A Safety Score in American Football: Why is It Called a “Safety?”

Last Updated on October 2, 2023 by Alex PT

A safety score in American football is called a “safety” because it awards the defensive team two points for tackling an offensive player in their own end zone. This scoring play has been part of the game since 1883, providing a unique way for defenses to contribute to the score.

What is a Safety Score in American Football

A Safety Score in American Football is a method of scoring two points awarded to the defensive team when they successfully tackle an offensive player carrying the ball in their own end zone. Here are the key details:

  1. Location: The safety occurs in one of the two end zones on the football field.
  2. Scoring: When the offensive team is tackled or commits a penalty while in possession of the ball inside their own end zone, the defensive team is credited with a safety score.
  3. Two Points: The defensive team is awarded two points for achieving a safety. This is the only scoring play in American football that is worth two points.
  4. Kickoff: After a safety, the team that conceded it must kick the ball to the opposing team from their own 20-yard line. This kick is known as a “free kick.”
  5. Field Position: A safety often results in a significant shift in field position, as the team that conceded the safety must give the ball back to the opponent from their own territory.
  6. Rare Occurrence: Safeties are relatively rare in American football due to the difficulty of pinning an opponent in their own end zone. They can, however, have a substantial impact on the outcome of a game, especially in close contests.
  7. Strategic Value: Teams may intentionally concede a safety in certain situations to gain better field position for a subsequent possession or to run down the clock while leading late in a game.

How To Score A Safety

To score a safety in American football, the defense must tackle the ball carrier in the offense’s own end zone or force the offense to commit a penalty in their own end zone. Safeties are worth two points for the defensive team.

Here are some specific examples of how safety can be scored:

  • The ball carrier is tackled behind the goal line by a defender.
  • The ball carrier fumbles the ball out of bounds behind the goal line.
  • The ball carrier intentionally grounds the ball in the end zone.
  • The offense commits a penalty in the end zone, such as holding, illegal formation, or delay of game.

Once safety is scored, the defensive team is awarded the ball and kicks it off to the offense from the 20-yard line.

Safeties are relatively rare in American football, but they can be a significant turning point in a close game. For example, if a team is trailing by one point and they score a safety, they will take the lead by one point.

Here are some tips for scoring a safety:

  • Be aggressive when tackling the ball carrier in the end zone.
  • Force the offense to make mistakes in their own end zone by pressuring the quarterback and disrupting their running game.
  • Be aware of the rules regarding penalties in the end zone.

If you are a defender, scoring a safety is one of the most exciting things that can happen in a football game. It is a great way to help your team win and to make a big impact on the game.

A Safety Score in American Football: Why is It Called a “Safety?”

The term “safety” in American football has two meanings:

  • A safety score is worth two points and is awarded to the defense when the offense commits a foul in its own end zone, or when the ball carrier is tackled or forced out of bounds in the end zone with the offense in possession of the ball.
  • A safety is also a position on the defense, typically played by two players. Safeties are responsible for deep pass coverage and run support.

The term “safety” is thought to have originated in the early days of American football, when it was considered the safest way to advance the ball. In those days, before the forward pass, teams would often down the ball in their own end zone to avoid a turnover. This would result in the ball being placed at the 25-yard line, which was a more favorable position than if the team had turned the ball over on downs.

Today, safeties are much less common, but they can still occur when the offense makes a mistake in their own end zone. Safeties are worth two points for the defensive team, which can be a significant turning point in a close game.

What Is the Most Famous Safety Score in American Football? 

Most Famous Safety Score in American Football

Probably the most famous safety score happened in NFL, by Jim Marshall on October 25th, 1964, as a defensive end for Minnesota Vikings, recovered a fumble, and returned it to his zone accidentally. This has been tagged the ‘Wrong Way Run’ and named one of the most embarrassing moments in professional sports history.

The safety usually covers the farthest back area in the backfield. So, in that sense, they are the last line of defense against the opposition. For example, if a quarterback throws a pass, it flies over the defensive line and the linebackers. Say the cornerback covering the intended receiver has fallen behind by a few steps. In comes the safety who is already downfield and has time to move in, react and attempt to block the pass.

Or, say the running back breaks through the line and is headed downfield for a big score. The running back keeps dodging people, but the safety, who was already downfield, gets the right angle on him and makes the tackle, saving a touchdown since he was the last defender. 

Types of Safety Scores in American Football

Types of Safety Score

Free Safety

The free safety tends to watch how they play; they fold and follow the ball and mount the role of the “defensive quarterback” of the backfield. The free safety is typically assigned to the quarterback to cover the man. Still, as the quarterback usually remains in the pocket, the free safety is “free” to double cover another play player well.

On pass plays, the free safety assists the cornerback and closes the distance to the receiver by the time the ball gets to him. If the offense puts a receiver in the slot, then the free safety may be called upon to cover the receiver. Because of their deep coverage and speed, free safeties are especially likely to make interceptions.

Strong Safety

The strong safety tends to be somewhat more robust and more prominent than the free safety. However, the word strong in this context is used because he is assigned to cover the “strong side” of the offense, a typically big—side on which the tight-wonderful receiver-type player lines up on offensive plays.

The strong safety tends to play closer to the line against the free safety and assists in stopping the runs being made. He may also cover a player, such as an H-back or running back, who comes out of the backfield to receive a pass. A strong safety’s duties are a combination of those belonging to those of the other defensive backs and a linebacker in a 3-4 defense, in that he both covers the pass and stops the run.

Frequently Asked Questions

How did safety in football get its name?

Safety in football has two meanings. One is a defensive position, and the other implies the two points that can be scored for pinning the opposing team in their end zone. The score is the reason for the name ‘Safety.’

What is the meaning of safety in the NFL?

It is a Safety:

  • when an impetus by a team sends the ball behind its goal line.
  • If the offense committed is a foul in its end zone, the ball is out of bounds behind the goal line, or the ball is dead in the end zone in its possession.

What is a safety score in football?

In the NFL, a safety is scored when any of the following conditions occur: The ball becomes dead in the end zone, except for an incomplete forward pass, and the defending team is responsible for it being there. The ball carrier is tackled or forced out of bounds in his end zone. 

Why is a safety two points?

The defensive team at the time of the safety is rewarded with two points. The defense is rewarded for forcing the offense out of bounds within their endzone, tackling the offense in the end zone, or getting the offense to commit a penalty to force the ball into the end zone. 


In football, safety is a scoring play that gives the defense two points. It also refers to a position group on the defensive side of the ball that consists of the solid and free safety. Safeties are also called defensive backs and play a heavy role in pass/defense.

Regarding scoring plays, safeties are not very common in football. The safety position is more critical in making and defending plays in stopping the run and pass.

Reference 1: What Is a Safety in Football? Everything You Need to Know – Coaching Kidz

Reference 2: What is a Safety in Football? (Full Explanation) (footballadvantage.com)

Leave a Comment