Have you ever seen the guy waving in the end zone during a kickoff? He’s not waving to welcome the defenders who are rapidly approaching; he’s signaling for a fair catch.
What’s a fair catch?
A fair catch is when a receiver signals that he is going to catch the ball only – not advance it – during a kickoff. If you would like to know the technical definition of a wave, the NFL says the receiver, “must raise one arm a full length above his head and wave it from side to side while kick is in flight.” Good to know.
When a player signals for a fair catch it means he wants to catch the ball right where he’s standing, and that’s all. He won’t try to run forward and advance the ball down the field after signaling a fair catch. (If he does, he’ll just end up further back than he was when he started thanks to a 5-yard penalty from the spot where he waved.) As a result, players on the kicking team are not allowed to tackle a player on the receiving team who signaled for a fair catch. They also aren’t allowed to interfere with the ball or the path of the ball. (Interfering in any way will cost the kicking team 15 yards!) However, if a player signals for the fair catch and then decides it isn’t so fair after all, that’s fine. He doesn’t have to catch the ball. But once he signals for the fair catch he can’t interfere with anyone on the kicking team. If he does, it’s a 15-yard penalty.
Here’s a bonus point to ponder, just because I’ve never heard of it before and think it’s hilarious:
If time expires while ball is in play and a fair catch is awarded, receiving team may choose to extend the period with one fair catch kick down. However, placekicker may not use tee.
I honestly have no idea what that would look like in an actual game. All I can picture is the ref coming over to the kicker and taking his tee away.