Is It Hail Mary Pass or Hail Mary Play? – Meaning Explained

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

A Hail Mary pass is a term that originates from football, describing a last-ditch, desperate move where a player throws the ball, hoping against odds for a game-changing touchdown. But guess what? It’s not just for sports!

This expression has evolved into an idiom used in everyday language to depict any high-stakes, eleventh-hour action. Idioms are words or phrases whose meanings are not easily understood from the literal words. They enrich our English language, adding depth and flavor to our conversations and writings. They encapsulate complex meanings into simple phrases, reflecting cultural nuances and history.

Eager to dive deeper? Continue reading to uncover the intriguing backstory of this phrase and discover its proper usage in various contexts.

Is It Hail Mary Pass or Hail Mary Play – Meaning Explained

Hail Mary Pass vs. Hail Mary Play

Good news: Hail Mary pass and Hail Mary play are practically interchangeable, with Hail Mary pass being more common. While the pass focuses on the action of throwing the football, the play is more for the whole scheme—the setup, the pass, and the hopeful reception. Both get the point across: You’re going for broke!

Hail Mary Pass vs. Hail Mary Play Ngram
Hail Mary pass and Hail Mary play usage trend.

Should Hail Mary Pass Always Be Hyphenated?

Unless you’re looking to commit a grammatical false start, there’s no need to hyphenate Hail Mary pass unless you’re using it as an adjective before a noun.

  • This is a Hail-Mary-pass situation.

Origin and Etymology Behind a Hail Mary Pass and Play

This term became popular in American football in the 1930s, but its origin goes back to a Catholic prayer for divine intervention, aka a Hail Mary. A true blend of the spiritual and the athletic, don’t you think?

The term gained wider use in 1975 to describe a 50-yard pass made by Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach. The pass was successful, and when asked about it later, Staubach said, “I just closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary.” Commentators referred to this play as a Hail Mary pass, and an idiom moved into the mainstream.

Synonyms for Hail Mary Pass

There are simpler ways to get the same idea across. These alternatives to Hail Mary pass work just fine.

  • Long shot
  • Last-ditch effort
  • Final throw
  • Desperation play
  • Do-or-die move

Synonyms for Hail Mary Play

They’re similar sayings, but the play is more of a bigger-picture situation.

  • Final gambit
  • Last resort
  • Eleventh-hour strategy
  • All-or-nothing
  • Last stand

Hail Mary Pass and Hail Mary Play Examples in a Sentence

Is It Hail Mary Pass or Hail Mary Play – Meaning Explained 1

  • With seconds left on the clock, they attempted a Hail Mary pass.
  • The quarterback is famous for his successful Hail Mary plays.
  • “This project is our Hail Mary pass to save the quarter,” said the manager.
  • They pulled off a Hail Mary play and won the championship.
  • She tried a Hail Mary pass by applying to an Ivy League school.
  • “It’s down to a Hail Mary play now,” the commentator said.
  • I’m out of options; it’s time for a Hail Mary pass.
  • Their business was saved by a well-timed Hail Mary play.
  • “That pitch to the investors felt like a Hail Mary pass,” she admitted.
  • In life and football, sometimes a Hail Mary play is all you’ve got left.

The Hail Mary Expression

It might not seem like it, but knowing what a Hail Mary pass or play is can come in handy to describe tons of different situations. Now, you can use it with the confidence of a quarterback launching a football into the endzone. The more idioms you know, the better your writing and conversations will be. So, be sure to poke around and read my other idioms guides!