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Return to book index Chapter 14 : Trigonometric Graphs, Identities, and Equations
Field Goals

Field Goals

On November 8, 1970, when the National Footbal League (NFL)'s Detroit Lions kicked a field goal with 11 seconds left in the game to go ahead of the New Orleans Saints 17-16, it looked like the game was over. A kickoff return and one play later, the Saints had only reached about their own 44 yard line, 56 yards shy of the end zone. Though almost every team would have tried a "hail Mary" pass all the way down the field, the Saints teed up the ball at their own 37 yard-line, 63 yards from the goal post. Much to the Lions' surprise and chagrin, Tom Dempsey booted the ball through the goal posts, breaking the old record by 7 yards, and winning the game for the Saints. Though the Saints won only two games all season, it was one of the most memorable wins of all time.

This was the last time in professional football that a field goal would be successfully kicked so far away from the opponent's end zone. When Denver Bronco Jason Elam finally tied the distance record 18 years later, he kicked the ball from the Broncos' 47 yard-line. In an effort to discourage reliance on field goals instead of more-exciting touchdowns, the NFL in the intervening years had moved the goal posts 10 yards behind the goal line and changed the placement of the ball after a missed field goal attempt to be more favorable to the opposing team.

In college football, three different kickers share the 67-yard record for the longest field goal. Amazingly, all three kicks were made within about a year of each other in 1977 and 1978, and the first two came only two weeks apart. But spectacular though these record kicks may be, teams are looking for kickers who make field goals consistently from week to week, where 35- and 45-yard attempts are the rule. In the 1998 NFL season, Minnesota Vikings kicker Gary Anderson successfully made all 35 field goals he attempted. These 35 field goals were part of his amazing, record-breaking streak of 40 consecutive successful field goals. Over careers ranging from 125 to 264 field goal attempts, kickers Mike Hollis of Jacksonville, John Carney of Tampa Bay, Los Angeles, and San Diego, and Chris Boniol of Dallas and Philadelphia all successfully completed more than 80% of their field goal attempts, placing them among the most accurate kickers ever.

You can get more information about individual field goal records from the NFL's Record and Fact Book. .