6 Best Game-Winning Hail Mary Passes
In perhaps one of the wildest finishes in NFL postseason history, the Minnesota Vikings knocked off the New Orleans Saints last Sunday afternoon thanks to a 61-yard Hail Mary pass as the clock wound down to zero.
Part of what makes the NFL so compelling is the sense of drama surrounding the finish of each close game. Just one play, no matter how low-percentage, can be the difference between ecstasy and anguish.
Yogi Berra once said “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over,” and this Yogi-ism rings especially true for the sport of football. In honor of the Vikings dramatic home victory this past weekend, we’ve put together a list of the best game-winning Hail Mary passes in the history of the NFL.
The Miracle at the Met: Tommy Kramer to Ahmad Rashad (1980)
Minnesota Vikings 28, Cleveland Browns 23
The Vikings have a rich history with the Hail Mary, which predates this past weekend’s theatrics by almost 40 years. One of the franchise’s best moments came via the low-percentage play back in 1980 when Minnesota squared off against the Cleveland Browns, needing to win the game in order to secure a playoff spot.
With just five seconds remaining on the clock, the Vikings were down by one point. Quarterback Tommy Kramer dropped back for the last play and uncorked a deep pass that was tipped by a Browns cornerback. Minnesota wide receiver (and future sportscaster) Ahmad Rashad was “Johnny-on-the-spot” as he made a fantastic spinning one-handed catch and made his way into the end zone, clinching a playoff berth for the boys in Purple.
Hail Flutie: Doug Flutie to Gerard Phelan (1984)
Boston College 47, Miami Hurricanes 45
Our second entry is perhaps one of the most well-known college football plays of all time. The Boston College Eagles played a close battle against the defending national champion Miami Hurricanes but trailed by four points with six seconds left.
Eagles quarterback Doug Flutie had to be quick on his feet during the game’s last play in order to evade a Hurricanes defender and was flushed out of the pocket. The diminutive quarterback heaved the ball over 50 yards towards the end zone where his receiver, Gerard Phelan, had gotten loose behind a gaggle of Hurricanes defensive backs. The pass went perfectly over the heads of the Hurricanes and into the bread basket of Phelan, cementing Boston College’s upset.
The Miracle at Michigan: Kordell Stewart to Michael Westbrook (1994)
Colorado Buffaloes 27, Michigan Wolverines 26
Long before he was the Offensive Player of the Year for the AFC in 2001, Kordell Stewart was part of a Colorado Buffaloes collegiate program that experienced quite a bit of success in the mid-90s. His crowning moment as a Buffalo came in 1994 when Colorado was able to defeat the University of Michigan on the road in Ann Arbor.
Stewart was able to buy some time by using his feet to shuffle around in the pocket, and with no time remaining he flung the ball over 65 yards towards the end zone. The pass itself went into a crowd of players and was tipped into the air and caught miraculously by Colorado receiver Michael Westbrook, which stunned the crowd at the Big House.
David Garrard to Mike Thomas (2010)
Jacksonville Jaguars 31, Houston Texans 24
When defending against a Hail Mary, it’s paramount to swat the ball down in order to ensure that the opposing team isn’t able to catch the ball on a tip or ricochet. This philosophy was demonstrated perfectly in a game between the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars in 2010. The Jaguars needed to throw the ball 51 yards in order to win the game on the final play.
Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard chucked the ball into the end zone where three Texans defensive backs were waiting patiently. Texans safety Glover Quin found himself in the perfect position to seal the game by batting the ball down but he ended up swatting the ball directly into the hands of Jaguars wideout Mike Thomas in the end zone, costing the Texans a surefire victory. Yikes.
The Fail Mary: Russell Wilson to Golden Tate (2012)
Seattle Seahawks 14, Green Bay Packers 12
During the beginning of the 2012 NFL Season, the league was forced to use replacement referees due to a lockout amongst their usual officials. The replacement referees became embroiled in controversy almost immediately due to a whacky ruling on a Hail Mary play in Week 3.
On the final play of the game, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson threw the ball towards the back of the end zone, where it appeared to have been intercepted by a Packers defensive back. However, the referees in the end zone could not come to a conclusion about who was in possession of the ball as Seahawks receiver Golden Tate was holding onto the ball as well. On replay, it was pretty obvious that the ball was intercepted before Tate managed to get his hands on the ball but the call stood and the Seahawks won the game by two points.
The ensuing fiasco over the call was bad enough that the NFL reached an agreement with their usual officials just two days later.
The Miracle in Motown: Aaron Rodgers to Richard Rodgers (2015)
Green Bay Packers 27, Detroit Lions 23
After being on the wrong end of the “Fail Mary” some three years prior, the Packers had a memorable win of their own in 2015 thanks to a fantastic throw by quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Despite facing intense pressure from two Lions pass rushers, Rodgers was able to evade both players and slipped out of the pocket. After taking a running start, the Packers quarterback launched the ball over 60 yards towards the end zone. His tight end, Richard Rodgers, made an incredible leaping play on the ball and was able to secure the catch in a crowd of bodies, giving the Packers a 27-23 victory and providing one of the more memorable moments in the 2015 season.