Hail Mary pass

Hail Mary pass

A Hail Mary pass or Hail Mary play in American football is a forward pass made in desperation, with only a small chance of success. The typical Hail Mary is a very long forward pass thrown near the end of a game where there is no probability for any other play to score points. This play is unlikely to be successful, because of the general inaccuracy of the pass and the defensive team's preparedness for the play makes it likely that it can intercept or knock down the ball.


Although the Hail Mary has a low percentage chance of completion, it is generally a standard play in every playbook at the professional and college level. The Hail Mary play can occur with four or five wide receivers in the singleback formation or with four or five wide receivers in the shotgun formation. Generally, three or more eligible receivers are lined up on the short side of the field and all run a fly pattern. The running backs are kept in to block. Sometimes the team running the Hail Mary will not even have a running back in the backfield, instead choosing to use every possible eligible receiver (five of them) to run a pass route, hoping to spread out the defense and give the quarterback more passing options to throw to. The quarterback throws towards the end zone. However, it must be noted that the Hail Mary pass does not actually need to be completed to succeed. It may also succeed in drawing a pass interference penalty on the defense (a strong possibility with so many receivers running deep routes for the defense to cover), which gives the offense the ability to run another play with better field position in all situations (since the game cannot end on a defensive penalty, even if there is no time left on the clock). In college it may not help much as pass interference is only a spot foul up to 15 yards, while in the NFL, it is a spot foul no matter where it occurs, with the ball placed at the 1 yard line if the infraction occurs in the end zone.

The play is almost never successful in potential game-winning situations, but might be worthy of an attempt in situations where there are no other alternatives, such that a run or a shorter pass that would be tantamount to giving up.


Defending against the Hail Mary is straightforward. The first priority is to ensure the defensive backs are in zone coverage, and that they keep the receivers well in front of them until the ball is thrown. Second, generally no more than four defensive linemen rush the quarterback, with all the linebackers dropping back to prevent a shorter pass. In many cases, the defense will remove some of its linebackers and linemen and replace them with extra defensive backs, in order to help compensate when the opposing team brings in extra receivers, leading to there being five or six defensive backs on the field instead of the usual four, generally known as the nickel and dime packages, respectively. Once the ball gets down field, the primary role of the defensive back is to knock the ball to the ground, thus ending the play, and preventing something such as an offensive player stripping the ball or a fumble that could happen if the defensive player intercepted the ball.

Occasionally, especially in college football, offensive players (usually wide receivers) will be put in on defense to defend a Hail Mary. Hail Mary passes are most successful when the defense is in the wrong alignment. If the defense is in man-to-man coverage, and a receiver manages to break coverage by getting further down field than the nearest defensive back, the chance of success is greatly improved.


The term "Hail Mary pass" is believed to have been coined by Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach, referring to his desperation (and Catholic beliefs), for his game-winning touchdown pass in a December 28, 1975 NFC semifinal playoff game. With 24 seconds remaining, Staubach threw a desperation pass to receiver Drew Pearson, who was being covered by cornerback Nate Wright. As the ball came down Pearson stopped and pushed Wright. Pearson caught the ball pinned slightly against his right hip and ran into the end zone for the winning touchdown. In discussing the play during a post-game interview, Staubach told reporters that he closed his eyes, threw the ball as hard as he could, and said a Hail Mary prayer.Although the term may date further back, no reference has been cited as yet which predates Staubach's comments.

The term "Hail Mary pass" inspired (or possibly was inspired by) a bit of doggerel: "Hail Mary/Full of Grace/I hope he's down/there someplace".


Arguably, the most famousFact|date=December 2007 Hail Mary pass came in a 1984 game between Boston College and Miami (FL). With just 6 seconds left on the clock, BC quarterback Doug Flutie threw a Hail Mary pass which succeeded primarily because Miami's secondary stood on the goal line to keep the receivers in front of them, and failed to cover a post route being run by Gerard Phelan. Miami's defense was based on the assumption that Flutie would be unable to throw the ball as far as the end zone, but Flutie hit Phelan in stride against a flatfooted defense a yard deep in the end zone. [ [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3ykWbu2Gl0 Flutie's Miracle in Miami] ] A connecting road in Natick, where Flutie played for the high school, has been named "Flutie Pass".(See also Flutie effect)

In other fields

The term "Hail Mary pass" has become genericized to refer to any last ditch effort with little chance of success.

In basketball, A "Hail Mary throw" is a shot thrown from a place far away from the basket (e.g. behind the half court line.)

There are similar usages in other fields, such as a "Hail Mary shot" in photography. [ [http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/photo/essays/vanRiper/030620.htm Hail Mary – and Other Divine Photo Tricks] ]

In American new-wave Roller Derby a "Hail Mary" block is one that will cause the blocker to fall or otherwise take them out of play if it fails to connect with the opponent.

In 1991, Norman Schwarzkopf (Desert Storm commander) likened his strategy of flanking Iraqi defenders (by sending his forces in a westward direction to get behind them) to a Hail Mary play. [ [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,972487-1,00.html] ]

During an episode of the documentary series "The Deadliest Catch" entitled "Seeking the Catch" (first broadcast May 20, 2008), a deckhand aboard a crab-fishing vessel makes a desperation throw of a boat hook in order to snag an errant fishing pot; the narration refers to this successful action as a Hail Mary throw.

During the 2008 United States presidential election, Senator Chuck Schumer criticized John McCain's vice presidential pick, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, by calling it a "Hail Mary pass." The term was also applied to his decision to suspend his campaign. [ [http://edition.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/08/29/palin.bio/index.html Palin: Pioneer, maverick -- and now game-changer] ]

In an [http://www.herdthinners.com/index.phtml?current=20081003 episode] of the webcomic Kevin and Kell, Rudy's team wins a hunting competition after Bruno throws Rudy at the bird they are trying to catch. Describing the play later he refers to it as "Hail Mary" pass.

Radio personality Tom Leykis commonly uses the term "Hail Mary" to refer to a man's last-ditch attempt to convince a woman whom he impregnated to have an abortion.


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