Monday, December 19, 2011

Thanks Be to Sod...NFL Miracles (Chapter 1, Verse 2)

Today we continue our look at plays in the NFL that seemed to be inspired by a Higher Power.  If you missed the first three miracles in our list, click here.

4.  The Staubach Hail Mary:  “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee…”  Catholics around the globe recognize this as the first line of a core prayer in their faith.  Football fans everywhere recognize it as the inspiration for the name of a play that comes at the most critical moment of a game.  In football terminology, a “Hail Mary” pass is a desperation play, a long pass near or in the end zone thrown from far downfield, as time runs out of either the first half or the entire game.  The Hail Mary is used as a last-ditch effort by the losing team to tie or win the game.  But when was the term first used?  Though there are records of its use further back in football history, the term became popular after the 1975 NFC divisional playoff game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Minnesota Vikings.  Dallas QB Roger Staubach found his team trailing the Vikings 14-10 with 1:51 left in the game.  Reaching the middle of the field with 24 seconds left, Staubach threw a desperation pass to wide receiver Drew Pearson.  Pearson managed to trap the ball against his hip at the 5-yard line and backed into the end zone for the winning score.  In a postgame interview, Staubach, a Catholic, said of his throw: “I closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary.”  Among the more exciting Hail Mary passes in recent memory is the following, which took place at the end of a game between the Houston Texans and the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2010:

You should have noticed three things in this video: (a) there were only three seconds left in the game with the score tied, making this an all-or-nothing play; (b) the announcers’ discussion about knocking the ball down (Texans defender Glover Quin did everything he was supposed to, it was just bad luck); and (c) the Jaguars mascot chasing Mike Thomas across the end zone.

2.  Miracle at the Meadowlands:*  On November 19, 1978, the Philadelphia Eagles were coming off a two-game winning streak and battling for a wildcard spot when they faced the New York Giants, who were pursuing their own (slim) playoff dreams.  The Eagles were trailing 17-13 with just under four minutes left in the game and no timeouts left.  After driving down the field, the Giants had a third down with only thirty seconds left.  Expecting the Giants QB, Joe Pisarcik, to kneel down with the ball to run out the clock, the Eagles coaches told their defense to blitz.  However, the Giants coaches called a running play and, instead of kneeling, Pisarcik tried to hand the ball to his running back, Larry Csonka.  The hand-off was botched, however, and the ball came loose.  Eagles cornerback, Herm Edwards (who later became a head coach in the NFL and is now an announcer for NBC), close to the line of scrimmage because of the blitz call, alertly scooped up the ball and ran it into the end zone.  Giants offensive coordinator Bob Gibson was fired the next day and never worked in football again.

3.  Music City Miracle:  The place:  Nashville, Tennessee.  The date:  January 8, 2000.  The game:  the wildcard playoff game between the Tennessee Titans and the Buffalo Bills.  After a second half that saw the Buffalo Bills bounce back from being down 12-0, the Titans waited for the Buffalo kick off after a field goal that put the Bills ahead 16-15 with only sixteen seconds left in the game.  Titan Lorenzo Neal received the kick off.  He handed the ball to tight end Frank Wycheck, who threw a lateral pass across the field to receiver Kevin Dyson.  Dyson ran down the sideline 75 yards for the game-winning touchdown.  A booth review was called by the officials, and the referee examined the instant replay to determine whether the Wycheck pass was a lateral, or whether he illegally threw it downfield.  Referee Phil Luckett determined that the play was correctly called a touchdown.  Here is a video of the Music City Miracle, including a computer simulation that shows that the officials made the right call:

So… Do you believe in miracles???

*I had some reservations about including this one... Is it a miracle when the opponent just made a bad error in judgment? But since it actually has "Miracle" in its name, I decided it would be a glaring omission if this play were excluded. 

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