Football fans everywhere know what this means. But principally, “Hail Mary’s” are prayers many parishioners pray when they’re in trouble. And a “Hail Mary” is the football play employed when a team is down to their last gasp and they need a prayer to win. And the “prayer” is for the quarterback to heave a pass as far as he can and his receiver (or any receiver, for that matter) catches the ball in the end zone for the winning touchdown.
Here’s the scenario: the offense has the ball at their own 48-yard line and are down by more than a field goal. There is no choice. They are out options. The next play is all or nothing. The defense pulls the pass rush and defends deep. The quarterback drops back, scrambles, waiting for his receivers to get near the goal. He heaves the ball high in the air with no real target, only trying to get the distance to reach the end zone. The defensive backs and receivers bunch up waiting for the ball to descend. A receiver improbably comes down with the ball. Touchdown!!! An amazing win on a last second Hail Mary!
It’s one of the most well-known terms and iconic plays in sports.
Originally meaning any sort of desperation play, a “Hail Mary” gradually came to denote a long, low-probability pass attempted at the end of a half when a team is too far from the end zone to execute a more conventional play, implying that it would take divine intervention for the play to succeed. For more than forty years use of the term was largely confined to Notre Dame and other Catholic universities.
But this past weekend, it wasn’t Notre Dame that was the spiritual sports team. The Tennessee Volunteers pulled off a Hail Mary with 0:04 seconds on the clock in in their early season SEC showdown game against Georgia. The Volunteers’ improbable 34-31 win over Georgia is the early contender for the SEC game of the year, if not the game of the year in college football. Tennessee was down, then rallied, then down again, then rallied again, then took the lead, then was on the verge of losing, then won in dramatic fashion thanks to a Joshua Dobb’s 43-yard Hail Mary to Jauan Jennings as time expired. And it propelled Tennessee to a 5-0 start. Talk about answered prayer.
For context, here’s the prayer that some pray:
Hail Mary, full of grace.
Our Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.
Now I don’t pray this prayer because I believe that we are only to pray to God the Father in Jesus’ name. And Mary is the mother of Jesus, not the mother of God. I’m just saying.
But it’s funny how a Biblical prayer wound its way into the world of sports, and is symbolic of who we must cast our care to the wind and against hope believe in hope for a miracle.