forgotten that the Packers tried one a few years ago), and the last time one was successfully made was 1976.

And, yes, as he suggested, while it’s essentially an uncontested, untimed kick, I believe that it does need to be done from a placement on the ground (with a holder), rather than off of a kicking tee.

It was the final regular season game of 2008 when Mason Crosby attempted such a kick that would have been a 69 yard field goal.

college FB has a new rule for fair catches on a kickoff this year. If you fair catch a kickoff inside the 25 yard line, the ball is placed at the 25. They want to cut back on kickoff returns due to injuries

I was at that game. The players were starting towards the locker room when the ref announced that by rule the Pack could try for it. It was right down the center but a little short.


This verifies my statement that such a kick is allowed even after time has expired. I didn’t see that in the wiki article.

I found a clip on YouTube of Crosby’s 2008 free kick. You can see that time has, indeed, expired in the half, and that there’s a holder (Matt Flynn) keeping the ball in place.

You can also see that, because there’s no defensive rush, nor time pressure, Crosby takes a much longer approach to the ball than he would for a normal field goal attempt (which would be a two-step approach) – it’s much more similar to how he’d approach a kickoff, and would undoubtedly help generate additional power behind the kick.

Presumably it is your equivalent of a mark in rugby, which is also becoming rarer.


A free kick is any kick where there’s not defensive pressure. That’s opposed to a scrimmage kick, which has a snap and rush. The two types of kicks have mildly different sets of rules, but a kick after a safety is all but the same as a kickoff, and punts and field goals are more similar than not (though that changes some with your rules set).

In my HS game on Friday, we had a safety, then the ensuing kickoff from the 20 went out of bounds untouched at about the other 30, which meant that the return team got the same options that any R team gets after a free kick out of bounds (spot ball went out plus five yards, rekick 5 yards back, or take the ball 25 yards from where it was kicked). Return team took the ball at the K45, which utterly baffled the kicking team coach for a while - he attempted to argue that it should go to the R35, which is the normal spot for a kickoff OOB, but eventually understood.

I’ve never seen a free kick after fair catch, though I know how to administer if it happens. (I think the most important thing is to hope that HS stadium has a field mic for the ref…)

I see in that clip that the opponent had a couple players waiting short of the uprights, so I guess the opponent could attempt to run the ball back for a touchdown if it doesn’t clear the back of the end zone (as with a regular field goal attempt).

Here’s a Q: And the answer is probably not but…can a player do a drop-kick from anywhere on the field or only behind the line of scrimmage?

Why would you? Down by three or less, in range but don’t think you can make it to the endzone. Say on a return or any kind of play downfield.

Correct, but cannot goal-tend…which is dumb. Some sports take all the fun out. You cant throw a glove at a baseball (without severe repercussions)…etc…

In the NFL (and, I imagine, at lower levels of American football), dropkicks need to be done from behind the line of scrimmage. It looks like that’s not the case in Canadian football, however.

The dropkick is hard enough to pull off from a standing start (to the point that only one has been successfully made since the 1940s – by Doug Flutie in 2006). The Wikipedia entry on drop kicks indicates that, when the drop kick was still regularly used (when the ball was shaped more like a rugby ball than it is now), it was sometimes used as a surprise tactic (as part of a fake run or pass play), though I expect that, again, the kick itself had to be executed while the kicker was still behind the line of scrimmage.