OK, football fans, this one’s for you!

What is the origin of the “Hail Mary” pass play?

Predictably, when the games begin, announcers and analysts will praise and lament the players, plays, execution, performance and athleticism ad nauseam. But along with media reports and analyses, we can expect to hear cliché descriptions of desperate situations – it’s “Hail Mary” time.

We’ve heard this powerful plea so often in football it’s become standard commentary. But how did a prayer to the Blessed Mother get a page in the playbook?

My curiosity urged me to find out.

I have a computer, but I only use it for writing files. I am not connected to the Internet. I am not an emailer.

So, I asked St. Roman parishioner and Internet-savvy friend, Dorothy Molling, to search the web. Dorothy surfed the Internet … and Bingo!

She discovered the answer in three sources: About.com; WiseGEEK.org; and Wikipedia.org.

James Adler, writing for About.com, defines the “Hail Mary” as an “offensive play where the quarterback throws the ball up in the air without really targeting any particular receiver, hoping someone on his team catches it.” He said it’s generally used on the last play of the half or end of the game when the team is out of field goal range with just enough time for one more play.

WiseGeek is more definitive, emphasizing strategy, situations and execution.

Wikipedia’s explanation is detailed and specific.

… But why should the “Hail Mary” be invoked to resolve a desperate situation? Why should the Blessed Mother serve as honorary coach? Since when do women play football with men?

Reflecting on my Catholic training, I view the “Hail Mary” as an angelic salutation. At times we may call on Mary as the only hope to answer our prayer, but I do not believe Mary has anything to do with a desperate situation in football, basketball or any other sport.

However … at least one football fan disagrees.

Writing in Liguorian magazine, Redemptorist Fr. Phillip Dabney says, “When they hear the words, ‘Hail Mary,’ most Catholics immediately think of the simple prayer. But I love that those words have also come to refer to a last-ditch-play used when a football team is in a bind.

“I wonder how the Blessed Mother feels about having a popular phrase refer to her as some kind of desperation move. I imagine she smiles at the thought as I do.

“Mary is happy whenever we ask her to intercede for us, no matter what the situation, because it gives her the opportunity to bring us to Jesus or to bring Jesus to us. Especially in those desperate moments when I’m in need of help, saying one or several ‘Hail Marys’ ultimately brings me a confident assurance that all will be well.

“Unlike a desperate football player, I’m not blindly throwing a plea in heaven’s direction in hopes that Mary will catch my cry for help. I know exactly what I am doing. Our Lady promises to help us if we entrust ourselves to her. Because in truth, no situation is that desperate once we put it completely in her hands.”

Bravo, Fr. Dabney! You have your opinion. I have mine.

Nevertheless, why can’t football experts be more original in their descriptive analyses? For example, an appropriate prayer in football’s desperate situations would be a petition or intercession to St. Jude, the recognized patron and helper of hopeless and desperate cases and causes. Let’s call a seemingly hopeless situation a “Jude Mood.”

Let’s give Mary a break. Mary has enough worthwhile direct or intercessory prayers to keep her busy. I wonder how many “Hail Marys” are recited daily? Millions? Billions? Why does Mary have to play games?

Now, getting back to the “Hail Mary” pass. Wikipedia says it is attributed to Notre Dame’s victories over Georgia Tech in 1922 and Ohio State in 1935; and a Navy win with quarterback Roger Staubach, a Catholic, over Michigan in 1963.

But Wikipedia also notes that the term “Hail Mary” pass was introduced into modern-day lexicon by the sporting press to characterize a play by the same Roger Staubach when quarterbacking the Dallas Cowboys during a NFL playoff game with the Minnesota Vikings on Dec. 28, 1975. With 32 second left to play, Staubach threw a 50-yard touchdown to teammate Drew Pearson, giving Dallas a 17-14 victory.

Wikipedia says Staubach was hit immediately after throwing the ball and didn’t see its ending. When asked about the play, he told reporters, “You mean (Pearson) caught the ball and ran in for a touchdown? It was just a Hail Mary pass, a very, very lucky play. I closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary.”

Despite reference to earlier college games, Staubach’s quote in the Dallas victory is often cited as the source for the nickname of this type of play.

Staubach’s play also suggests that media people are in a rut. Newspaper, radio and TV reporters and analysts seem ignorant of the origin of a catchy expression but once they hear it, they never let it go. So many clichés being thrown around show a lack of imagination.

For example, do media people know the origin of the Hail Mary? Are they aware that the first part of the prayer is a prayer of praise composed of: 1) the words of the Archangel Gabriel announcing to Mary that she is to be the mother of the Son of God and 2) the words of cousin Elizabeth to Mary recognizing the blessing bestowed on Mary? Do they know that the second part, the prayer of petition, was composed by the church?

Thank the media for introducing the “Hail Mary” pass play into the game plan. Until reporters and broadcasters express originality, imagination and creativity in their professional expertise, we can expect to repeatedly hear the call for a “Hail Mary” again this season … whenever a football coach faces a desperate situation.

I admit “Jude Mood” is atypical. It’s not as appealing as a “Hail Mary,” but, at least, it’s appropriate … and original.

Using my imagination, I hear an announcer calling for a “Jude Mood” to win the game. Then I hear his analyst-partner asking, “Who’s Jude?”

(Out and About is a regular feature of Mature Lifestyles that looks at issues affecting the older adult community. Horn, a retired Catholic Herald reporter, is a member of St. Roman Church, Milwaukee.)