Goaltending for football?

fbgoalI received an intriguing email from reader Sean Piccola:

I’m an ASU fan who was subjected to [Georgia's] AJ Green’s block of ASU’s potential game winning field goal last Saturday. Given Green’s insane height and athleticism, it got me thinking . . . if Green is 6’4 with a vertical of 30″ (or Julio Jones who is also 6’4 and has a 38.6″ vertical), why not put him under the goal post on long field goals and have him attempt to block it at the end of the kick, rather than the beginning?

Do you ever recall a time when a defensive team, when facing a long field goal, has ever placed an athlete of that caliber at the back of the end zone, in front of the goal posts, and instructed him to try to block the
kick (not return it a’la Antonio Cromartie) — it seems that numerous FGs around 50 yards just make it over the crossbar, and if nothing else it would get in the kicker’s head.

I looked through the NCAA rule book online and it didn’t seem to contain anything that would prohibit the practice; a field goal is just another “scrimmage kick.” Obviously, this tactic would not have frequent
application, but it could prove huge at critical points in a game.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen this done in a game. And I have seen a number of long distance, late-in-the-half type kicks that just barely scooted over the crossbars. Then again, this might be an incredibly difficult thing to do in a game, and also difficult to even simulate in practice. (Whereas a kick return of a short field goal is more or less just like returning a kickoff or punt.)

But I don’t know, maybe it’d be worth a shot? The guy could either return it if it was short, or block it if he could. Any thoughts?

Update: Mystery solved: doing this would be illegal, except in the rare instance where the defender catches the ball cleanly. Thanks to commenter Chris (not me) for pointing this out. The rules can be found on pages 243-44 here. The applicable rules are as follows. Note the penalties range from a safety against the defending team (or upholding of a touchdown if the kicking team recovers it in the end zone) to simply a first down and yardage for the offense. Probably too risky. Note also these rules don’t seem to apply if the kick falls short of the crossbars without interference — i.e. the Antonio Cromartie stuff.

I. Team A attempts a field goal from Team B’s 30-yard line. A Team B player in the end zone leaps above the crossbar and bats the ball in flight. The ball goes out of bounds in the end zone.

RULING: Foul for batting the ball in the end zone. During regulation play, postscrimmage kick enforcement gives a safety by penalty. In extra periods, enforcement of the 15-yard penalty is at the previous spot
and Team A retains possession.
II. Team A attempts a field goal from Team B’s 30-yard line. A Team B player in the end zone leaps above the crossbar and bats the ball in flight. The ball goes into the end zone and is recovered by Team A.

RULING: Foul for batting the ball in the end zone. The result of the play is a touchdown.
III. Team A attempts a field goal from Team B’s 30-yard line. A Team B player in the end zone leaps above the crossbar and bats the ball in flight. The ball goes into the end zone and is recovered by Team B.

RULING: Foul for batting the ball in the end zone. The result of the play is a touchback, safety.
IV. Team A attempts a field goal from Team B’s 30-yard line. A Team B player in the end zone leaps above the crossbar and bats the ball in flight. The ball goes into the field of play.

RULING: Foul for batting the ball in the end zone. During regulation play, postscrimmage kick enforcement gives a safety by penalty. The ball remains alive, and Team A may elect the result of the play. If Team A recovers, does not score and accepts the penalty, or if the play occurs in an extra period, enforcement is at the previous spot.

VII. Team A attempts a field goal, and B23, in the end zone, goes above the crossbar and catches the ball.

RULING: Legal play.

Update 2: But, what if you were up by three and could block the field goal attempt into the end zone and recover it yourself for a safety? Might be worth it still, no? (The game cannot end on a penalty, but then you’d just have to defend a free kick return rather than a field goal attempt.)

  • Anon

    You could have an issue where the kick would actually be short, but the defender misjudged it, jumped, blocked it and knocked it over the goal posts. I assume that would count as a FG, just as I think a partially blocked FG or PAT that goes through the uprights counts.

  • http://www.collegegameballs.com cgb

    This is a very interesting idea, I’ve never seen it done but I think we’ve all witnessed those low descending kicks. As Sean said it would take a special kind of athlete to make the block, but if you have the player and it is legal to do so why not give it a try in certain situations? I agree Chris it can’t be as easy as it sounds, but it can’t be much harder than plunking down a high ball thrown to the back corner of the end zone.

  • http://walkonboy.blogspot.com Walk On Boy

    Seems like a great idea – it would be difficult to practice, but it would likely be in a desperation situation where ‘Make a play’ takes precedence over aesthetics.

    Another is if the defender were to successfully ‘goaltend’ the ball then it is a live ball because the ball went beyond the LOS and was touched by the defending team. Theoretically allowing a 0 or 3 points to be turned into a touchdown if the kicking team were alert, lucky or both.

    After seeing the youtube clip of a HS kid catching a missed FG as time expired, running to the sideline and then dropping the ball which was picked up by an opponent and run in for a TD thus snatching defeat from the jaws of victory on the final play of the game – I see how coaches would be hesitant to introduce another aspect that they cannot control.

  • Mark

    I’d also be concerned about only using 10 defenders to guard against a fake.

  • Scott

    I saw the block FG at the post tryed in NFL by Morris Strod a tall TE for Chiefs against Raders Blanda was kicker in 1969 at the end of game it was close but Blanda got it over for the winning FG

  • Chris

    While an interesting idea it’s actually illegal in CFB if you *don’t* catch the ball.

    Section 9-4-1, Part I:

    Team A attempts a field goal from Team B’s 30-yard line. A Team
    B player in the end zone leaps above the crossbar and bats the ball
    in flight. The ball goes out of bounds in the end zone. RULING:
    Foul for batting the ball in the end zone. During regulation play,
    postscrimmage kick enforcement gives a safety by penalty. In extra
    periods, enforcement of the 15-yard penalty is at the previous spot
    and Team A retains possession.

    But if you catch the ball (Rule 9-4-1, Part VII):

    Team A attempts a field goal, and B23, in the end zone, goes above
    the crossbar and catches the ball. RULING: Legal play.

    http://www.oficiales.org/A_2009/ncaa/NCAAINGLES/2009-10%20NCAA%20Footbal%20Rule%20Book.pdf

  • Chris

    I should note that the rules regarding this are on pages 243-244 of the above link. (http://www.oficiales.org/A_2009/ncaa/NCAAINGLES/2009-10%20NCAA%20Footbal%20Rule%20Book.pdf)

  • http://www.collegegameballs.com cgb

    @Chris – I’m guessing it is also foul to do so in the NFL?

  • Drew

    This idea has crossed my mind a few times. You have to think that the reason that we have never seen it before is because no coach has ever found the risk/reward assessment to be in the plus. The likelihood of the ball being within reach, and getting an athlete up to block it successfully is probably considered to be a lot lower than the difference in your odds of blocking a kick at the line with 11 men. I partially agree with the thought that it could leave you susceptible to a fake, but in the last seconds of a half or game, in long FG situations, very few teams would attempt such a fake, especially with someone playing deep.

    I think I disagree with what is apparently the common thinking (and am in favor of your concept). For long FGs I think it would be worth the added risk of not blocking the ball at the line. You KNOW if it worked once, we would see it EVERYWHERE… then a FG would never scrape the back of the crossbar ever again.

  • Drew

    oh it’s illegal? nevermind then.

  • mbrummer

    This is really interesting. Because in a end of game situation, let’s assume you are up 3. Opposing kicker lines up for a 54 yarder. You send Amare Stoudamire to block the kick at the crossbar.

    So he rejects it and it lands in the end zone. A safety is awarded to the opponent, but end of game…you win.

    I’m wondering if you sent two guys back in an end of game situation. One guy blocks it and one guy catches it, thats playing with fire and I would think sending those guys after the kick would be smarter, but the ruling would be interesting.

  • http://smartfootball.com Chris

    mbrummer: Now you’re thinking. But then again, game can’t end on a penalty? But would you rather defend a possible runback on a freekick with no time remaining than a FG try? Sure. Man, gets messy but interesting.

  • rdlwolverine

    It was legal in the NFL in the late 50s, early 60s, when R.C. Owens would attempt to block FGs (at least once successfully) at the crossbar for the 49ers.

  • http://smartfootball.com Chris

    Here’s another thought. The definition of the rule is that the player is “above the crossbar.” That seems to me to indicate that if the ball was not going to go over the crossbar — i.e. the guy just jumped up and the ball happened to be short and he batted it down — then these rules don’t apply. In that case, you’d be trading basically two points and the ball (safety and free kick) for three. And in some instances, that doesn’t seem like a bad trade, no? Because of the way the rule is drafted, you would never be penalized for batting it away if the ball was off target and below the crossbar.

  • Bill

    Hard to verify, but I used to have a book of “Strange But True Sports Stories”. It was published in the 70s, and it told a story of a former basketball player, maybe, who played for the Colts and the 49ers (if memory serves). One of the teams wouldn’t let him try it, but the other team did, and he did it successfully at least once.

  • Pat

    As I was reading it I thought it the clock was running out as the ball was kicked, and you were up 2 (safety would tie the game rather then win it with a good field goal), or 3, where you can win it if you stop the kick return, it would probably be worth it.

  • Sean Piccola

    This is my new favorite website. Saw you linked on EDSBS, and knew this is where I needed to send my random football-related musings — glad to see I’m not alone when it comes to analyzing the game.

    Thanks!

  • Dave M

    “you would never be penalized for batting it away if the ball was off target and below the crossbar.”

    If the ball is short enough to swat then it’s returnable. So other than at the last second the defender changing his mind from returning it, what’s to gain by swatting a ball that isn’t going to go over? Either way you get the ball back at the same place. I guess I’m not seeing something here.

  • GovannonGrey

    To Echo rdlwolverine, In Washington, 1962 R.C. Owens of the Baltimore Colts stood in front of the uprights, jumped up and swatted a Long Field Goal Attempt.

  • JordanM

    The rule says “player B bats the ball away”.
    If the player tries to catch the ball, but fails to do so (or “fails” to do so) – that wouldn’t really be the same thing as just throwing an open palm at it.
    So either attempting to catch the ball would be OK, or they should re-word the rule, saying that any interference with a ball heading over the crossbar is a penalty, not just batting it.

  • http://blackheartgoldpants.com Bellanca

    Last week I listened to Paul Rhodes (HC, Iowa State) discuss this possibility in their then-upcoming game with Army, which apparently has a 6’10″ guy. He didn’t mention the illegality and suggested that they expected Army to put the guy back at the goalposts.

  • Brian

    I remember Hank Stram kicking around this idea, or maybe he wrote an article about it, or it was in his book? Fact is, not enough kicks fall short enough to be blocked, but could you imagine how it could change strategy if it were legal? Rather than try a 50 + yard FG, a team might have to go for it because the threat of a block at the goal post!

  • 4.0 Point Stance

    I don’t get it. Obviously it’s illegal to bat a live ball. But I assumed there was some kind of an exception for *kicked* balls. Otherwise on every single blocked punt or FG you could throw a flag for illegal batting.

    Or is the distinction between blocking kicks behind the LOS and past the LOS? If so, many field goals are blocked by a defender who is just slightly behind the LOS. Should those be penalties as well?

  • mbrummer

    Chris: From the other poster

    “B player in the end zone leaps above the crossbar and bats the ball
    in flight. The ball goes out of bounds in the end zone. RULING:
    Foul for batting the ball in the end zone.”

    Notice the last part… Foul for batting the ball in the end zone is usually an offensive penalty thus leading to the safety. This comes up usually when a punter mishandles a snap. I don’t think there’s a penalty for batting the ball out of the endzone if your on defense to get the touchback. I have no idea.

    But the way I’m reading the rule it seems to be an offensive penalty even though its on defense. The game can end on a offensive penalty, but wait it’s an accepted offensive penalty, so it can’t thus setting up the untimed down free kick.

    My brain hurts.

  • stan

    BTW — Alvin Harper (in the pic) high jumped 7-2 in college. I believe Carl Pickens also went over 7 ft. And Heath Shuler went 6-8 in the state finals in high school.

  • Anon

    Section 10 of the rules distinguishes between a muff, touching, and batting. Seems that trying to catch it and failing would not be batting, thus as long as the defender looks like he’s trying to catch the ball there’s no penalty.

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  • Eric Burke

    I recall an old football card I had of Ed “Too Tall” Jones. On the back the “fun fact” was that he used to stand under the goal post (at 6’9″ tall) and jump up to block kicks. Can’t find anything online referring to that except this link: http://stormeyes.org/wp/2009/09/all-time-dallas-cowboys-team/ which refers to “…swatting away field goals…”. But I can’t find anything else. My guess it would have been before this rule was instated, or he cheated. ;)

  • Mr.Murder

    -mbrummer says: “But the way I’m reading the rule it seems to be an offensive penalty even though its on defense. The game can end on a offensive penalty, but wait it’s an accepted offensive penalty, so it can’t thus setting up the untimed down free kick.

    My brain hurts.”

    What if they try a four point FG off the fair catch? Shula tried to call the NFL rules cmmtte during a Super Bowl with the Niners over that because he knew thew points were needed and it was still in the earlier stages of the game….

  • http://www.tokayfootball.com Michael

    Check out this story… R.C. “Alley Oop” Owens blocked a kick at the goalpost and it was outlawed soon after.

    http://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20091008/A_SPORTS0205/910080335/-1/A_SPORTS#STS=g0jsi1bh.jhe

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