Why Do They Call It First And Goal In American Football?

Football First and Goal

First and goal is a very common term in American football, and the act of earning a first and goal is one of the most important responsibilities football offenses have. It is called first and goal because a team is within ten yards of the goal line and the other team’s end zone. It is a phrase used to denote how close a team is from scoring a touchdown. Typically a number is used instead of the word goal, such as “1st and 10”, “2nd and 8”, or “4th and 1.”


Why do they call it first and goal in American football?

In order to understand the meaning behind "1st & Goal" we need to make sure we understand the following:

Goal Line

Football Goal Line

The goal line is the line that marks the front of each team's end zone. It's used to determine if a score is made. The ball must touch or cross the goal line in possession of a player in order to be considered a touchdown.

Line of Scrimmage

Football Line of Scrimmage

The line of scrimmage is the point on the field where the ball is placed to start a down. Neither team can cross the line of scrimmage before the play starts, or else they’ll be called for an offsides penalty. You can see it as a blue line when watching football on TV. Once a player crosses the line of scrimmage, they cannot make a forward pass.

1st Down Line

Football 1st Down Line

The 1st down line is a yard line that shows the distance a team needs to travel to get a 1st down. You can see it as a yellow line when watching football on TV, however it is not specifically marked on the field. Once a team crosses the 1st down line, the ball is placed where the runner is ruled down and the new 1st down line is placed ten yards away.

Scrimmage Downs

A scrimmage down is just a fancy word that means any play that starts on the line of scrimmage. For short, people call them downs. Each team gets four scrimmage downs to try and achieve a first down, score a touchdown, or kick a field goal.

The Down Cycle

When a team gets possession of the ball in football they are given a set of four scrimmage downs to move the ball down the field. These scrimmage downs are called:

The 1st down line is initially placed 10 yards from the line of scrimmage. If a team fails to reach the 1st down line in four scrimmage downs they must "turn the ball over to the other team" for a turnover on downs. However, if a team reaches the 1st down line on any of the downs, the down cycle starts over and the 1st down line is once again placed 10 yards away from the line of scrimmage.

Down and Distance

Now that we understand the basics of ball movement in football, we can put it all together to understand down & distance or your question on what is "1st & Goal."

Usually, you will see down & distance represented by a number like "1st & 10," "2nd & 15," or "4th & 1." The first part of the phrase is the current scrimmage down. The second part of the phrase is the distance to the 1st down line a team needs to travel to get a 1st down and for the down cycle to start over.

1st & 10

Down: 1st Down

Distance: 10 yards (to the 1st down line)

2nd & 15

Down: 2nd Down

Distance: 15 yards (to the 1st down line)

4th & 1

Down: 4th Down

Distance: 1 yard (to the 1st down line)

In some cases, the 1st down line is replaced with the word "Goal." This means that the 1st down line is the goal line and the team with the ball is within 10 yards of the goal line.

1st & Goal

Down: 1st Down

Distance: The Goal Line (1st down line)

2nd & Goal

Down: 2nd Down

Distance: The Goal Line (1st down line)

FAQ

What is First and Goal in Football?

First and Goal in football is when the team with the ball gains a first down within the opponent’s ten-yard line. In this case, the team with the ball must either score a touchdown or kick a field goal within four downs in order to score points. First and goal is a team’s first down once they are in a goal to go scenario.

When Does a First and Goal Happen?

First and goal happens when a team obtains a first down less than ten yards away from the end zone. First and goal happens all the time in football. It is the same thing as a regular down, it’s just given a slightly different name to indicate that the offensive team is close to scoring a touchdown.

Can a team have first and goal without being within ten yards of the end zone?

Yes, teams can be on first and goal without being within ten yards of the end zone. This would take place in the event of an offensive penalty that does not result in a loss of down. Further, 2nd and goal, 3rd and goal, and 4th and goal are all also possible outside of the opposing team’s ten yard line, in the event of sacks or other plays that result in a loss of yards.