In 1975, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach popularized the term “Hail Mary” to describe his miracle, winning a touchdown pass to fellow Professional Football Hall of Fame member Drew Pearson. , in a playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings. Hail Mary thus became entrenched in the American sports lexicon, but the term was used decades earlier.
In a game against Georgia Tech in 1922, the Notre Dame players literally said a “Hail Mary” prayer in the huddle before scoring a 6-yard touchdown. It worked, so they did it again before scoring another 6-yard touchdown. Afterwards, Notre Dame offensive lineman Noble Kizer said, “Say, the Hail Mary game is the best game we have!”
Perhaps the term would have gone without Elmer Layden, who played fullback in that 1922 game for the Fighting Irish and coached Notre Dame against Ohio State in 1935. With 32 seconds left, Notre Dame completed a 19-yard pass for the landing victory. Layden, recalling the victory over Georgia Tech, called it a “Hail Mary”.
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The term reappeared six years later, when Georgetown played Mississippi State in the 1941 Orange Bowl. An Associated Press preview article mentioned that the “Hoyas Trusted You Pass. greet Mary ”. The story actually proposed this definition: “A Hail Mary pass, in the (Georgetown) 11 address, is one that is thrown away with a prayer because the chances of being completed are great.”
Notre Dame and Georgetown are affiliated with the Catholic Church, so the Hail Mary was familiar to all players and coaches who said the prayer as penance after confessing. The US Naval Academy, of course, is not affiliated with any denomination, but its quarterback, Staubach, is Catholic.
After a victory over Michigan in 1963, Staubach, who won the Heisman Trophy that season, described a touchdown as “a game of Hail Mary.” Twelve years later, the term stuck, fueled by the sports sections of newspapers and its widespread use on television.
Roger Staubach uses “Hail Mary” at US Naval Academy
On December 28, 1975, the Staubach Cowboys faced the Vikings in a divisional playoff game at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota. With the Vikings in the lead, 14-10, the Cowboys had the ball with just 24 seconds left in midfield. Their season seemed over.
Coach Tom Landry, another member of the Professional Football Hall of Fame, called for a long assist. “The odds on a game like this,” Pearson told reporters after the game, “are slim and zero.”
“It was a Hail Mary pass,” Staubach told reporters afterwards. “I just threw it up there as far as I could.”
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Staubach’s 50-meter prayer was answered, but not without a bit of devilry. His high, arched ball fell near the 5-yard line. Pearson, sprinting to the end zone, adjusted his route to account for the spilled ball. No one told Minnesota cornerback Nate Wright and security guard Paul Krause. When Wright walked towards the falling soccer ball, Pearson collided with it.
Wright fell, prompting Krause to yell at officials that they should call Pearson pass interference. Meanwhile, the collision nearly knocked the ball out of Pearson. Instead, he clamped it between his arm and thigh, hid it and ran into the end zone for the winning touchdown.
“I see that orange thing coming down and I thought it might be a pass interference penalty flag anyway,” Pearson told reporters afterwards. “But it was just an orange.”
Pearson: “It was amazing, wonderful, fantastic”
Fans of the Vikings, already celebrating an apparent victory, grew sullen. A fan threw an empty whiskey bottle which hit Field Judge Armen Terzian in the forehead, causing a gash. For the Cowboys, the play was an instant classic.
“Our only hope was to launch and hope for a miracle,” Landry told reporters afterwards.
After Pearson’s take answered Staubach’s prayer, the Hail Mary came out of the obscurity of college football and found a place in standard football terminology.
The next day, the sports sections of the newspapers focused on the controversy over whether a pass interference should have been called on the game. But “Hail Mary” made headlines. Philadelphia Daily News (“Hail Mary” the pass blesses Dallas “) and Miami News (“The cowboys had no prayer until ‘Hail Mary'”).
Most of the Hail Mary passes are not completed due to the degree of difficulty, but dozens of long lifts have been. In one of Hail Mary’s most famous plays, Doug Flutie, who won the Heisman Trophy, passed a 48-yard pass to Gerard Phelan in 1984 with seconds left to give Boston College a resounding victory over the ‘University of Miami. Green Bay Packers star Aaron Rodgers has three successful Hail Marys to his name.
Pearson and Staubach, who were inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 1985, have spoken of their Hail Mary in hundreds of interviews since, but it never gets old. “It was the most exciting capture of my career,” said Pearson, elected to the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 2021 after the 1975 playoff game. “It was amazing, great, fantastic. can I say more? “