What is a Touchdown in American Football?

A touchdown is synonymous with American football. You hear about touchdowns in American films and television, but what does it really mean? And just how many points is a touchdown worth?

Grab a jersey and foam finger and let’s learn more about the ins and outs of a touchdown in American football.

What is classed as a “Touchdown” in American Football?

A touchdown is a means of scoring a ‘goal’ in American and Canadian football. A player completes a touchdown when they carry or catch the ball across the opponent’s goal line while maintaining possession and both feet in bounds.

Here is an example of a standard touchdown and how it is accomplished.

1. Gain Possession of the Ball

The offensive team begins their possession with the ball at a certain spot on the field. This can either be the line of scrimmage at the start of a drive or where they’ve advanced the ball from previous plays.

2. Advance the Ball

The offensive team’s objective is to move the ball down the field toward the opponent’s end zone, which is the area where they aim to score the touchdown.

3. Cross the Goal Line

To complete a touchdown, a player must carry or catch the ball and physically cross the opponent’s goal line. The goal line is the white line marking the boundary of the end zone.

4. Maintain Possession

While crossing the goal line, the player must maintain possession of the ball. This means they can’t lose control or fumble the ball before they’ve fully crossed the goal line.

5. Stay In Bounds

The player crossing the goal line must also have both feet (or another body part) in bounds when they complete the catch or carry. If they step out of bounds before crossing the goal line, it’s not a touchdown.

6. Touchdown Signal

Once the player successfully completes these steps, the game officials will raise their arms and signal a touchdown by extending them upwards. This indicates that the offensive team has scored six points.

7. Scoring

A touchdown is worth six points on its own. Afterward, the team has the option to try for extra points. They can either attempt a point-after-touchdown (PAT) kick, which is worth one point, or a two-point conversion, which involves another play from scrimmage and is worth two points.

It’s important to note that American football is a dynamic sport, and scoring a touchdown often requires precision, teamwork, and strategic planning. The process can vary depending on the specific play and circumstances within the game, but these steps outline the fundamental requirements for completing a touchdown.

Touchdown vs. Field Goal

There are many means of scoring points in American football, most notably, a touchdown. But that isn’t the only way of scoring multiple points, a field goal is just as valid as a touchdown.

But what is the difference between a touchdown and a field goal in American football? Well for starters, they are worth a different amount of points. A touchdown is worth six points, while a field goal is worth three points.

The other disparity between a touchdown and a field goal is the way in which these goals are earned. As we’ve discussed, a touchdown is completed when a player carries or catches the ball across the opponent’s goal line, while maintaining possession and both feet in bounds. While a field goal is scored when a player place kicks or drop kicks the ball. The ball must pass through the uprights (the crossbar that sits on each end of the field) for it to count.

A touchdown and a field goal are simply two ways of scoring points in American football. 

The History of the “Touchdown” in American Football

The touchdown appears like a tried and tested goal-scoring system. And that’s because it is. The touchdown has gone through many iterations over the years, from changing point values to the actual mechanics of the game.

Let’s discuss how a touchdown in American football has evolved over its lifespan.

Point Value

The term “touchdown” originated in 1864, originally in Rugby where the football had to touch the floor on the other side of the goal. While the touchdown we all know and love is worth six points, this wasn’t always the case. 

In 1883 when a points system was introduced to American football, a touchdown was worth four points. A goal after that touchdown would then count as another two points. However, in 1897 this was then changed to a touchdown scoring five points and a goal afterwards scoring another point. Finally, in 1912, the touchdown was bumped up to six points as we all know it today.

Interestingly enough, the touchdown was once worth a whopping seven points. This was short-lived, however, only being implemented in the World Football League that operated in 1974 and 1975.


It wasn’t until nearly 20 years after the touchdown was invented that it underwent some change. In 1881, the rules were changed so that a goal kicked from a touchdown outweighed a field goal during a tiebreaker.

Followed by another minor change just a year later in 1882. Since points hadn’t been introduced to the game yet, it was deemed that four touchdowns were better than a field goal. Another year later in 1883, points were finally added to the game and a touchdown was worth four points.

Significantly, in 1897 the rules of a touchdown were changed to the ones we know today. The provision for the ball to touch the ground was removed, needing the ball only to be in possession when passing the goal line.

In 1900, the touchdown was expanded to include situations in which the ball was dead or above the goal line. Followed by another important amendment in 1912, where the End Zone was added. 

Introduction to Mainstream Football

The introduction of the touchdown in mainstream football wasn’t necessarily a straightforward one. In fact, the first touchdown in the NFL is up for debate due to the opposing team not being part of the APFA.

The first touchdown was scored on September 26, 1920, between the Rock Island Independents and the St. Paul Indeeds. Eddie Novak of the St. Paul Indeeds scored the first touchdown on a 10-yard rush.

Final Thoughts from UK vs. USA

As with every sport, there are rules and systems to understand before watching the game. American football is no different, a touchdown is no more complicated than the offside rule in European football.

American Football Touchdown FAQ:

How many points is a touchdown worth in American football?

A touchdown in American football is worth six points. Of course, there are other ways to score points. For example, after a touchdown is scored, the scoring team can kick a field goal for one point or attempt a two-point conversion.

Why is a touchdown called a “touchdown” in American football?

The term “touchdown” refers to the act of scoring in American football. It originates from the early days of the sport when a team would score by physically carrying the ball across the opponent’s goal line or touching the ball to the ground in the end zone.

The term “touchdown” comes from the fact that the ball must make contact with the ground or the end zone in order for a score to be counted.

Does the ball have to be in to be classed as a touchdown?

Yes, in American football, the ball must cross the opponent’s goal line for it to be classified as a touchdown.

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