Help Understanding CFL Special Teams Rules


I am a new fan of the CFL from the United States. I have always enjoyed the NFL and NCAA football (in addition to sometimes watching old games on YouTube from the USFL, WLAF, NFL Europe, XFL, etc…), but I also like to find other avenues of enjoying the game of gridiron football. I have always known that Canadian football and the CFL were out there, but this past year, I decided to see if I could find some games and learn some of the unique rules of the CFL. I have NOT been disappointed. I have really enjoyed myself when able to take in a game. When I told a friend of mine about it, he suggested I find a team to support, and after looking at all 9 teams, I decided on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

When it comes to some of the rules differences between the NFL and CFL, there are some areas where I still prefer the NFL, but one area where I very much prefer the CFL is special teams. In my opinion, when it comes to special teams, the CFL is stealing the NFL’s lunch money! It’s not even close. Special teams in the NFL is unbelievably boring. It really has become nothing but touchbacks, fair catches, and holding calls.

Anyway, concerning special teams in the CFL, I want to talk about punting. I get the no yards penalty, I understand the rouge (or single), and I get that players behind the kicker can advance the ball. I also understand punting out of the endzone after a missed field goal to avoid the single (especially in a tie game when the clock is running out).

The one thing I am trying to understand more fully is when, late in a game, one team kicks off after a score and a player from the receiving team punts the ball downfield (presumably with team mates behind him to advance the ball). Often, a member of the kicking team will then field the ball and punt it back, and the two teams will go back and forth. Are the two teams trying to advance the ball for a touchdown, or are they trying to force a single point? What exactly is the strategy?

I appreciate any help. Thank you.

I'm not sure I've ever seen that happen - i.e. a kickoff returner punting the ball back towards the kicking team. It's hard to imagine that ever working out in favour of the receiving team. Given the way the teams line up, the kicking team would almost certainly be better positioned to recover the punted ball than the receiving team, as any onside players (behind the ball when it is punted) would have a heck of a long way to go to get to a spot where the kickoff coverage team would already be standing.

It could happen on a punt, where the receiving team is desperate to get the ball out of their own end zone to avoid a single point, so they punt it back out. This would only be a defensive strategy (avoid being scored on), as there is little to no hope of recovering your own punt out of your end zone. And it would only be done if the clock is ticking to zero on the play. To do it with even a few seconds left means the original punting team would get another play, likely closer to the end zone than the previous one.

There was one game this year (you said you were a Winnipeg Fan, so that reminds me of the game) where there were about four punts back and forth (two by each team). Getting it out of the end zone, is a smart play to "eliminate" the possibility Rouge point or a "safety", but unless it is punted back into the end zone (which it was not on the third punt in that particular game), there was no reason to continue to punt the ball, simply receive and get down, to end the game. If you have a recording of the game, you will actually see both coaches saying "WTF" on the sideline, after the play. In that game, I think it was just a case of a player (I would assume international) who was not totally familiar with the CFL rules and just was trying to do what coach said and kept "re-punting" the ball. In this case the second punt by that team (I forget who had possession and who the second team involved in the game was) was a mistake by the player.

The sequence should have been;

  1. Punt by Team A - Received by Team B in the end zone
  2. Punt by Team B out of end zone - Received by Team A
  3. Punt by Team A - Received by Team B outside the end zone (inside the five if my memory serves me correctly)
  4. Team B player maintains possession and goes down to end play (and the game if again, my memory serves me correctly)

Mike O'Shea is a Special Teams Guru! He was as a player and he continues to be as the HC of the Bombers. If you like special teams plays ... you picked the right team to support.

It takes time for some of the International Players to get used to the CFL rules. Usually about once a year you see one get rocked as they call for a "fair catch" (not going to happen son). It's just part of the fun of the CFL.

Welcome to the "Crazy Football League", where "no lead is safe". I hope you become a fan and encourage others to enjoy our game as well!