Kickoff (American football)

Kickoff (American football)

A kickoff is a method of starting a drive in American football or Canadian football.


A kickoff occurs at the start of each half and before each overtime (in the National, Canadian, and Arena Football Leagues). It is also traditionally decided by a coin toss at the beginning of each game carried out by the referee. The visiting team captain calls either heads or tails. If he is right, he gets to choose whether to receive the ball in the first half or to defer receiving the ball until the second half. If an overtime is required, another coin toss takes place to decide who gets first possession during the overtime. After a touchdown or field goal, the scoring team kicks the ball off to the opposing team. There is a special "free kick" after a safety.


The ball is to be placed between the kicking team's goal line and their own 30-yard line (35-yard line in Canadian football, 40-yard line in American high school football). All players except for the kicker on the kicking team must not cross the line at which the ball is placed until the ball is kicked. The receiving team must stay behind the line that is 10 yards from where the ball is placed. The ball can be fielded by the receiving team at any point after it has been kicked, or by the kicking team after it has traveled 10 yards or has been touched by a member of the receiving team. If it is fielded by the kicking team, it is called an onside kick. A low, bouncing kick is called a squib kick. Although a squib kick typically gives the receiving team better field position than they would if a normal kick had been used, a squib kick is sometimes used to avoid giving up a long return, as well as to give the kicking team the best chance of recovering the ball, typically when behind near the end of the game.


If a receiving player crosses the 40-yard line before the kick, the ball is to be advanced 5 yards, then re-kicked. If a kicking team player crosses the line at which the ball is placed before it is kicked, a loss of 5 yards is incurred and a re-kick takes place. If the ball goes out of bounds without being touched by a player, the receiving team can choose either to have the ball moved back 10 yards and re-kicked, to take the ball thirty yards past the kick (usually at their own 40 yard line), or to take the ball where it went out of bounds. However,on an onside kick, if the ball does not travel ten yards before the kicking team recovers the ball, they will take a 5-yard penalty and has the chance to kick another onside kick. If the onside kick goes less than 10 yards again, the receiving team will receive the ball at the spot the kicking team recovered it. However, if the receiving team touches the ball before it goes 10 yards, either team can recover it unpenalized.

Should the ball go out of bounds in the receiving team's endzone or is recovered and downed in the receiving team's end zone, the ball is to be placed at the receiving team's 20-yard line (25-yard line in Canadian football) and possession is given to the receiving team (this is known as a touchback). In Canadian football, this is not a penalty but a scoring play, worth one point for the kicking team. Recovering the ball outside the endzone and then downing it inside the endzone results in a safety, and two points for the kicking team.


* [ NFL rulebook online]
* [ NFL rulebook on kickoffs] Dead link|date=September 2008

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