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Old 12-03-2003, 07:25 AM
HeyHomie HeyHomie is online now
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Origin of Football Term "Hail Mary"?

NOTE: I searched the archives and didn't find anything, so I apologize if this has been done before.

Anyway, in football, why do they call a long-yardage, desperation pass into the end zone a "Hail Mary"? I mean, I get it: the quarterback, receivers, coach, etc. all fervently invoke their religion, hoping the pass will result in a touchdown. But who actually came up with the phrase (in this context), and when and why?

For the record, I seem to recall it having something to do with a very Catholic quarterback (Doug Flutie?) at a very Catholic college {Boston College?) doing it in a game a couple of decades ago, and it worked, and the announcers at that game came up with it. But I could be wrong.
Old 12-03-2003, 07:31 AM
Genghis Bob Genghis Bob is offline
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The "Hail Mary Pass" predates Doug Flutie's heroics at Boston College (good call on that, by the way). I remember using the term as a kid playing neighborhood football, back when Mr. Flutie was just a gleam in Dad Flutie's eye.

But I can't help you with its first use; probably right after the forward pass was invented!
Old 12-03-2003, 08:04 AM
kanicbird kanicbird is online now
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WAG, Everyone looking up in awe to see if the emaculate reception is comming.
Old 12-03-2003, 08:08 AM
adirondack_mike adirondack_mike is offline
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WAG - Notre Dame. Not Catholic but isn't Hail Mary part of the Rosary?
Old 12-03-2003, 08:10 AM
meathead meathead is offline
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The first use of "Hail Mary" that I can remember refers to Minnesota's loss to Dallas in the 1975 playoffs.

Minnesota was up 14-10 with under two minutes remaining and Dallas with the ball on their own 15. It ended with a long pass from Staubach to Pearson that was dubbed a "Hail Mary".

I have a suspicion that it was in use well before this though.
Old 12-03-2003, 08:13 AM
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Doug Flutie's pass (to Gerard Phelan) against Miami in 1984 is generally known 'round these parts as the "Hail Flutie", so obviously the Hail Mary is much older.

This site ( claims first use in 1982, popularized in 1991 during the Gulf War, but I find that doesn't match my recollections.
Old 12-03-2003, 08:22 AM
Philster Philster is offline
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meathhead got it or is very close. NFL Films just did a piece on this and it is either that game or one around the same period. The QB (Staubach) was quoted as saying it after the game.
Old 12-03-2003, 08:25 AM
Philster Philster is offline
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Damn. Snopes got it, too!

Also see the specific Hail Mary link in the article!
Old 12-03-2003, 08:26 AM
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Old 12-03-2003, 08:32 AM
Shepherdless Shepherdless is offline
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adirondack_mike, the Hail Mary is indeed the most recited prayer of the Rosary. Look it up here

The Minnesota Viking's Web site attributes the Hail Mary to Roger Staubach in 1975:
In a post-game interview, someone described the play to Staubach, who had been hit immediately after throwing the ball and didn't see its ending. "You mean he [Pearson] caught the ball and ran in for the touchdown?" Staubach asked. "It was just a Hail Mary pass; a very, very lucky play."
Not clear if that was the first time it was used tough.
Old 12-03-2003, 08:34 AM
Jurph Jurph is offline
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I seem to remember my father's explanation going something like this...

The QB, desperate for more than three points but nowhere near scoring, with only a handful of seconds left on the clock, throws the ball in a long, high arc, aiming for the end zone. Everyone in the stadium--offense, defense, fans, the hot dog guy, even the ref--knows what's coming, because there's really no other choice. Normally when a defense knows what you're going to do, you try to do something else, but in this situation, it is the only possible play, and defending against it is pretty easy. Nonetheless, the quarterback's hand (and arm) is forced.

He throws long and high, knowing that the time left on the clock will expire no matter what kind of play is run. The massive hang time is long enough for the receivers to get downfield under his pass, long enough for the defenders to set up coverage, and long enough for the quarterback to say the complete Hail Mary prayer, to wit:

Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

With the big game in the balance, your pass in the air, and a mob of defenders and receivers in the end zone, you may as well pray--you're going to need it!

As for who coined it, Google gives one decent cite that it was Roger Staubach vs. the Vikings in '75. Probably not enough evidence to go on.

Aside to kanicbird: the Immaculate Reception was Franco Harris, snatching a Terry Bradshaw pass intended for "Frenchy" Fuqua from inches above the ground in the final seconds of the AFC Championship game (Steelers vs. Raiders, 1972). The "Immaculate" moniker is questionable; the play was ruled a touchdown because none of the referees could determine whether Fuqua has touched the ball, or whether it had bounced off his defender. In the latter case, it would be a valid reception; in the former, the penalty would be for "Illegal Touching" and the game would be over. It is still one of the most hotly-debated plays in (American) football.
Old 12-03-2003, 09:50 AM
astorian astorian is offline
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The funny thing is, the play that popularized the term "Hail Mary pass" wasn't REALLY a "Hail Mary pass" in the sense that the term is commonly used today.

Roger Staubach CALLED his bomb to Drew Pearson a "Hail Mary pass," but that pass was a designed play. Staubach was planning to throw to Drew Pearson all along. Yes, it was a do-or-die situation NEAR the very end of the game. BUT...

Today, when we talk about a "Hail Mary" pass, we almost always mean a desperation pass on the FINAL play of the half or the game. That is, EVERYBODY goes deep, the quarterback throws it as deep as he can, and HOPES that there's a lucky bounce that one of his receivers comes down with.

Staubach's famous pass was NOT like that. Staubach knew exactly whom he wanted to throw to. To be sure, he needed some luck, a great adjustment by Pearson and (if you're a bitter Vikings fan) an illegal push-off! But Staubach's Hail Mary was NOT a case of chuck-it-deep-and-hope-SOMEBODY-cathes it.
Old 12-03-2003, 01:41 PM
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and long enough for the quarterback to say the complete Hail Mary prayer
For what it's worth, this was my understanding of the term, also. And also for what it's worth, there's definitely a tendancy for folks raised Catholic to time a stressful event by Hail Marys (for instance, a claustrophobic aunt of mine might refer to a freeway tunnel as being five Hail Marys long).
Time travels in divers paces with divers persons.
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Old 12-03-2003, 02:23 PM
Hombre Hombre is offline
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I used to live in some upscale apts owned by Roger Staubach (on White Rock Lake). There was a very nice weight room there and Roger would use it sometime. I had the occasion to ask him about the 'Hail Mary' term and he ideed confirmed to me that it was a 'hang time/time to say the complete prayer' remark. I'm fuzzy on the exact reference he made but, if I remeber corectly, it stemmed from anthing desperate that took along time. I got the impression that it was the first (unintintional) public connection to football passes.
I agree with astorian that the meaning has changed slightly. All Texas boys who play 'sandlot' football (which is just about all Texas boys) are familiar with the everybody-go-long desperation play.
Old 12-03-2003, 03:29 PM
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Speaking of the Immaculate Reception, IBM or somebody has a commercial out now with two guys sitting at the counter in a diner fantasizing about "the NFL on demand", and one of them mentions the Immaculate Reception. During the whole thing, Franco Harris is sitting next to them eavesdropping, and at the end of the ad he says "It's already being done."
Old 12-03-2003, 04:07 PM
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And Roger Staubach is Catholic (very Catholic).
Old 12-03-2003, 07:22 PM
samclem samclem is offline
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Telemark offered a cite/site that actually has it correct, so far as printed proof.

The term is first recorded as being used in 1982.

There is no printed use of it earlier that anyone has found.

It almost certainly WAS used earlier, but all you have to do is find the cite.
Old 12-03-2003, 07:47 PM
samclem samclem is offline
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This thread got me searching on some online databases for the term.

And meathead goes into the lead.

I just found a cite from a newspaper in August of 1974.

Everyone is back from the team that won the National Conference West before losing at Dallas, 27-16, in the playoffs on what Cowboys' quarterback Roger Staubach calls "a couple of Hail Mary pass plays."
So it looks like it goes back a ways.

I'll post any further updates as I find them.

Thanks for the thread. This is what I like to do.
Old 12-03-2003, 08:53 PM
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Name of newspaper, date of article, title?
Old 12-03-2003, 11:41 PM
samclem samclem is offline
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Gettysburg(PA) Compiler, August 29, 1974. page 14, col 7.
Old 12-05-2003, 10:40 AM
Loach Loach is offline
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The only cite I will use is my own memory. I distictly remember Staubach calling it a Hail Mary pass in the after game interview and then explaining that he meant that he threw it and then began praying that it would be caught. The comment greatly ammused my father and made an impression on me even though it came from a hated Cowboy.
Old 12-05-2003, 10:02 PM
samclem samclem is offline
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As promised, an update.

Barry Popik, the premier searcher of databases, found a 1972 cite, which he posted to the American Dialect Society Mailing List after my 1974 find.

It also was a quote involving Staubach, from the Sporting News. It was a quote from his Navy coach, Wayne Hardin.

"I remember a game at Michigan. We were on the 20 and Roger rolled right and got hammered in.
He was bobbing and weaving and kept retreating, back to the 30. He was
surrounded and upended.
"He was parallel to the ground, his feet in mid-air and he threw a pass to
Pat Donnelly, who made a one-yard gain. Afterward, I asked if he really saw
Pat or if he was throwing it away.
"He said, 'Let's just call it my Hail Mary Play.'"

So, I'll wager that Staubach was the popularizer of the term. Perhaps not the inventer, but he certaily seems to be in on the ground floor of its use in the popular press.

Old 12-05-2003, 11:49 PM
doctordoowop doctordoowop is offline
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Hail Mary was also used by late Laker announcer Chick Hearn to refer to a last second desperation shot in basketball.


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