On a Wing and a Prayer: The Most Memorable Hail Marys in Football History

Dave EmkeContributor IIINovember 11, 2013

On a Wing and a Prayer: The Most Memorable Hail Marys in Football History

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    Everyone is talking about Andy Dalton's Hail Mary pass to A.J. Green on Sunday that tied the Bengals/Ravens game at 17, sending it to overtime.

    Had the Bengals gone on to win, it would likely go down as one of the more memorable plays in team history. Instead, as the Ravens won 20-17 in overtime, it will more than likely be an afterthought.

    Throughout history, the Hail Mary has provided many great memories for fanbases enjoying miracle victories—and heartache for those seeing a sure win snatched away in the most improbable way.

    Dalton-to-Green was just part of an eventual Bengals loss, so it becomes neither here nor there. The following Hail Marys, though, are plays that fans of college and pro teams will continue to talk about for generations.

Roger Staubach to Drew Pearson, 1975

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    The 1975 NFL season saw the Minnesota Vikings finish 12-2, good enough for the top seed in the NFC playoffs. They faced the wild-card Dallas Cowboys in the first round and held a 14-10 lead late in the game when Roger Staubach called in a miracle.

    With 24 seconds left in the game, the Dallas quarterback threw a deep pass down the right sideline in the direction of wide receiver Drew Pearson. Pearson was able to make the catch over the coverage of Vikings defensive back Nate Wright and run into the end zone for what would be the game-winning touchdown.

    It was Staubach who coined the term "Hail Mary pass" in a postgame interview.

    Previous to this play, a last-second desperation pass had been called several names, most notably the "Alley-Oop". Staubach, who had been hit immediately after throwing the ball and didn't see its ending, was asked about the play and he said, "You mean [Pearson] caught the ball and ran in for the touchdown? It was just a Hail Mary pass; a very, very lucky play." Staubach told reporters "I closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary".

Doug Flutie to Gerard Phelan, 1984

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    In undoubtedly the most famous Hail Mary pass of all time, Doug Flutie launched a pass from just beyond the midfield line with no time on the clock. It landed in the arms of wide receiver Gerard Phelan in the end zone 60 yards away, giving Boston College a shocking 47-45 victory over Miami, practically guaranteeing Flutie's Heisman Trophy win—and his place in football legend.

    The play was called "Flood Tip," with Phelan instructed to try to tip the ball to another receiver if he couldn't cleanly make the catch. There was no need, as it fell straight into his arms.

    "I thought the pass fell incomplete," (Flutie) would say later. "When I saw the referee's arms go up in the air for a touchdown, I could not believe it."

Kordell Stewart to Michael Westbrook, 1994

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    Long before he was "Slash" in the NFL for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Kordell Stewart was the quarterback of the Colorado Buffaloes. He led the team into Michigan Stadium on a September day in 1994 for a battle between two Top 10 teams that came down to a thrilling final play.

    With the ball at their own 36-yard line and just six seconds to play, the Buffaloes' five-point deficit looked like it might be impossible to overcome. Stewart took the snap and, after dancing in the backfield for a few seconds, unleashed from the 27-yard line. Just before the goal line, 70 yards away, the ball was tipped into the air, allowing wide receiver Michael Westbrook to get under it and haul it in for the game-winning touchdown.

    Postgame, at least one Colorado player said he knew what happened on the field that day.

    “I don’t care what anyone says,” said Christian Fauria in the post-game celebration. “That was divine intervention.”

Tim Couch to Kevin Johnson, 1999

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    The fact that I can't find a video of this Hail Mary on the Internet is criminal.

    The expansion Browns were 0-7 on the season entering a Week 8 game in the Superdome against the New Orleans Saints on Halloween day. Trailing 16-14 with just seconds left on the clock and the ball on their own 44-yard line, quarterback Tim Couch launched the ball downfield for one last chance.

    Just inside the right pylon, rookie wide receiver Kevin Johnson grabbed the ball and secured it for the touchdown, giving the team its first win in its return to the NFL.

    The Browns won a second game by Hail Mary in 2002, defeating the Jacksonville Jaguars on a last-second bomb from Couch to Quincy Morgan.

Marcus Randall to Devery Henderson, 2002

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    Kentucky was already celebrating its upset win over LSU.

    After a field goal to go up 30-27 with just 11 seconds left, it was all over. Quarterback Jared Lorenzen had gone so far as to douse head coach Guy Morriss with Gatorade.

    But LSU still had some fight.

    With the ball on their own 26 and just two seconds left, the Tigers took the final snap of the game. Sophomore quarterback Marcus Randall threw the ball as far as he could down the field. 

    While the ball was in the air, Kentucky fans were busy storming the field behind Randall and tearing down the goal posts. What they didn't see was the ball being deflected over defenders' heads and into the hands of LSU wide receiver Devery Henderson, who raced into the end zone and to a victory for the ages—on the play that has gone down in history as the "Bluegrass Miracle."

David Garrard to Mike Thomas, 2010

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    With the score tied at 24 and just three seconds on the clock, the Jacksonville Jaguars could have kneeled the ball at midfield and gone to overtime with the Houston Texans. Or, they could make something amazing happen.

    David Garrard took a snap and hurled the ball toward the end zone. While it was batted down by Texans defender Glover Quin at the goal line, it deflected straight into the hands of wide receiver Mike Thomas, who entered the end zone and gave the Jaguars a 30-24 win.

    Bonus on this video: Gus Johnson was on the call for CBS. And that gives me an excuse to put this video in here too, even though it isn't a true Hail Mary.


Kirk Cousins to Keith Nichol, 2011

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    This one gives us the added aspect of suspense.

    The score was tied at 31 when Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins threw his desperation pass to the end zone. The ball was batted around before it was caught by wide receiver Keith Nichol near the goal line.

    When he was tackled, officials ruled him down inside the 1-yard line. However, after instant replay was brought into the mix, the decision was reversed and referee Dennis Lipski announced a touchdown and a Spartans win.

    While Cousins is now a quarterback in the NFL with the Washington Redskins, Nichol has been unable to break into the world of professional football. But he will always have the memory of that night in East Lansing.

    "Obviously, it's something I'll remember for the rest of my life. Hopefully, Spartan Nation remembers it for a long time."