Hail Mary pass: Wikis


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A Hail Mary pass or Hail Mary play in American football refers to any very long forward pass, long bomb, or dragon made in desperation with only a small chance of success, especially one thrown at or near the end of a half. The expression was made famous when it was used to describe the game-winning touchdown pass by Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach to Drew Pearson in a NFL 1975-76 divisional playoff game. Afterwards, it was reported that Staubach said, "I closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary." [1]



The Hail Mary
1 2 3 4 Total
DAL 0 0 7 10 17
MIN 0 7 0 7 14
Date December 28, 1975
Stadium Metropolitan Stadium
Location Bloomington, Minnesota
Referee Chuck Heberling
Network CBS
Announcers Gary Bender and Johnny Unitas

The term "Hail Mary pass" was used by the press to describe a pass by Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach in a 1975 divisional playoff game. The term first came into mainstream use by the sporting press resulting from an interview shortly after the game-winning touchdown pass. Staubach, referring to his desperation (and Catholic faith)[citation needed], for his game-winning touchdown pass in the December 28, 1975, NFC Divisional Playoff Game.

The Dallas Cowboys started with the ball on their own 15-yard line, losing 14-10, with one minute and fifty-one seconds left in the fourth quarter. Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach managed a nine-play drive to midfield against the Minnesota Vikings defense. From midfield, with 24 seconds now remaining, Staubach lined up in the shotgun formation, took the snap, pump-faked left, then turned to his right and threw a desperation pass to wide receiver Drew Pearson, who was being covered by Minnesota Vikings cornerback Nate Wright. Wright fell to the ground and Pearson was barely able to complete the catch by trapping the ball against his right hip at the 5-yard line and backing into the end zone to make the score 16-14 in favor of Dallas, and what would eventually be the winning touchdown. The point after was successful, making the final score 17-14. In a later interview with Pearson, he stated that he thought he dropped the ball only to find it against his hip and then just waltzed right into the end zone.



As Pearson strode into the end zone for the score, free safety Paul Krause complained to field judge Armen Terzian that an interference penalty on Pearson should have been called. An orange, thrown by a spectator in the stands, whizzed by Pearson at the goal line. The orange is visible on NFL Films footage of the play and was initially confused by some as a penalty flag and was also misinterpreted by the Vikings defense as a penalty. More debris was thrown from the stands by angry Vikings fans, enraged that no penalty was called on Dallas.

Defensive tackle Alan Page argued with officials and was assessed a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the ensuing kickoff. On Minnesota's next possession with 14 seconds left to play, a Corby's whiskey bottle was thrown by a spectator, striking referee Armen Terzian in the head at Minnesota's own 10-yard line, creating a large forehead gash and rendering him unconscious. Terzian had to wear a bandage, later requiring 11 stitches, as he walked off the field and was replaced by substitute official Charley Musser for the final two plays.


The term "Hail Mary pass" was used for the first time by Roger Staubach following the game in a post-game interview. Previous to this play, a last-second desperation pass had been called several names, most notably the "Alley-Oop". As Staubach, who had been hit immediately after throwing the ball and didn't see its ending, was asked about the play and he said, "You mean [Pearson] caught the ball and ran in for the touchdown? It was just a Hail Mary pass; a very, very lucky play." Staubach told reporters that he closed his eyes, threw the ball as hard as he could, and said a Hail Mary prayer. This was among the plays by Roger Staubach that enhanced his fame and legend as noted in NFL Hall of Fame Archives. [1]

Shortly after the game concluded, Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton was informed that his father, Dallas Tarkenton, had died of a heart attack during the third quarter while watching the game on television at his Savannah, Georgia home. It has become somewhat of a myth that he suffered the heart attack after seeing the Hail Mary play.[citation needed]


There is no one setup, although many teams may have a "Hail Mary" type play in their playbooks. More often such plays are called a "post," although most plays in football playbooks have numerical tags as opposed to names. Generally there is no standard "Hail Mary Play."

A play is more often called "Hail Mary" after the fact, that is if and after it has worked out against all odds and resulted in a score in the final moments. It is more a descriptive term of a sports moment, as opposed to a planned play.

Although such plays have low percentage chance of completion, there is likely some type of long pass play in every playbook at the professional and college level. Such a "long ball" "post" pass can occur with four or five wide receivers in the singleback formation or with four or five wide receivers in the standard or shotgun formation. Generally, three or more eligible receivers are lined up on the short side of the field and all run a fly pattern. The running backs, if in the play, may be kept in to block. Sometimes the team running a post will not even have a running back in the backfield, instead choosing to use every possible eligible receiver (five of them) to run a pass route, hoping to spread out the defense and give the quarterback more passing options. The quarterback throws towards a receiver, making the decision as to which one within 2 - 2.5 seconds of getting the snap. The Hail Mary pass does not always need to be completed to move the ball for the offense. It may succeed in drawing a pass interference penalty on the defense (a strong possibility with so many receivers running deep routes for the defense to cover), which gives the offense the ability to run another play with better field position in all situations (since the game cannot end on a defensive penalty, even if there is no time left on the clock). In college it may not help much as pass interference is only a spot foul up to 15 yards, while in the NFL, it is a spot foul no matter where it occurs, with the ball placed at the 1 yard line if the infraction occurs in the end zone.


The standard defense against the Hail Mary pass is the prevent defense.

The first priority is to ensure the defensive backs are in zone coverage, and that they keep the receivers well in front of them until the ball is thrown. Second, generally no more than four defensive linemen rush the quarterback, with all the linebackers dropping back to prevent a shorter pass. In many cases, the defense will remove some of its linebackers and linemen and replace them with extra defensive backs, in order to help compensate when the opposing team brings in extra receivers, leading to there being five or six defensive backs on the field instead of the usual four, generally known as the nickel and dime packages, respectively. Once the ball gets down field, the primary role of the defensive back is to knock the ball to the ground, thus ending the play, and preventing something such as an offensive player stripping the ball, a tipped pass resulting in a reception, or a fumble that could happen if the defensive player intercepted the ball.

Occasionally, especially in college football, offensive players (usually wide receivers) will be put in on defense to defend a Hail Mary. Hail Mary passes are most successful when the defense is in the wrong alignment. If the defense is in man-to-man coverage, and a receiver manages to break coverage by getting further down field than the nearest defensive back, the chance of success is greatly improved.


After the original Hail Mary by Roger Staubach, another Hail Mary pass came in a 1984 game between Boston College and Miami (FL). With just 6 seconds left on the clock, Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie threw what was by then called a Hail Mary pass, which succeeded primarily because Miami's secondary stood on the goal line to keep the receivers in front of them, and failed to cover a post route being run by Gerard Phelan. Miami's defense was based on the assumption that Flutie would be unable to throw the ball as far as the end zone, but Flutie hit Phelan in stride against a flatfooted defense a yard deep in the end zone.[2] A connecting road in Natick, where Flutie played for the high school, has been named "Flutie Pass". Also in the 2005 Capital One Bowl Iowa Hawkeyes quarterback Drew Tate threw the pass with 4 seconds left to his receiver Holloway to defeat the LSU tigers. (See also Flutie effect)

Additionally, in the 1980 Holiday Bowl, commonly known as the "Miracle Bowl" by BYU fans, BYU quarterback Jim McMahon successfully completed a Hail Mary pass as time expired to defeat SMU. Another example was the Bluegrass Miracle, a Hail Mary pass by Tigers QB Marcus Randall with 2 seconds to go in the Kentucky-LSU game on 9 November 2002.

In other fields

The term "Hail Mary pass" has become generalized to refer to any last ditch effort with little chance of success.

In basketball, A "Hail Mary shot" or "Hail Mary throw" is a shot thrown from a place far away from the basket (e.g. behind the half court line.)

There are similar usages in other fields, such as a "Hail Mary shot" in photography where the photographer holds the view finder of an SLR camera far from his eye (so unable to compose the picture), usually high above his head, and takes a shot. This is often used in crowded situations [3]

In 1991, Norman Schwarzkopf (Desert Storm commander) likened his strategy of flanking Iraqi defenders (by sending his forces in a westward direction to get behind them) to a Hail Mary play. [4]

During the 2008 United States presidential election, Senator Chuck Schumer criticized John McCain's vice presidential pick, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, by calling it a "Hail Mary pass". The term was also applied to his decision to suspend his campaign,[5] and later, to his attempt to win Pennsylvania and "toss-up" states in order to win the election.[6]

See also


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