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Photo by: Jessica Mouton

Red Card Column: The Hail Mary plays of life and sports

January 30, 2018

The “Hail Mary” play is almost as iconic as the game of football itself. Although this play isn’t highly
effective or frequently used, it is one of the most exhilarating plays when executed correctly and one of
the most disappointing otherwise.

Even though Hail Mary plays have been thrown since the birth of football, the term was coined in 1975
after Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach connected with wide receiver Drew Pearson for a game-
winning touchdown pass during the last 20 seconds of an NFL playoff game between the Dallas Cowboys
and the Minnesota Vikings. Staubach admitted in a post-game interview that after launching the 50-yard
pass towards the end zone, he closed his eyes and prayed a Hail Mary. He prayed in desperation that
Pearson would catch the ball, change the game and score.

Fast-forward to today; the Hail Mary and high-risk plays are still among the most exiting in NFL, college
and even high school football games… when they work. Although it might not be classified as a Hail
Mary, one of the most disappointing plays that the New Orleans Saints and the fans of the team had to
face this season was in the Divisional Round matchup against the Minnesota Vikings.

After a scoreless first half for the Saints, Drew Brees rallied the offense back from a 17-point deficit, but
it wasn’t enough to keep the Vikings from scoring and winning on a last-play touchdown. This advanced
the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game.

After a last-ditch bomb was thrown by Viking quarterback Case Keenum, wide receiver Stefon Diggs
dodged the Saints safety, Marcus Williams, and scored a 61-yard touchdown with four seconds
remaining in the game.

Williams did not save the game on the last play; the Vikings executed an extremely risky play and Saints
fans were devastated. The more spectators analyzed the play, the more questions were asked. What
was being called one of the most memorable playoff games in NFL history is now a sore wound that
Saints fans are still licking.

But among all the negativity that surrounded the fate of the Saints after the Vikings’ high-risk play, I
stumbled upon something positive.

In the wise words of a local Saints fan’s simple tweet, I realized that as sports fans and spectators, we
find ourselves on both sides of plays exactly like these. Sometimes it’s for the better and sometimes for
the worse.

As he reflected on some of the best and worst plays of both the college and NFL season, Jeremy Becker,
Executive Director of the Nicholls Foundation and a Nicholls State University sports fanatic, tweeted, “As
a Saints and Nicholls football fan, I have been on both ends of a last play TD – WOW – What a roller
coaster, and it felt better as a Nicholls fan.”

Attached to his tweet was the 23-second video clip the Football College Subdivision’s account tweeted
after Nicholls quarterback, Chase Fourcade, connected with freshman wide receiver Dai’Jean Dixon on a
44-yard pass which resulted in a last-play touchdown. With five seconds on the clock, the Colonels snapped a tie in the last home game of the 2017 season against Houston Baptist University which kept their playoff hopes alive.

Becker provided further insight and said, “Being a fan of a team usually means that you will experience
great highs and great lows for your favorite team, and it multiplies with multiple teams. In a span of
about two months, Nicholls and Saints fans were able to see their team win a game on the last play in
unexpected fashion and then see their team lose a play in almost the exact same manner.”

As spectators of sports, we analyze, criticize and interpret games and even specific plays with great
detail, and care when we must realize that part of being a dedicated fan is taking both the wins and the
losses with a sense of pride.

Overall, Nicholls and Saints fans can look back on the respective 2017 seasons as wins regardless of how
successful certain high-risk plays turned out. What makes football exciting, though, are those Hail Mary
moments when both the ball and the result of the game are up in the air and undeterminable until the
last, thrilling second.

The Hail Mary moments of life are unpredictable just as they are in sports. Athletes take chances all the
time to be great, and when they are unsuccessful, many are criticized by their fan base, the media and
even their own teams. As spectators of sports, we can learn how to share in the pain they feel when our
own Hail Mary plays don’t work out. The reality of the Hail Mary itself is that when taking a leap of faith,
everything must fall exactly into place, and that is not always possible.

As lovers of sports, we can agree that we have all witnessed Hail Mary moments in sports and in our
everyday lives. While a team’s greatness cannot be measured by their biggest instance of luck or by their
most terrible mistake, we get to partake in the good, the bad and the ugly that are the game-changing
plays of sports. Most importantly, we get to spectate the Hail Mary plays that are truly unavoidable and
unpredictable aspects of the sports we live and die for

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