What is a fair-catch free kick?
Many football fans have no idea what this rule is. After all, the very specific circumstances that must arise for it to be feasible have enabled it to be used just 10 times since 1970.
So what is it?
Basically, when a team fair catches a punt, they have the option to run a play or perform a "free kick": an uncontested field goal from the spot they caught it at where the opposing team isn't allowed within 10 yards of the kick. So, there needs to be a sufficient combination of a small amount of time left in the half, good field position and benefit in the scoreline to make a free kick beneficial to the kicking team. And even then, the punting team needs to not recognize the situation and kick to them instead of kicking the ball out of bounds.
In Week 3 of 2006, all of these factors arose. The Cardinals trailed the Rams 16-14 when the Rams punted. Troy Walters fair caught the ball at the Cardinals 33-yard line, but the Cardinals' Robert Griffith was offsides. Thinking the game was over because the time had expired during the play, inexperienced Rams' coach Scott Linehan declined the penalty.
However, yet another caveat to the fair-catch free kick rule is that, even if the time has expired, the free kick can be taken. So as the referees let Linehan in on the rule, kicker Neil Rackers prepared himself for an unprecedented 77-yard field goal attempt to win the game.
In the end, though, the kick was never taken when the referees incredibly allowed Linehan to renege on his declining of the penalty, accept the penalty and send his offense to kneel and end the game.
I still view this ending as something of a travesty (On the other hand, Rackers got to attempt the kick two years later. His attempt, from 10 yards closer than the one mentioned would have been, detracts heavily from the argument of a travesty).