About Denver and football.
December 20, 2011 9:55 PM   Subscribe

Are field goals easier in Denver? Wired's Rhett Allain uses physics to consider which factors might make a field goal "easier" in Denver. Includes a Lego recreation of this 59 yard field goal.
posted by sweetkid (11 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Does a game ball at regulation psi have a different amount of boing at high altitude?
posted by Sys Rq at 10:03 PM on December 20, 2011

I think the real question is why are field goals more difficult in Tampa?
posted by jimmythefish at 10:51 PM on December 20, 2011

As a Bears fan, let me thank you for the opportunity to relive the nightmare.

posted by Ghidorah at 10:54 PM on December 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Although, to be honest, the 59 yarder was only needed because the Bears' kicker, Gould, had managed a 57 yard field goal earlier in the game, setting the team record for longest FG. While Gould is an incredibly accurate kicker, up until a couple seasons ago, the Bears seemed to doubt his ability to kick 50 yards (or further) out. Gould's 57 yarder (like Prater's later 59 yard kick) still had plenty of height when it cleared the uprights.
posted by Ghidorah at 11:04 PM on December 20, 2011

Two of the three 63-yarders have also been made at Mile High.
posted by scody at 11:45 PM on December 20, 2011

Didn't Mythbusters do this ?
posted by GallonOfAlan at 1:25 AM on December 21, 2011

Is it time for a football humidor?
posted by drezdn at 4:49 AM on December 21, 2011

Anybody who has ever played golf at sea level and at 5280 feet elevation has immediately noticed the golf ball travels significantly farther due to the lessened air resistance. That anybody wonders that this is an issue is bizarre.
posted by bukvich at 5:19 AM on December 21, 2011

Is it time for a football humidor?
It apparently works for the Rockies.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:38 AM on December 21, 2011

While Gould is an incredibly accurate kicker, up until a couple seasons ago, the Bears seemed to doubt his ability to kick 50 yards (or further) out.

Gould has never had the longest legs -- but he's very accurate indeed. His practice routine is to set the ball on the back corner of the end zone and kick the ball to hit the side of the goal post, edge on. He does this over and over, hitting the post from about 20 yards away about 80% of the time. In his career, he's missed exactly one extra point, and that was in his first year in the league.

But anything over 45 yards, he starts to get dicey, and over 50 is hard for him, unless the wind is with him or the air is thin. However, I don't care. I'd much rather have him being gold at 45 yards than have a kicker who's 75% at 45 and able to hit 50 at the same rate.

However, Nate Kaeding of San Diego is actually better -- slightly more accurate, and a stronger leg. However, he was injured on his first play of the season this year, which took him out for the season*. So, Gould could catch him as the most accurate kicker in the NFL.

Didn't Mythbusters do this ?

No, they did helium in the football. End result is they didn't travel as far -- because they massed less, they had less momentum, and drag slowed the football faster.

In Denver, at roughly 5200 feet above sea level, the average pressure is only 83% of that at sea level. So, the atmosphere is less dense, there is less drag. The momentum of the ball is identical, so it will travel farther from the same impulse. On a hot day in Denver, the effect will be magnified.

This has a real world issue -- that same density decrease that causes a reduction in drag also causes a reduction in lift for aircraft, and on a hot summer day, the effect is even more pronounced. There were aircraft built esp. for "hot and high" environments (the Boeing 720 leaps to mind) and Denver International Airport has very long runways to allow for the extended takeoff runs needed to get airspeed over the wings high enough to take off. Where most airport's longest runways are in the 10,000 foot range, five of DIA's runways are 12,000 feet long, and the sixth, 16R/34L, is 16,000 long -- a full thousand feet longer than the Space Shuttle's landing runway and the longest purpose-built runway in the country.**

However, the question isn't "can you kick farther", it's "are field goals easier in Denver?" I think they are actually easier -- because the less dense air means wind will be less of a factor, so if you compare equal kicks (say, 45 yards,) then you will need less force, and have less wind effects, on your kick than a park at sea level. Never mind that 55+ yard FGs are in play -- the bread and butter kicks, the 35 to 50 yard kicks, will be easier.

I note in the article he says "a gain of 4-5 yards" -- that's pretty significant.

* Bears fans are thinking Urlacher right now.

**There are runways at places like Edwards AFB and Groom Lake that are painted on dry lake beds that are vastly longer, but they don't offer precision approaches, and it's a whole different thing when you don't have to pour concrete.
posted by eriko at 6:00 AM on December 21, 2011 [9 favorites]

I'm impressed. A topic about the Broncos and no mention of Tim Teb.....oh crap.
posted by jkafka at 10:42 PM on December 21, 2011

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