We’re now over a week removed from the play that shall not be named, and the term “simultaneous catch” still induces a nervous twitch in Green Bay. The impact of the botched call by the replacement officials on Golden Tate’s touchdown that wasn’t a touchdown at all could have playoff implications a few months from now, and it may have led to widespread property damage in an NFL outpost where over 1,200 people show up to shovel snow out of a stadium, just for kicks.
But what about the players, and their no doubt still lingering anguish after losing a game on a play that’s the equivalent of a slot machine pull? Luke Perm is familiar with that pain. He should be, because he had to defend two Hail Marys. In one game.
Previously Luke relayed some training camp survival tips, and now he checks in again to reflect back on his experience with the dice roll that is the Hail Mary.
The pain of the Hail Mary
By Luke Perm
A Hail Mary, that intense moment of desperation at the end of a game to decide the winner. If it’s a tie or overtime on the line, at least it can be resolved with real football. But when the outcome of the game hangs in the balance, it’s called a Hail Mary because you are tempting the fate of the Football Gods, those entities responsible for phenomena like turf toe, injury bugs, and a bad case of the worst refs ever. They know if you’ve been bad or good when the entire game is at stake.
It’s rare that a single play has the potential to erase all your mistakes from the entire game. That offside on third down in the fourth quarter, those eight sacks your offensive line gave up in the first half…just win, and it all goes away. A Hail Mary is the same play run by first and second graders at lunch hour when the bell rings to come inside and whoever holds the ball yells “next play wins!”
Ask either team before kickoff if they’d like to skip four quarters and toss a Hail Mary to determine the outcome of the game and they’ll emphatically reply “NO!” It’s completely irrelevant which quarterback throws up the Hail Mary pass because it only matters who comes down with it. The ball is at its most dangerous in the air, begging to be claimed. The general rule on defense is to knock the pass down; the risks of tipping it up or directly to someone are too great. You might catch it and your opponent could latch their arms around the ball while you’re on the ground. From day one in football everyone is taught to fight for the ball until the whistle goes. That’s why Seattle’s Golden Tate did the right thing last week on Monday Night Football. The refs…well, ask Roger Goodell about that one. The football gods spoke to him loud and clear.
The only thing sweeter than winning by a Hail Mary is NOT LOSING by a Hail Mary. I can only describe it as feeling like being let off the biggest hook of your life. You did not spend six days of practice and film prep to lose the game on a circus trick. You’ll still be yelled at in film for letting the game get so close if you win, but if you lose on a Hail Mary, you’ll also lose sleep for the next five nights. It feels like losing an argument to an eight-year old who takes your ball and goes home.
The worst Hail Mary situation I’ve been through involved two Hail Marys in a season-opening game. After a tight, defensive first half, a second half shootout came down to the final possession to send the game into overtime. Lining up on the field before the big throw is strange. There’s no element of surprise because everyone knows where the ball is going. As a member of the hands team, I lined up on the goal line as taller players stacked in the end zone. The ball went up, and on its descent it was tipped twice, then it went off a helmet and fell into the hands of an opponent on the opposite side of the mob four feet from where I stood.
Since this was college the overtime rules were Texas shootout style, meaning we’d continue trading possessions as long as the scoring continued. First we traded touchdowns, then on our second possession of overtime the offense came away with a field goal. Our defense stood tall and held the other team to a fourth and 12 from close to the 50-yard line, which meant only one thing. Another Hail Mary, but this time to decide the game.
Having lost one Hail Mary already, I can assure you lining up for a second one put a deep pit in my stomach. No butterflies, just a deep, sinking, uneasy pit. In a similar setup, the ball went up into the air, was bobbled once or twice, and then it started falling as I pushed someone in the back and punched the ball out of the end zone. Game over.
As amazing as it felt to go through that awful situation twice and come out on top, it’s the most awful win I’ve ever been involved in. After waking up the next day and replaying the game in my head, it felt like we narrowly avoided a disaster and dodged a bullet. As much as I love winning, it rests in my head as the game we almost lost because of two Hail Marys.
In hindsight, I’m just relieved to have gone through that twice, and the football gods split the outcomes. I never want to be part of another Hail Mary again.
Luke Purm is a freelance writer and former college football player with an inside look at the sights and sounds from the huddle, down the field, through the air, in the endzone, under the pile, out of the locker room, on the scoreboard, and everywhere else football sweats, smells, yells, breathes and collides with life. Follow him on Twitter.