#50YARDCOUNTDOWN: 47-A Hail Mary To Calm The Soul
This was not a 50/50 ball. This was one-against-three. But as soon as the ball was tipped, the scales tipped with it.
Hail Mary, full of grace. Our Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
This prayer was recited in three-and-a-half seconds by a devout Catholic quarterback named Roger Staubach on Dec. 28, 1975, right after he heaved a football 45 yards in the air to a streaking wide receiver Drew Pearson. In those few seconds, his faith was the only thing on his mind. Not the fact that his Dallas Cowboys trailed 14-10 to Minnesota with 32 seconds left in the NFC Divisional Playoffs or the fact that the temperature was 25 degrees in a Minneapolis winter in the old Metropolitan Stadium or the fact that he was about to be pummeled and driven to ground and would never get to witness history. When asked about this play after the game, Staubach recalled:
"You mean [Pearson] caught the ball and ran in for the touchdown? It was just a Hail Mary pass; a very, very lucky play. I closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary."
That was the moment "Hail Mary" was drawn up in every football playbook thereafter.
Almost 40 years later, the Cleveland Gladiators battled high stakes at the Wells Fargo Center Center in Philadelphia. On the road against the fierce division rival; down 68-63 with two seconds on the clock; a loss puts a black eye on their 11-1 record; a win clinches a playoff berth.
Quarterback Shane Austin, who would break John Dutton's record on this play with his 11th touchdown pass of the game, put his hands under center at the Gladiators 3-yard-line, waiting for wide receiver Thyron Lewis to circle around in motion from his own end zone. From the moment he took the snap, Austin's eyes were on the end zone. With only three Soul defenders rushing and one defensive end spying in case of a scramble, Austin shifted his eyes to the right side, where Lewis, Collin Taylor and Dominick Goodman all sprinted toward the end zone. Austin knew the ball just had to get there and his receivers would at least have a chance, but it would still need a prayer. He took two steps up and let it go.
Taylor and Goodman fanned out to the 4- and 6-yard-lines, respectively, watching as three Soul defensive backs boxed out Lewis in the end zone but ready for a ricochet. Lewis never touched the ball. Instead, a Soul defender swatted the ball, just as instructed. However, when he made contact with the nose of the football, he flicked his wrist, causing the ball to backspin with a little extra air underneath.
Goodman saw the ball flying end-over-end to his right, and accelerated toward it on instinct. He could only get one hand on the ball as it bounced off his fingertips. But, as though by fate, the ball came straight back down to his outstretched hands at the one-yard line.
Goodman crossed the goal-line, full possession of the football, cementing a playoff spot for the Gladiators with a 12-1 record. The crowd of Soul believers, in a frenzy five seconds prior, were left in a state of disbelief. The record season was a little bit sweeter now after beating bitter rival Philadelphia on the last play of the game for the second time on the season.