Thousands of touchdown passes have been thrown in NFL history. But only a few, each thrown in the dying seconds of a pressure cooker playoff game, have earned nicknames that have stood the test of time. Here are five of the most miraculous NFL touchdown passes of all time:
1. The impeccable welcome | December 23, 1972
THE SCENE: Oakland Raiders-Pittsburgh Steelers AFC Divisional Playoff game, Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. Coming into the game, the Steelers, founded in 1933, had never won a playoff game.
With 22 seconds remaining, Oakland had a 7-3 lead and the Steelers had the ball at their 40-yard line. In fourth place, Pittsburgh quarterback Terry Bradshaw, a future Hall of Famer, threw a desperate pass down the middle for running back John “Frenchy” Fuqua. The ball was on target, as was Oakland safety Jack Tatum, who slammed into Fuqua on the pass.
The ball was rich seven or eight back to Steelers rookie leading Franco Harris, a future Hall of Famer, who was running down after blocking. Harris caught the ball inches off the ground and, without interrupting his stride, sprinted into the end zone for the winning 60-yard touchdown. The crowd has gone mad.
After a brief review, officials retained the original touchdown call. The game remains controversial – had the ball hit Fuqua last, the touchdown would have been declared an incomplete pass under NFL rules at the time. The NFL did not adopt an instant replay system until 1986.
WHAT THEY SAID NEXT: ” I can not believe it. I saw it and I can’t believe it. When (Harris) scored my damn brain was gone. —Steelers guard Bruce Van Dyke, according to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“If the officials really knew what had happened, they would have called him right away. But first, they regrouped. It means they didn’t know. —Raiders coach John Madden.
WHAT HAS BEEN WRITTEN: “After 40 endless years of spreading salt, smashing mirrors and walking under ladders, the Steelers have been blessed with benevolent fate.” –Pittsburgh Press sports journalist Phil Musick
2. The sea of hands | December 21, 1974
THE SCENE: Miami Dolphins-Oakland Raiders Divisional Playoff Game, Oakland, Calif. Coliseum.
This game was already on the verge of becoming a classic when the Dolphins took a 26-21 lead with two minutes remaining. Then Raiders quarterback Ken “The Snake” Stabler, a future Hall of Famer, moved his team onto the field against the highly ranked defense of the Dolphins, who were only two years into their 17- season. 0 – the only perfect season in NFL history.
Taking the snapshot of the Dolphins’ 8-yard line, Stabler looked to his left for wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff, another future Hall of Fame, behind the end zone. With Biletnikoff covered and the pressure coming, Stabler took off to his left. Miami defensive lineman Vern Den Herder closed from behind, eventually grabbing Stabler and pulling him down.
At the last possible moment, Stabler handed the ball over to running back Clarence Davis, who was covered by linebackers Larry Ball and Mike Kolen. All three players raised their hands for the ball. When the sea of hands parted in the end zone, Davis shot the ball, withstanding a fierce blow from defensive back Charles Babb and a late kick from linebacker Manny Fernandez to give the Raiders a 28-26 victory. .
The following week, Oakland lost to eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh, 24-13.
WHAT THEY SAID NEXT: “I didn’t get everything I wanted in that last pass, but I didn’t want to get it back. … I am very happy that it is our turn to win. “—Stabler, according to the Oakland Tribune.
“… the most difficult loss I have ever suffered as a coach,” Dolphins coach Don Shula, future Hall of Fame member, told reporters.
WHAT HAS BEEN WRITTEN: “Everyone said it would be the game of the year, but it turned out to be a game for the ages.” –Oakland Grandstand sports reporter Tom LaMarre
3. Hail Mary | December 28, 1975
THE SCENE: Dallas Cowboys-Minnesota Vikings NFC Playoff Game, Metropolitan Stadium, Bloomington, Minnesota
With 24 seconds remaining, Minnesota led, 14-10, and the Cowboys had the ball in midfield. Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach, a future Hall of Famer, took the snap and waited for Drew Pearson to go far enough into the field. Then he threw a high, arched pass even though Pearson was well covered by Nate Wright of Minnesota. Pearson, inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 2021, slowed down on the Minnesota 5-yard line and waited for the ball.
With his back to the quarterback, Wright collided with Pearson, who appeared to push him. But no interference was requested from either player, and Pearson withstood the collision, caught the ball against his hip, and made it into the end zone for the winning touchdown.
“It was a pass from Hail Mary,” Staubach told reporters after Dallas’ 17-14 victory. “I just threw it up there as far as I could.” The name stuck.
WHAT THEY SAID NEXT: “The odds on a coin like this are slim and zero.” – Pearson told reporters.
“I thought I had an interception. I had a position. I wasn’t thinking about anything else. I felt pushed.” —Wright told reporters.
WHAT HAS BEEN WRITTEN: “It was a miracle game … one in a million. It turned out to be perhaps the biggest shot the Dallas Cowboys have ever shot in a crucial game.”Fort Worth Star-Telegram sports journalist Roger Kaye
READ MORE: How Roger Staubach & Drew Pearson Made The Hail Mary Pass Famous
4. The capture | January 10, 1982
THE SCENE: Dallas Cowboys-San Francisco 49ers NFC Championship Game, Candlestick Park in San Francisco.
Within minutes, 49ers quarterback Joe Montana, a future Hall of Famer, steered a drive to the Cowboys 6-yard line. On the third down with 58 seconds left and his team trailing 27-21, San Francisco coach Bill Walsh called “Change Left Slot — Sprint Right Option” a game designed for wide receiver Freddie Solomon. But Salomon slipped on the play, forcing Montana to rush to his right and look for another receiver.
As three Cowboys moved closer to the quarterback, Clark, the 49ers 6-foot-4 wide receiver, sprinted to the right-back corner of the end zone. Montana pulled a high pass that barely cleared defensive back Everson Walls and fell into the hands of leaping Clark, who landed just inside the winning touchdown.
The Cowboys still had a chance to win, but Dallas quarterback Danny White fumble was picked up by the 49ers in the dying seconds.
WHAT THEY SAID NEXT: “I knew it was a high pass, but I didn’t know how high until I saw the reruns.” – Clark, who told the San Francisco Examiner the team had run the game in practice.
“It’s the worst I have ever felt”, – White, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram
WHAT HAS BEEN WRITTEN: “Hollywood would have rejected this script.” –San Francisco Examiner columnist Art Spander.
5. The Minneapolis Miracle | Jan. 14, 2018
THE SCENE: New Orleans Saints-Minnesota Vikings Divisional Playoff game, US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis
Trolling New Orleans 24-23, Minnesota was in its last scrimmage game from its 39-yard line. With eight seconds to go, quarterback Case Keenum took the snap of “Seven Heaven,” a game the team had played hundreds of times during training camp.
Keenum threw a dart at wide receiver Stephon Diggs, who was covered by cornerback Marcus Williams. As Diggs made the leaping capture, Williams collided with cornerback Ken Crawley, and Diggs sped and sprinted to the end zone for the winning score at the end of the time limit.
The Saints players had to be called from the locker room for the mandatory point-after touchdown attempt. Only eight of them were on the pitch as Keenum knelt to end the game.
WHAT THEY SAID NEXT: “Things like this just don’t happen.” – Diggs told reporters
“I knew the situation. You have to make sure you play the game.” – Williams told reporters.
WHAT HAS BEEN WRITTEN: “Do you believe in miracles?” –Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist Jim Souhan