Roger Staubach, the thrower of the game-winning touchdown pass to wide receiver Drew Pearson during an NFL playoff game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Minnesota Vikings on December 28, 1975
Roger Staubach, the thrower of the game-winning touchdown pass to wide receiver Drew Pearson during an NFL playoff game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Minnesota Vikings on December 28, 1975

A Hail Mary pass is a very long forward pass in American football, typically made in desperation, with an exceptionally small chance of achieving a completion. Due to the difficulty of a completion with this pass, it makes reference to the Catholic "Hail Mary" prayer for divine help.[1]

The expression goes back at least to the 1930s, when it was used publicly by Elmer Layden and Jim Crowley, two former members of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish's Four Horsemen. Originally meaning any sort of desperation play, a Hail Mary pass gradually came to denote a long, low-probability pass, typically of the "alley-oop" variety, attempted at the end of a half when a team is too far from the end zone to execute a more conventional play, implying that it would take a miracle for the play to succeed. For more than 40 years, use of the term was largely confined to Notre Dame and other Catholic universities.[1]

The term became widespread after an NFL playoff game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Minnesota Vikings on December 28, 1975 (see Cowboys-Vikings Rivalry), when Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach said about his game-winning touchdown pass to wide receiver Drew Pearson, "I closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary."[2]

Origins

Crowley often told the story of a game between Notre Dame and Georgia Tech on October 28, 1922, in which the Fighting Irish players said Hail Mary prayers together before scoring each of the touchdowns, before winning the game 13–3. According to Crowley, it was one of the team’s linemen, Noble Kizer (a Presbyterian), who suggested praying before the first touchdown, which occurred on a fourth and goal play at the Georgia Tech 6-yard line during the second quarter. Quarterback Harry Stuhldreher, another of the Horsemen, threw a quick pass over the middle to Paul Castner for the score. The ritual was repeated before a third and goal play, again at Georgia Tech’s 6-yard line, in the fourth quarter. This time Stuhldreher ran for a touchdown, which sealed the win for Notre Dame. After the game, Kizer exclaimed to Crowley, "Say, that Hail Mary is the best play we've got." Crowley related this story many times in public speeches beginning in the 1930s.[1]

On November 2, 1935, with 32 seconds left in the so-called "Game of the Century" between Ohio State and Notre Dame, Irish halfback Bill Shakespeare found receiver Wayne Millner for a 19-yard, game-winning touchdown. Notre Dame head coach Elmer Layden, who had played in the 1922 Georgia Tech game, afterwards called it a "Hail Mary" play.[1]

An early appearance of the term was in an Associated Press story about the upcoming 1941 Orange Bowl between the Mississippi State Bulldogs and the Georgetown Hoyas. The piece appeared in several newspapers including the December 31, 1940, Daytona Beach Morning Journal under the headline, "Orange Bowl: [Georgetown] Hoyas Put Faith in 'Hail Mary' Pass". As the article explained, "A 'hail Mary' pass, in the talk of the Washington eleven, is one that is thrown with a prayer because the odds against completion are big."

The Catholic-inspired name of the play derives from its early use at Notre Dame and its frequent fusion of religious and football imagery (such as in Touchdown Jesus, pictured above)
The Catholic-inspired name of the play derives from its early use at Notre Dame and its frequent fusion of religious and football imagery (such as in Touchdown Jesus, pictured above)

During an NBC broadcast in 1963, Staubach, then a Navy quarterback, described a pass play during his team's victory over Michigan that year as a "Hail Mary play". He scrambled to escape a pass rush, nearly getting sacked 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage before completing a desperation pass for a one-yard gain.[1]

Examples

See also: List of Hail Marys in American football

Arguably the most memorable and replayed Hail Mary pass came on November 23, 1984, in a game now known as "Hail Flutie".[3] Boston College was trailing Miami (FL) 45-41 with six seconds left, when their quarterback Doug Flutie threw a 52-yard touchdown pass to Gerard Phelan, succeeding primarily because Miami's secondary stood on the goal line to keep the receivers in front of them without covering a post route behind them.

Miami's defense was based on the assumption that the five-foot-nine-inch Flutie could not throw the ball as far as the end zone: instead, Flutie hit Phelan in stride against a flatfooted defense a yard deep in the end zone as time expired.[4] To commemorate the play, a statue of Flutie in his Hail Mary passing pose was unveiled outside Alumni Stadium at Boston College on November 7, 2008.[5]

Other noteworthy examples include:

Metaphorical usage in other fields

The term "Hail Mary" is sometimes used to refer to any last-ditch effort with little chance of success.

In military uses, General Norman Schwarzkopf described his strategy during the Persian Gulf War to bypass the bulk of Iraqi forces in Kuwait by attacking in a wide left sweep through their rear as a "Hail Mary" plan. This usage, however, did not refer to the plan's chances of success but to the movement of Coalition forces to the left side of the front lines prior to the attack, which reflected the formation for a Hail Mary pass in which all the offensive team's wide receivers line up on one side of the line of scrimmage.[20][21]

Various legal actions attempting to overturn Donald Trump's defeat in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, in particular the Texas v. Pennsylvania Supreme Court lawsuit, were described as "Hail Marys".[22][23]

There are similar usages in other fields, such as a "Hail Mary shot" in photography where a photographer holds the view finder of an SLR camera away from the eyes (so unable to compose the picture), usually high above the head, and takes a shot. This is often used in crowded situations.[24]

In computer security, a "Hail Mary attack" will throw every exploit it has against a system to see whether any of them work.[25]

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c d e Ashwill, Gary (October 29, 2010). "Hail Mary". Agate Type. Retrieved April 7, 2012.
  2. ^ "Chat Transcript With Roger Staubach". profootballhof.com. Pro Football Hall of Fame. December 8, 2000. Retrieved December 4, 2019.
  3. ^ Brown, Scott (September 23, 2008). "The 10 Best College Football Hail Mary passes of the past 30 years". Scott Brown's Sportsbytes. Retrieved November 27, 2013.
  4. ^ "Flutie's Miracle in Miami". November 17, 2006. Retrieved March 12, 2010 – via YouTube.
  5. ^ "The Heights 10 November 2008 — Boston College". bc.edu.
  6. ^ "It Was a Super Holiday Bowl". Los Angeles Times. January 13, 1986. Retrieved November 27, 2013.
  7. ^ Schwartz, Larry (November 19, 2003). "Kordell's Hail Mary a "Miracle in Michigan"". ESPN. Retrieved November 26, 2013.
  8. ^ Kleinpeter, Jim (November 9, 2012). "Remembering LSU's Bluegrass Miracle on the 10th anniversary". The Times-Picayune. New Orleans. Retrieved November 26, 2013.
  9. ^ Staples, Andy (October 23, 2011). "Miracle 'Rocket' boosts Spartans to improbable victory over Badgers". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved November 26, 2013.
  10. ^ Prather, Carl (November 16, 2013). "The Prayer at Jordan-Hare! Auburn wins 43–38!". WAFF. Retrieved November 26, 2013.
  11. ^ "'Houk's Hug' adds to BYU's legend of 'Miracle at Memorial'". KSL.
  12. ^ Floyd, Brian (December 4, 2015). "This is how the Lions handed the Packers a game-winning Hail Mary". SB Nation. Retrieved December 12, 2015.
  13. ^ Orr, Connor (January 16, 2016). "Cardinals survive Packers' Hail Mary in wild OT win". National Football League. Retrieved January 23, 2018.
  14. ^ "Central Michigan stuns No. 17 Oklahoma State on controversial Hail Mary". USA Today. September 10, 2016. Retrieved April 21, 2018.
  15. ^ "Tennessee vs. Georgia – Game Recap". ESPN. October 1, 2016. Retrieved October 5, 2016.
  16. ^ "Aaron Rodgers throws Hail Mary to Randall Cobb vs. Giants". Business Insider. Retrieved July 30, 2019.
  17. ^ "Florida beat Tennessee with the most ridiculous Hail Mary touchdown pass". For The Win. September 16, 2017. Retrieved September 17, 2017.
  18. ^ "Florida vs. Tennessee: Gators win on incredible last-second Hail Mary". Sporting News. September 16, 2017. Retrieved September 17, 2017.
  19. ^ "Deshaun Watson on DeAndre Hopkins Hail Mary catch: "That's just Hop"".
  20. ^ Schwarzkopf's Strategy
  21. ^ Operation Desert Sabre
  22. ^ The Trump legal team's latest voter fraud Hail Mary, Washington Post, November 9, 2020.
  23. ^ Trump Asks Supreme Court To Let Him Join Widely Scorned Texas Election Lawsuit, npr.org, December 9, 2020.
  24. ^ "Hail Mary – and Other Divine Photo Tricks". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 12, 2010.
  25. ^ "Metasploit for the Aspiring Hacker, Part 4". Armitage. Retrieved May 18, 2017.