On December 28, 1975, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach throws a 50-yard touchdown pass to Drew Pearson in the waning seconds to beat the Minnesota Vikings in a playoff game, 17-14. Afterward, Staubach calls the miraculous touchdown a “Hail Mary,” thus cementing the term for a desperation pass in the sports lexicon.
“It was a play you hit one in a hundred times if you’re lucky,” Staubach told reporters after the game in Bloomington, Minnesota. “I guess it’s a Hail Mary pass. You throw it up and pray he catches it.”
Said Dallas coach Tom Landry: “Our only hope was to throw and hope for a miracle.”
The play was controversial. Minnesota contended Pearson pushed off against defensive back Nate Wright and should have been called for pass interference.
“It was just as clear as day and night,” Minnesota coach Bud Grant said.
But Pearson said Wright was the one who pushed. “… I might have put my hands on him,” he said. “The ball hit my hands and then something hit my arm. The ball slid down and stuck between my elbow and my hip. That’s all there was to it. It was a lucky catch.”
In 1963, after a victory by his Navy team over Michigan, Staubach described a touchdown as “a Hail Mary play.” But the term didn’t become widespread until after his miraculous completion against the Vikings.
Since 1975, many quarterbacks have completed Hail Marys.