Football Terms – Hail Mary Pass
The Hail Mary pass is traditionally a last-ditch forward pass used in both the NFL and NCAA ranks. Basically, the quarterback throws the ball as far as he can and hopes that a receiver can come down with it. The pass is most commonly used just prior to halftime or the end of the game.
Hail Mary Pass
Because of the distance thrown and the defense being prepared, the Hail Mary pass rarely works. Still, it is a standard play in every professional and college team’s playbook. Perhaps the most famous example of the Hail Mary was Doug Flutie’s successful 1984 pass against Miami with six seconds left on the clock.
It is common for three or more receivers to line up on the shot side of the field and run a fly pattern. Running backs may be kept in to block, or the team may elect to replace the runners with even more receivers. The Hail Mary can be run out of the shotgun or singleback formation.
A Hail Mary can also draw a pass interference penalty, which can give the offense another shot at the end zone with much better field position. Remember, an NFL game cannot end on a defensive penalty, so the offensive team will get one more play, even if time has already expired.
To defend against the Hail Mary, the defense drops into zone coverage and makes sure to keep the receivers in front of them. Linebackers will drop back into coverage against shorter passes, although they are often replaced with additional defensive backs in this situation (giving the defense a nickel package or dime package).
The term “Hail Mary pass” is generally credited to Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback Roger Staubach. During a 1975 playoff game against the favored Minnesota Vikings, the Cowboys were behind with 24 seconds left on the clock. Staubach heaved the ball to Drew Pearson, and the rest is history. After their victory, Staubach told reporters that he closed his eyes, threw the ball as hard as he could and uttered a Hail Mary prayer.