What Is the Shortest Possible Field Goal? -Football Kicking History

John Rizzo

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The shortest possible field goal in American and Canadian football is a captivating aspect of the sport, embodying a delicate balance between historical evolution and modern regulations. 

Field goals, a fundamental scoring play, are measured from the point of the kick to the back of the end zone, typically spanning 10 yards. 

However, specific rules govern the minimum field goal distance, ensuring fairness and safety. In American football, a combination of the holder’s position and the snap’s one-yard constraint sets the shortest field goal at just over 17 yards. 

Meanwhile, Canadian football imposes similar restrictions, limiting the shortest attempt to around 8 yards. 

Delving into the history of the game reveals astonishingly shorter field goals, showcasing the evolving dynamics of this cherished sport.

What Is the Shortest Possible Field Goal NFL?

The shortest possible field goal in American and Canadian football is a fascinating aspect of the game, as it involves not only the skill of the kicker but also the historical evolution of the rules governing the sport. 

Field goals are a crucial scoring play in both American and Canadian football, and the distance of a field goal attempt is measured from the spot where the ball is kicked to the back of the end zone, which is typically 10 yards deep.

In contemporary football, there are specific rules and constraints that dictate the shortest possible field goal distance. 

These rules are in place to ensure fairness and safety in the game. In American football, for example, the holder usually places the ball 7 yards behind the line of scrimmage, and the ball cannot be snapped closer than one yard from the goal line. 

This effectively means that the shortest possible field goal in American football is slightly over 17 yards. In Canadian football, the rules are somewhat different, but they also impose constraints on the shortest field goal distance.

The holder must be at least one yard behind the line of scrimmage, which sets a minimum distance for the field goal attempt.

However, in the early days of football, there were no such restrictions on where the ball could be snapped or held, and the goalposts were positioned on the goal line instead of at the back of the end zone. 

This created a unique situation where the shortest possible field goal was limited primarily by the kicker’s ability to stand close to the ball without being blocked by their own teammates or opponents.

The shortest field goals ever recorded in professional football history were both 9 yards long, and they are significant examples of this historical context. 

One was kicked by Jim Turner for the New York Jets in Super Bowl III, and the other was kicked by Mike Clark for the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl VI. 

These field goals were exceptionally short due to the absence of modern rules and constraints, making them extraordinary feats in the history of the sport.

Factors that Influence Field Goal Length

Factors that Influence Field Goal Length

The length of a field goal attempt in American and Canadian football is influenced by several factors, each playing a crucial role in determining the feasibility and distance of the kick.

Here are the key factors that influence field goal length:

Field Position

The position on the field from which a team attempts a field goal is a significant factor. The closer a team is to the opponent’s end zone, the shorter the field goal attempt will be. Conversely, attempting a field goal from farther away requires a kicker with a stronger leg.

Yardage to the Goal Line

The distance from the line of scrimmage to the opponent’s goal line directly affects the length of the field goal attempt.

A team needs to cover this distance with the field goal kick, and longer distances naturally result in longer attempts.

Weather Conditions

Weather conditions, such as wind, rain, and extreme cold, can significantly impact field goal length. 

Strong headwinds can make it challenging for a kicker to make longer kicks, while tailwinds can provide an advantage.

Field Surface

The type and condition of the playing surface can affect a kicker’s ability to generate power and accuracy. 

A field in poor condition may make it harder to plant the kicking foot and execute a successful kick.

Kicker’s Skill and Leg Strength

The kicker’s skill level and leg strength are crucial factors. A skilled kicker with a powerful leg can attempt longer field goals with greater accuracy. Some kickers specialize in long-distance kicks and have a reputation for their range.

Holder and Snapper Performance

The execution of the snap and hold by the long snapper and holder is critical. A poorly executed snap or hold can disrupt the timing and rhythm of the kick, making it less accurate and shorter than intended.

Coaching Strategy

Coaches play a role in field goal length decisions. They may opt for a field goal attempt or choose to go for it on fourth down based on their assessment of the kicker’s range and the game situation.

Game Score and Time Remaining

The score and the time remaining in the game can influence field goal length decisions. Teams trailing by a small margin late in the game may attempt longer field goals to tie or take the lead, while those with a comfortable lead might opt for shorter attempts.

Pressure and Game Situation

High-pressure situations, such as playoff games or critical moments in a game, can affect a kicker’s performance and the decision to attempt a field goal. Kickers must maintain composure when attempting crucial kicks.

Rule Changes

Historical changes in the rules of the sport, such as the position of the goalposts or restrictions on snapping and holding, have also played a role in influencing field goal lengths over time.

Challenges of Short-Field Goals

Challenges of Short-Field Goals

While short field goals in American and Canadian football may seem like relatively easy scoring opportunities, they come with their own set of challenges and nuances that kickers and teams must contend with.

Here are the challenges associated with short-field goals:

Reduced Margin for Error

Short-field goals leave very little margin for error. The target area between the uprights is the same as for longer kicks, but the ball has less time to clear the defensive line. Any deviation in the trajectory or angle of the kick can result in a miss.

Pressure and Expectations

Short-field goals are often taken for granted, and there is an expectation of near-perfect success. Kickers can feel intense pressure, especially in high-stakes situations like playoff games or crucial moments in a match.

Blocked Kicks

Shorter field goals are more susceptible to being blocked by the opposing team’s defenders. Defensive linemen and special teams players may attempt to jump or reach over the line to block the kick, making it imperative for the kicker to get the ball off quickly and at the right height.

Snap and Hold Precision

Even on short-field goals, the snap from the long snapper and the hold from the placeholder must be precise. A mishandled snap or a poorly placed hold can disrupt the kicker’s rhythm and lead to a missed attempt.

Wind and Weather

Weather conditions, such as wind, can affect short-field goals just as they do longer ones. A sudden gust of wind can alter the trajectory of the ball, making it challenging to accurately predict its path.

Psychological Factors

Kicking short-field goals might seem routine, but they still require a strong mental game. Kickers must maintain focus and confidence, especially when the entire team and fans expect them to make the kick.

Timing and Rhythm

Short field goals require precise timing and rhythm between the snapper, holder, and kicker. Any disruption in this timing can affect the kick’s accuracy.

Game Situation

The game situation can add an extra layer of complexity to short-field goals. For example, in a close game, a missed short-field goal can have a significant impact on the outcome, leading to added pressure.

Field Conditions

The condition of the playing surface can be a factor. If the field is muddy or uneven near the line of scrimmage, it can affect the kicker’s ability to plant their foot securely.

Defensive Strategies

Opposing teams may employ various strategies to disrupt short-field goals, including trying to distract or intimidate the kicker, calling timeouts to freeze the kicker, or attempting to block the kick.

Expectation of Success

Since short-field goals are expected to be successful, a missed attempt can be demoralizing for the kicker and the team. Overconfidence or complacency can sometimes lead to misses.

Record-Breaking Short Field Goals

Record-breaking short-field goals are notable achievements in football, showcasing the precision and skill of kickers. While field goals are typically measured in yards, certain situations have led to exceptionally short field goals being attempted and made.

Here are some notable examples of record-breaking short-field goals:

Josh Scobee’s 19-Yard Field Goal (2015)

Josh Scobee's 19-Yard Field Goal (2015)

Jacksonville Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee made a 19-yard field goal during a game against the Houston Texans. The short kick was set up by a fumble recovery deep in Texans’ territory.

Billy Cundiff’s 18-Yard Field Goal (2013)

Billy Cundiff, then with the Cleveland Browns, made an 18-yard field goal during a game against the Baltimore Ravens. A turnover had given the Browns excellent field position, leading to the shot attempt.

Jason Hanson’s 19-Yard Field Goal (2010)

Detroit Lions kicker Jason Hanson set an NFL record by making a 19-yard field goal in a game against the Green Bay Packers. The short distance was the result of a penalty that pushed the Lions closer to the end zone.

Garrett Hartley’s 20-Yard Field Goal in Super Bowl XLIV (2010)

Garrett Hartley of the New Orleans Saints made a 20-yard field goal in Super Bowl XLIV. It was a critical kick in the championship game and contributed to the Saints’ victory.

Mark Moseley’s 19-Yard Field Goal (1982)

During the strike-shortened NFL season in 1982, Washington Redskins kicker Mark Moseley set a record by making a 19-yard field goal. While not exceptionally short, it was the shortest field goal in NFL history at that time.

Tom Dempsey’s 63-Yard Field Goal (1970)

While not a short field goal in terms of distance, Tom Dempsey’s 63-yard field goal for the New Orleans Saints in 1970 is considered a record-breaking short-field goal due to Dempsey’s unique circumstances. 

Dempsey was born with a deformed right foot (no toes and a partial foot) and a specialized shoe. His record-breaking kick is still the longest in NFL history as of my knowledge cutoff date.

How Far Is a Field Goal From the 40-Yard Line?

A field goal attempt from the 40-yard line in American football would be a 57-yard field goal.

This is because the 40-yard line is 40 yards away from the opponent’s end zone, and you must add the additional 17 yards (10 yards for the depth of the end zone and 7 yards for the typical distance between the line of scrimmage and the holder) to calculate the total distance of the field goal attempt.

A 57-yard field goal is considered a long-distance kick, and while some NFL kickers are capable of making kicks from this range, it is certainly at the outer limit of their typical range. 

Kicking accuracy and success rates tend to decrease as the distance of the field goal attempt increases, making kicks from this distance challenging and less common in NFL games.


Has the location of the goalposts ever been different in football history?

Yes, in the early days of football, the goalposts were positioned on the goal line instead of at the back of the end zone. This historical difference allowed for shorter field goal attempts than are possible today.

What is the shortest possible field goal distance in Canadian football if there are no restrictions on ball placement?

In Canadian football, the shortest possible field goal distance, without restrictions on ball placement, would be 2 yards. This is because the holder must be at least one yard behind the line of scrimmage.

What’s the significance of the “spot” where a field goal is attempted from?

The spot where a field goal is attempted from is known as the “spot of the kick.” It is the specific point on the field where the ball is placed for the field goal attempt and is crucial for determining the length of the kick.

Can a field goal be attempted from the opponent’s end zone in any situation?

No, field goals cannot be attempted from the opponent’s end zone under regular-game circumstances. The attempt must be made from the field of play or the opponent’s half of the field.

Last Words

In American and Canadian football, the shortest possible field goal serves as a testament to the sport’s evolution and intricacies. 

It encapsulates a delicate balance between historical practices and modern regulations, revealing how rules and constraints have shaped the game. 

From a few yards to over 17, the field goal’s length varies, influenced by factors like field position, yardage to the goal line, weather, and the kicker’s skill. 

These shortest field goals can be routine or record-breaking feats, bearing witness to the unparalleled precision and agility of kickers. 

In the end, the shortest possible field goal is not merely a measurement but a fascinating tale of football’s past, present, and potential future.

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John Rizzo

I am a professional rugby player in the Washington DC-Baltimore area. I have been playing rugby for over 10 years and have had the opportunity to play in many different countries. I am also a coach for both youth and adult rugby teams. I graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a degree in Sports Management and Marketing. I am currently working on my MPA from American University and plan to pursue this career path after graduating next year. LinkedIn

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