Even if you aren’t a die-hard football fan, you know exactly what the Hail Mary is. In desperation time, the quarterback launches a prayer into the sky, hoping the football lands into the arms of someone wearing the same colored jersey. The Hail Mary is arguably the most heart-pounding play in sports, and heroes are born because of it from college football down to the high school ranks.
But like all great nicknames, someone deserves credit for coining the term. When it comes to the Hail Mary, the Hall-of-Fame quarterback of “America’s Team” was actually the originator of the phrase.
The 1975 NFC Divisional Playoff game pitted the Dallas Cowboys versus the Minnesota Vikings. Four seasons removed from the franchise’s first Super Bowl victory, the Cowboys reached the NFC playoffs as the wild card team with a 10-4 record. They traveled to Metropolitan Stadium to face the top-seeded Vikings, captained by 1975 NFL MVP Fran Tarkenton and the vaunted “Purple People Eater” defense led by Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees Alan Page, Carl Eller and Paul Krause.
Dallas trailed late in the fourth quarter, 14-10. With 32 seconds left in the game, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach prayed for a miracle. Taking the snap at his own 50-yard line, Staubach dropped back and hoisted a bomb downfield towards four-time All-Pro wide receiver Drew Pearson.
Miraculously, Pearson readjusted as the ball spiraled down at the 5-yard line. He caught it and crossed the goal line for a 50-yard touchdown as Minnesota’s Nate Wright stumbled behind him.
Dallas 17, Minnesota 14.
Talking to reporters after the game, Staubach’s famous quote created the symbolic phrase we know and love today:
“I was a Catholic kid from Cincinnati, and [reporters] asked me what were you thinking about when you threw the ball, and I said, ‘When I closed my eyes, I said a Hail Mary.'”Advertisement
The First Hail Mary: Roger Staubach to Drew Pearson
The comeback was complete, but that famous football was launched into the stands behind the end zone by an exuberant Pearson, who was actually fined $150 for doing so.
On the flip side, it’s important to note that you should never bring up the original Hail Mary pass to a Minnesota Vikings fan. Ever.
Believing Pearson interfered with Wright and the touchdown pass was illegitimate, outraged Vikings fans in Minneapolis littered the field with trash and oranges — Super Bowl X would be played at the Orange Bowl in Miami later that year, and fans came prepared to celebrate.
However, the Lord shined on Tom Landry’s Cowboys that day. They torched the Los Angeles Rams by 30 points in the NFC Championship Game before meeting the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl X. Dallas’ magic ran out, however, as Pittsburgh captured its second-straight title in a 21-17 victory. Steelers wide receiver Lynn Swann’s iconic catch in that football game earned him MVP honors.
The Cowboys returned to the big game during the 1977 season, defeating the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XII to capture the franchise’s final title of those glory days.
We’ve seen dozens of Hail Mary wins — and even an Aaron Rodgers “Fail Mary” — but nothing will ever top the very first.