How the Hail Mary Pass Got That Name

The Hail Mary pass originated in 1922, when two former members of Notre Dame's Four Horsemen coined the term.

(photo: via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.5)

Did you ever, while standing in the middle of a crowd at some public event, hold your camera high above everyone's head and hope that you'd capture an image of more than just your thumb?

That's called a “Hail Mary Shot.”

I can personally attest to the fact that the best photos I've ever taken were taken thusly. Courtesy of the Immaculate Conception.

In fact, whenever one simply gives up control in a desperate situation and calls upon God, His Mother or any of the saints, it's called a “Hail Mary.”

On the Fourth Day of the Octave of Christmas in the Year of Our Lord, 1975, otherwise known as St. Caterina Volpicelli's Feast Day (December 28, 1975 to secularists), Roger Staubach, a Catholic, threw a game-winning touchdown pass to wide receiver Drew Pearson during an NFL playoff game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Minnesota Vikings.

The memory of that pass still fills my waking and sleeping moments. Many of the men reading this article understand the sensation (and our longsuffering womenfolk who've come to appreciate the manly sport of football, might agree as well).

There were 24-seconds left to the game―barely enough time for the Vikings to dump Gatorade on their coach. Cowboys' quarterback Roger Staubach needed a miracle like no other.

Did I mention he's Catholic?

On a fourth down play, Staubach launched the ball up in the air towards wide receiver Drew Pearson. Against impossible odds, Pearson caught the 50-yard throw and waltzed right into the end zone to win the game for the Cowboys, shocking the Minnesota crowd, and this reporter, and sending the Cowboys to the NFC Championship game.

When interviewed after the game, Staubach explained, "I just closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary."

We've all been there.

He prayed that Pearson would catch the ball and score a touchdown for the team.

Since that interview, football teams at every level, professional and otherwise, have called plays where the quarterback throws the pigskin hoping anyone on his team would grab it, a “Hail Mary” pass.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, another Catholic, has become well-known for the shocking number of successful “Hail Mary” passes.

My first thought about Rodgers is: What does he know that I don't?

My second thought about Rodgers is: Why isn't he telling me? I know how to keep a secret! Ask anyone.

But the history of the Hail Mary Pass is actually much older than one would think.

Such acts of manly desperation used to be called an “alley oop.” The term is derived from French circus acrobats (probably Catholic) who would yell out “allez-oop” (French “Let's go!”) before the “leap for life.”

Considering one is risking one's life 40-feet in the air to a guy with sweaty palms, I think it's probably best to ask for Divine intercession.

The “Hail Mary Pass” actually originated in 1922, when two former members of Notre Dame's Four Horsemen, Elmer Layden (Catholic) and Jim Crowley (I don't care) coined the term.

For more than 50 years, the term was largely confined to Notre Dame University (God bless them!) and other US Catholic universities.

Jim Crowley often repeated the story about a game which took place on October 28, 1922 between Notre Dame and Georgia Tech in which the Fighting Irish players said actual Hail Mary prayers together before scoring each of their team's touchdowns.

They won the game 13-3.

That's practically two decades on the average Rosary.

Crowley reported that one of the team’s linemen, Noble Kizer (a Presbyterian), suggested they pray before the first touchdown. It transpired on a fourth and goal play at Tech's 6-yard line during the second quarter.

Quarterback Harry Stuhldreher, (a Catholic) one of the Four Horsemen, threw a quick pass over the middle to Paul Castner (a Catholic) for the score.

The team repeated the pray before a third and goal play, once again at Tech’s six-yard line, during the fourth quarter.

Stuhldreher ran for a touchdown and won for Notre Dame. (God bless them!)

According to Crowley, on multiple occasions, Kizer remarked to Crowley after the game, “Say, that Hail Mary is the best play we've got!”

Perhaps this story will inspire all Catholic football fans to keep their rosaries nearby during a big game.

Here's a link to the top ten best Hail Mary Passes in football history. Keep them in mind when you think you're in a thoroughly desperate situation. Make sure you're having a brat and beer when you view them with loved ones.

And as Sister reminded us, reverentially put the rosary down first…