As one of the NFL's greatest wide receivers, "Mr. Clutch", is best known for one of the most famous plays in NFL history, the Hail Mary reception. The expression "Hail Mary" used in the game of football, was made famous when it was used to describe the game-winning touchdown pass by Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach to Drew Pearson in a December 28, 1975, NFL playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings.
The Dallas Cowboys started with the ball on their own 15-yard line, trailing 14-10, with one minute and fifty-one seconds left in the fourth quarter. Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach managed a nine-play drive to midfield against the Minnesota Vikings defense. From midfield, with 24 seconds now remaining, Staubach lined up in the shotgun formation, took the snap, pump-faked left, then turned to his right and threw a desperation pass to wide receiver Drew Pearson, who was being covered by Minnesota Vikings cornerback Nate Wright. Wright fell to the ground and Pearson was barely able to complete the catch by trapping the ball against his right hip at the 5-yard line and backing into the end zone to make the score 16-14 in favor of Dallas, and what would eventually be the winning touchdown. The point after was successful, making the final score 17-14. In a later interview with Pearson, he stated that he thought he dropped the ball only to find it against his hip and then just waltzed right into the end zone.
As Pearson strode into the end zone for the score, free safety Paul Krause complained to field judge Armen Terzian that an interference penalty on Pearson should have been called. An orange, thrown by a spectator in the stands, whizzed by Pearson at the goal line. The orange is visible on NFL Films footage of the play and was initially confused by some as a penalty flag and was also misinterpreted by the Vikings defense as a penalty. More debris was thrown from the stands by angry Vikings fans, enraged that no penalty was called on Dallas.
Defensive tackle Alan Page argued with officials and was assessed a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the ensuing kickoff. On Minnesota's next possession with 14 seconds left to play, a Corby's whiskey bottle was thrown by a spectator, striking referee Armen Terzian in the head at Minnesota's own 10-yard line, creating a large forehead gash and rendering him unconscious. Terzian had to wear a bandage, later requiring 11 stitches, as he walked off the field and was replaced by substitute official Charley Musser for the final two plays.
The term "Hail Mary pass" was used by Roger Staubach following the game in a post-game interview. Previous to this play, a last-second desperation pass had been called several names, most notably the "Alley-Oop". Staubach, who had been hit immediately after throwing the ball and didn't see its ending, was asked about the play and he said, "You mean [Pearson] caught the ball and ran in for the touchdown? It was just a Hail Mary pass; a very, very lucky play." Staubach told reporters "I closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary".