The Longest Field Goal in NFL History

Evolution of the Record

 

 

One of professional football's greatest records rarely changes.  It is the record for the longest field goal.  While rushing, passing and receiving records have fallen frequently over the last 50 years, this is not the case for the ultimate kicking achievement.  In fact, in the history of the NFL since 1921, the field goal distance record has only been broken 4 times.  The record itself was established rather ambiguously in the early days of the league's existence.  Here are the eight critical events in the development of the current record.

 

First, it must be remembered that in the early days of the game, drop kicking was often the preferred method for attempting field goals, especially long distance attempts. The drop kick disappeared from the football scene as the game evolved into a passing game and the footballs became pointed instead of rounded.

 

From The Lost Art of Kicking , 1939, which is a part of the HOF archives collection.

 

 

 

1. In the 1920's, three men claimed the longest kick in the game's history to that point. The great Jim Thorpe of the Canton Bulldogs, Paddy Driscoll of the Chicago Cardinals and Wilbur "Pete" Henry of Canton were all great kickers of their era and are all now in the Hall of Fame. Thorpe's fans asserted that he routinely drop-kicked the ball from 50 yards out.  Paddy Driscoll supposedly kicked two of 50 or more on September 28, 1924 against Milwaukee.  Sadly, Thorpe's and Driscoll's records cannot be verified as stat keeping was imprecise at that time and the newspapers of the day conflicted in their reporting of the distances. 

 

The only verifiable distance belongs to Wilbur "Pete" Henry who kicked a 45 yard drop kick field goal against Toledo on December 10, 1922.  The record for field goal distance starts with Wilbur Henry.  Henry's record stood for 12 years.

 

 

 

 

2. Glenn Presnell of the Detroit Lions place kicked a 54 yard field goal against the Green Bay Packers on Oct. 7, 1934, winning the game 3-0. Presnell described the weather in Green Bay that day as beautiful and calm.  According to Presnell, "I remember John Schneller, an end, said, 'Why don't you try a field goal; it's as good as a punt.?'  We were going to have to punt anyway. Ace held (Ace Gutowski was the holder) and it hung up, hung up and dropped over the bar 54 yards away.  That turned out to be the margin of the game, 3 - 0." The kick stood as an NFL record for 19 years.

 

The Lions Line Up To Demonstrate Presnell's Kick

 

 

 

 

3. Bert Rechichar helped the Baltimore Colts start the 1953 NFL season with a 13-9 upset of the Chicago Bears on September 27, 1953 before 23,715.  Rechichar had an amazing day against Chicago accounting for all the Colts' points. Playing as a defensive back, he intercepted a pass and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown. Then, as time was winding down in the first half, Rechichar, who kicked only 31 field goals in 89 attempts during his ten-year career, kicked a 56 yard field goal, still the third longest kick ever against the Bears. It broke the NFL mark of Glenn Presnell by two yards.  His record would stand for 17 years until 1970. Rechichar is shown below in a Baltimore Sun photo kicking the record field goal with Tom Keane holding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. On November 8, 1970, Tom Dempsey of New Orleans Saints kicked an NFL record 63 yard field goal against the Detroit Lions at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans (video). Dempsey kicked four field goals that day against the Lions, the final and record breaker with two seconds left gave the Saints a come-from-behind-victory of 19-17. Dempsey was born with half a right foot and with no right hand. He was fitted with an artificial foot in childhood, and it is with that wooden foot, encased in a modified football shoe, that he kicked field goals and extra points.

 

According to Dempsey, "When I lined up to kick my record-setting 63 yard field goal in 1970, we had the ball in the closed-in area of Tulane Stadium.  The winds in that stadium sometimes would swirl and push balls wide to the left or wide to the right. The stadium was shaped like a big horseshoe, open at one end of the stadium and closed at the other. When it got windy, it was difficult to judge what was going to happen to the ball once it was kicked. But I got a good snap and a good hold, and I knew I had hit it well enough to go the distance. Considering that stadium, though, the question of whether the ball would stay straight was in the back of my mindMy snapper was Jackie Burkett and my holder was Joe Scarpati. It's important to have a good holder.  Everything was perfect for me that day: I got a perfect snap, I got a perfect hold, and I got a lot of protection. No one ever accomplishes anything alone in football. We all like to think that we can, but that's just not true. It's always been a team game, always will be. So everything went well, and everyone else did their job. The last thing was for me to try to do mine.  I thought I kicked it pretty well- I thought it had a chance. I was hoping the winds wouldn't swirl and drive the ball off-course. It seemed like it took forever to get there. I just kept watching it, wondering if it had enough distance. Finally, the referees raised their hands that it was good."

 

Dempsey's record has still not fallen.

 

 

 

 

 

5. Jason Elam of the Denver Broncos tied the 28-year-old NFL record of Tom Dempsey on Oct. 25, 1998 with a 63 yard field goal. The kick came at the end of the first half of a game with the Jacksonville Jaguars at Denver's Mile High Stadium (video).  With a 37-24 victory, the Broncos became 7-0 for the first time in club history. Originally only a 58-yard attempt, the Broncos were issued a 5 yard penalty for delaying the game and the ball was placed on the Jaguars 47 yard line with only a few seconds on the clock. Elam's kick delighted the Denver fans that were present to witness the history making effort.

 

When asked why he didn't back up a yard and go for the record-breaker at 64 yards, Elam said, "Well, that gets kind of scary when you do that.  Everything is so precise with the snapper and holder. My snapper (David Diaz-Infante) is usually so good that he can snap to where (holder) Tom (Rouen) doesn't even have to move the laces at all. I never like to mess with that."

 

Elam said he knew his record kick would have the distance. It was just a matter of physics.  "I just tried to do all the fundamentals correctly and keep the ball going straight because I really did feel I could get the ball there," he said. "But those goal posts looked really skinny from where I was standing." Elam said he is just happy to tie Dempsey, who kicked with a shoe specially fitted to his clubbed foot.   "I am perfectly happy with being in his company," said Elam.

 

 

 

6. Just before halftime, in a nationally televised Monday Night Football during the first week of the NFL season, September 12, 2011, Sebastian Janikowski of the Oakland Raiders tied the NFL field goal distance mark with a 63 yard field goal (video).

 

"To be honest, I didn't hit it that good. It barely got over the bar," Janikowski said of the kick that ended the first half of the game. "I hit a 70-yarder in pregame." Janikowski added. "The ball really carries here."
 

The field goal tied the mark set by the Saints' Tom Dempsey in 1970 and matched by Denver's Jason Elam in 1998 at the old Mile High Stadium. The Raiders defeated Denver, 23-20, in coach Hue Jackson's head coaching debut and the debut of Denver Head Coach, John Fox.

 

"I had a dream I broke the record, and it was here in Denver," Janikowski said.

"I didn't hit it really good, but that's no excuse. (The altitude) really helped it. ... It cleared by like one yard only."

 

 

 

7. At 37 years of age, David Akers kicked a 63 yard field goal on opening day of the 2012 season as the San Francisco 49ers defeated the Green Bay Packers 30-22. The kick came as time expired in the first half to give the 49ers a 16-7 lead (video). Punter Andy Lee was the holder for Akers historic kick. On the afternoon, Akers connected for three field goals and three extra points.

 

The record-tying kick was a low line drive, which struck the crossbar before trickling over. I tried really hard to get it there, Akers said. I didnt think I actually hit it that great, I was like, Oh well it was fun to give it a shot. Then I was like, Wait, its still kind of going.

 

When you hit the goalpost, whether its the crossbar or the upright, it usually makes a really loud and obnoxious sound coming back at you. It went through and I think thats about the biggest miracle Ive seen in a long time.

 

Its one of those things that youll never forget, Akers said. Thats for sure. I never imagined it hitting the crossbar and bouncing in. Its like a nice ending of a Disney movie.

 

Coach Jim Harbaugh expressed his confidence in Akers ability. When asked what the coaching staff believes Akers range to be, Harbaugh joked, Its now around 63 yards.

 

Akers joins Tom Dempsey, Jason Elam and Sebastian Janikowski as the only kickers to connect from 63-yards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

8. Dec 8, 2013- Denver Broncos kicker Matt Prater set a National Football League record with a 64-yard field goal on Sunday in the team's 51-28 rout of the Tennessee Titans.

Prater eclipsed the record of 63 yards first set 43 years ago by Tom Dempsey of the Saints. The kick came as time expired in the first half to bring the Broncos within 21-20 at intermission  (video).

Equaling Dempsey's booming kick of 1970 were Denver's Jason Elam in 1998, Oakland's Sabastian Janikowski in 2011 and San Francisco's David Akers last season.

The long field goals by Prater, Elam and Janikowski all occurred in mile-high Denver, where the thin air gives kickers an advantage.

Over the years, the 63-yard field goal became as big of a barrier as the 4-minute mile once was. Tom Dempsey, a straight-on kicker, made a 63-yarder at the sea-level turf of New Orleans in 1970. Nobody kicks straight on anymore; the side-winding, soccer style is more effective. The kickers today are far stronger and more accurate than they used to be, yet 63 yards was only to be equaled, never surpassed.

 

"Well, it is a long way," said Jason Elam, the first to tie Dempsey's record for the Broncos in 1998. "But I bet when Tom Dempsey hit it in 1970, he would have never guessed that it would have lasted 43 years. When I hit mine in '98, I remember saying I would not be surprised if this fell next week."

 

 

 

Summary:

 

On average, over a 90 year period, this record is eclipsed roughly every 25 years.  To equal or break this record is a tremendous accomplishment.  And, unlike other records, this one definitely has a ceiling or limit to what is actually attainable.  The record was tied three times since Tom Dempsey's historic kick in 1970, until Matt Prater broke it with a 64 yarder on Dec. 8, 1913.

1. Wilbur "Pete" Henry -Canton Bulldogs- December 10, 1922- 45 yards.
2. Glenn Presnell- Detroit Lions- October 7, 1934-  54 yards.
3. Bert Rechichar- Baltimore Colts- September 27, 1953- 56 yards.
4. Tom Dempsey- New Orleans Saints- November 8, 1970- 63 yards.
4. Tie- Jason Elam- Denver Broncos- October 25, 1998- 63 yards.

4. Tie- Sebastian Janikowski- Oakland Raiders- September 12, 2011- 63 yards.

4. Tie- David Akers- San Francisco 49ers- September 9, 2012- 63 yards.

5. Matt Prater- Denver Broncos- December 8, 1913- 64 yards.

Source Information; Early Years: Professional Football Researchers Association, Presnell: Presnell Website, Dempsey: Football Digest,  July-August, 2003  by Chuck O'Donnell, Rechichar: nfluk.com, ravensnest.com, Elam- Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Janikowski: AP, Akers:49ers.com, Prater: Reuters.

 

RETURN