A Brief History of the Hail Mary Pass

A former Division I collegiate football player, Michael Snedeker currently works as a certified business coach with ActionCOACH. Outside of work, Michael Snedeker continues to follow sports such as hockey, basketball, and football.

One of the most thrilling plays in all of American football is the Hail Mary pass. Unlike most plays in a coach’s book, the Hail Mary is dictated almost entirely by circumstance and rarely involves much nuance or strategy. While different teams may make variations to improve the probability of a successful Hail Mary pass, the play often consists of all eligible receivers sprinting down field to the end zone as the quarterback throws a high arcing pass. Such passes generally travel in excess of 50 yards. The low likelihood of success limits the occurrence of Hail Mary passes to late-game situations in which the offensive team must score a touchdown quickly despite poor field position.

The first recognized Hail Mary pass was thrown four decades ago by Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach. During a playoff game in Minnesota, the Cowboys faced a four-point deficit with only 24 seconds remaining. In an act of desperation, Staubach rifled a 50-yard pass to teammate Drew Pearson, who surprisingly caught the ball on the 3-yard line. Dallas went on to score in the closing seconds, delivering Minnesota an unlikely 17-14 defeat. Staubach later told reporters he had recited a Hail Mary prayer before the pass, giving the play its name.