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Kickoffs recovered by the kicking team for a touchdown

Once a kickoff goes 10 yards, it is anyone’s ball. That is well known, but on a few occasions, the receiver either muffs the catch or forgets that it is a free ball, which leads to a touchdown. Most recently it occurred in the final game of the 2016 season when Bills receiver Mike Gillislee allowed a kickoff to roll into his end zone where the Jets recovered.

It is extraordinarily rare for the kicking team to get a touchdown directly from the kickoff, due to a couple of restrictive rules. First, when the kicking team recovers the kickoff, most often by an onside kick, the ball is dead as soon as they gain possession. When the catch is muffed — defined in the rules as a failed attempt to secure possession — the ball legally remains a “kick” until a player on either team possesses the ball; the kicking team is still not able to advance a recovered ball if it is still a kick under the rules. However, if a returner has established possession and then loses it, it is a fumble and the kicking team can advance.

Second, a major rewrite to the kickoff rules in 2018 added another restriction to a kicking team touchdown recovery. If the ball touches the ground in the end zone and has not touched a receiving team player, this is a touchback. In the example above, Gillislee would be bailed out under today’s rules, and instead of a Jets touchdown, it would be Bills ball on a touchback. (The new kickoff rule was passed for one year only and requires a ¾-vote of owners at the 2019 meetings to extend it.)

For the list of kicking team recoveries, we aren’t including any touchdowns off fumble recoveries. The kicking team is the first to possess the ball in all cases, and they have done so in the end zone for a touchdown. Oddly, the Giants have scored 3 touchdowns in their history this way; the Eagles have surrendered 3 kickoff-TDs to the kickers, in addition to have recovered one as well during the season they merged with the Steelers.

In some cases with the plays below, the official scorer recorded these plays as fumbles, but we have verified through video or newspaper evidence that those were, in fact, kickoff recoveries.

Kickoff recovery touchdowns, 1940-2018

Boxscore link to Pro Football Reference. Video. *Opening kickoff. Home team in italics.

Date Kicking Receiving Kick status Scorer Receiver
1/1/2017 New York Jets Buffalo Bills   not fielded Doug Middleton Mike Gillislee
9/30/1984 New York Giants Los Angeles Rams   not fielded* Phil McConkey A.J. Jones
1/9/1983
1ST ROUND
Pittsburgh Steelers San Diego Chargers   muffed* Guy Ruff James Brooks[1]
12/27/1981
WILD CARD
New York Giants Philadelphia Eagles   muffed Mark Haynes Wally Henry
10/12/1980 Oakland Raiders San Diego Chargers   muffed Todd Christensen Chuck Muncie
9/19/1971 New York Giants Green Bay Packers   not fielded, then muffed Joe Green[2] Dave Hampton
11/29/1964 Cleveland Browns Philadelphia Eagles misplayed bounce* Roger Shoals Timmy Brown
10/1/1955 Washington Redskins Philadelphia Eagles   not fielded Ralph Thomas Jerry Norton
9/12/1948
AAFC
San Francisco 49ers New York Yankees muffed*[3] Len Eshmont Bob Kennedy
10/31/1943 Phil-Pitt Steagles[4] Chicago Cardinals muffed Ronnie Cahill Jack Hinkle

In addition, one kickoff was later determined to erroneously be ruled a touchback, when it should have been a touchdown recovery. On Oct. 30, 1977, the Houston Oilers kicked off to the Cincinnati Bengals with 27 seconds remaining in a tie game. Bengals kick returner Willie Shelby failed to field the kick, then was ruled to have touched the ball in the end zone while out of bounds. Steve Baumgartner recovered the ball for the Oilers, but it was ruled a touchback on the apparent touch by Shelby. The Oilers lost the game in overtime. NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle admitted the officiating error to Oilers coach Bum Phillips in the week after the game, noting that Shelby was in bounds when the ball bounced away from him, regardless of whether he touched the ball.

Jeremy Snyder contributed to this report.

  1. [1]Brooks muffed the ensuing kickoff, falling on the ball at the 2-yard line.
  2. [2]Not to be confused with “Mean Joe” Greene
  3. [3]It is possible Kennedy may have had possession
  4. [4]Played at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh
Ben Austro
Ben Austro
Ben Austro is the editor-in-chief and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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