Hail Mary Passes

On 10/31/99 Cleveland’s NFL team beat New Orleans on a so-called “Hail Mary” pass that the TV announcer, Don Criqi, called a “miracle.” Theological aspects aside (and as a Roman Catholic shouldn’t I be offended at the use of the phrase “Hail Mary”?) I seems to me that an NFL tackle football team successfully using such a play isn’t rare let alone miraculous, but I have no data on it one way or another. My WAG would be that such plays are completed around 20% of the time, as compared to a more usual pass play which is completed about 55% of the time, but I don’t know. Does anybody know?

A Hail Mary pass is one where the QB throws it high and long and prays that there’s someone there to catch it. It’s generally going to be used in the final seconds of a game when the team is losing, and is a last ditch effort. It isn’t attempted too terribly often, and is completed less… but it is a fairly spectacular thing when it works. (As far as football plays go.)

The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

To me, a “Hail Mary” means that a) it’s the last play that the driving team is likely to have, and b) the driving team is “not particularly close” to the goal line.

With those stringent definitions ;), I’d think the success percentage to be even lower than 20%.

You’re just as likely to get the ball intercepted (if not more likely if the defense doesn’t have anyone rushing the QB) as a completion. I’d say the odds are considerably less than 2 in 10 of successfully completing a H.M.- its the fact that you hear a lot about the H.M.'s that work and little about the ones that don’t (like Cade McNown’s INT at the end of the first half of the Redskins-Bears game).

Damn that Hail Mary pass. I had New Orleans as my top choice in my confidence pool. I was saying a Hail Mary when the ball was in the air that it wouldn’t be caught. Why wasn’t my prayer answered?

'Cause all the Cleveland fans were praying to St. Jude.
(P.s., Mary answered you: she said “No.”)

It was. She said “Hail Dis!”

Lex Non Favet Delictorum Votis

Do you suppose the football fanatics at Notre Dame first coined the term?

Stevie Rave On wrote: Damn that Hail Mary pass. I had New Orleans as my top choice in my confidence pool. I was saying a Hail Mary when the ball was in the air that it wouldn’t be caught. Why wasn’t my prayer answered?

The player who caught the ball had access to a higher power, i.e. the overhead Jumbotron. I heard an interview where he said that he was standing at the 10 yard line when he saw on the overhead TV that the quarterback was heaving the ball, so he ran into the endzone in time to make the catch.

It was Doug Flutie who coined the name. At Boston College, he beat the University of Miami about 15 years ago. It started his legend. Afterwards, he referred to it as “My Hail Mary.” It helped him get the Heisman Trophy.

Flutie is Catholic.

Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to relive it. Georges Santayana

…and the greatest man to ever have his own cereal.

It’s a little bit older.

The first time I ever saw the term used was in reference to a Dallas-Minnesota game of the mid-70’s. Roger Staubach threw a desperation pass to Drew Pearson as time ran out. It went for a touchdown, and Dallas won.

I wasn’t familiar with this game until several years later, so I don’t know at what point it was being called the “Hail Mary”–but it was before Flutie’s famous pass against Miami.

(Was that the year that Miami lost several games and scored over 40 points in each of them?)


The “Hail Mary” was being bandied about as an old term when I was in school in the sixties.

A minor hijack, but I was watching that game and two stupid things done by the Saints allowed for that outcome.

First, the Saints quarterback stupidly called a timeout with 26 seconds on the clock before the field goal attempt. Had he allowed the clock to run until there were 5 seconds or less it the Browns would have never had the opportunity for the “Hail Mary”.

Secondly, the “Hail Mary” pass came down into a group of 3 Saints defensive players who should have allowed it to fall to the ground or at least batted it into the ground. Instead, they tipped the ball and it fell right into the hands of the Cleveland receiver.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.


I was watching that game, and the announcer used the term immediately, well before anyone could have talked to Flutie.

The Hail Mary is almost universally credited to the Dallas coach Tom Landry, and Roger Staubach in the Minnesota game already mentioned. I’m too young to recall it, but in all the NFL footage, and retorspectives I’ve watched (which is probably all of them, I love NFL Films :)) they universally credit that game with dubbing the title, and inserting it into every teams playbook. Its not clear to me if the play was called that by the team before they ran it, or if a commentator spontaneously created the term.

IIRC that Flutie BC v. Miami Hail Mary came in a year where Miami was undefeated going into that game, and the lost cost them the National title, I think that was their only loss.

In the post game interview, Staubach was asked about the play. He said he just said Hail Mary and threw it as far as he could. That sealed it, writers picked it up and the Hail Mary pass was a new cliche. Before that the same type of pass was called an Alley Oop.

Okay, all you football experts out there, I am about to take this thread for a short dip to the south. Did the Lynn Swann catch that announcers referred to as the “Immaculate Reception” happen on a “Hail Mary” pass? I saw it, and I can’t remember. I’m wondering if that’s what gave them the idea for the name of the catch.
It would have been during the 76-77 or the 77-78 seasons, because those are the only times I watched football. I lived in Denver at the time and caught Bronco Fever. (“I’m dreaming of an Orange Crushmas”)
Okay, you can turn back to your regular heading now.

Not to encourage this type of hijacking, or anything, but I feel compelled to point out to thirdwarning that the “immaculate reception” refers to a pass caught by Franco Harris, not Lynn Swann. It was called that because it bounced off another Steeler and into his hands. I believe that this became the impetus to change the rules such that a forward pass, beyond the line of scrimmage, cannot be touched by an offensive player (illegal touching, a penalty that never fails to crack me up) and subsequently be caught by another offensive player unless touched by a defensive player in between. I believe this happened in a playoff game in December of 1972. I’m sure there will be a Steeler fan along shortly to provide additional details and/or corrections, if necessary.

Reality is for people who can’t handle drugs.

-Tom Waits

Not to further hijack the thread, but poor impulse control forces me to make a correction.

Weimar is right that the “Immaculate Reception” was caught by Franco Harris. It didn’t occur on a Hail Mary pass, it was a simple pass down the field at the end of a playoff game against the Raiders. The Steelers were in a Fourth and long, in the 2 minute drill. Bradshaw was passing up field to the tight end (forget who it was) to get a first down to maintain possession, the free saftey for the Raiders came up to hit the tight end, and try and knock the ball loose. He arrived at the precise moment the ball did, and it bounced very abruptly backwards, to where Franco was standing aimlessly, and really loafing at the end of a play as he was prone to do. He reached down, and picked it up inches from the turf, and ran it up the sidelines to the endzone. Leading to a victory for the Steelers. One of the strangest plays in the history of football.

The rules that Weimar is refering to is the root of the contraversy.

From http://www.nfl.com/Steelers/news/immaculatenotes.html

This is the illegal touching rule, the Raiders still swear that the ball was touched only by the Steeler, making it an illegal touch. The poor resolution, and frame rate of the film make it impossible to tell in retrospect, intuitivly I think that the play should stand, hard for me to say considering how much I hate the Steelers.

Today however the rule has been removed, and the NFL Digest of Rules reads: “A forward or backward pass may be batted, tipped, or deflected at any time by either the offense or the defense”. So Weimar had it backwards.

Here’s a avi of the “Immaculate Reception”: http://members.aol.com/wyllys/av/immac.avi

Heres a short explanation of the “Hail Mary” play for anyone who’s confused. A “Hail Mary”, previously called the alley oop (thanks for reminding me of that one) is a play loosely defined as a pass usually thrown at the end of a half as time expires, when the team is trailing. The team sends its recievers all to the endzone in the same area (followed by the entire defensive backfield), and the quarterback heaves the ball into the general area, and the ball is usually batted once or twice, then the offense hopes the ball drops into freindly hands.