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Greatest 25: Nothing Tops The "Hail Mary," 1975

In June 2011, Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine decided to count down the best of the best, the top 25 plays in franchise history. Obviously, this wasn't the easiest of tasks, but some 30,000-plus words later, we feel pretty good about the results. Now here in a 25-part summer series, we share our list for one and all. Without further ado, we wrap up the series with the play No. 1 and a snippet from the Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine story:

1) The "Hail Mary," Dec. 28, 1975:

There is a tendency, an inherent instinct really, for countdowns to end with a dramatic flair. To avoid the obvious. Greatest buzzer-beater in NCAA Tournament history? Let's put Christian Laettner's epic turnaround to beat Kentucky in 1992 second, and find another for first place, just to be different. Best running back to ever play the game? Well, everyone who saw him play says Jim Brown, so let's put him second, just to keep everyone talking. Debate is good.

Indeed, debate is among our most fundamental joys, especially when sport is involved. In the end, though, for justice to prevail, common sense is needed and in this case, from the very concept of the idea, to name the 25 Greatest Plays in the history of the Dallas Cowboys franchise, there was one no-brainer and alas, for the sake of dramatic flair, that was the gold medalist.

The "Hail Mary." Roger Staubach to Drew Pearson in Minnesota. In the playoffs no less. Adding to the body of work is the legacy, that being the phrase "Hail Mary" itself. Before Staubach threw that football some 36-plus years ago, the "Hail Mary" was a prayer. Of course, it still is, but Google the words "Hail Mary" and the Wikipedia page for the pass comes up first. How many times since the blistering afternoon at Metropolitan Stadium have we heard an announcer say, "Time for a 'Hail Mary.'" Sadly, the majority of football fans, especially younger ones, probably have no idea where the terminology comes from, outside of it being the same two words as the prayer.

Staubach took the snap in the shotgun, started drifting back in the pocket almost instantly from the ball reaching his outstretched hands, stopped, pumped-fake to his left, this to keep ballhawk Vikings safety Paul Krause from committing to Pearson on the opposite sideline. "Captain Comeback" then shifted his body and in the same motion, launched a high-arcing pass in Pearson's direction down the right sideline.

Working in favor of the Cowboys was that this wasn't the final snap, there were still 24 seconds on the clock and this was second down. Also, the days of sending the secondary 30, 40 yards deep on such plays were a decade or more away from becoming commonplace. Minnesota was playing its regular scheme, and Pearson was in single coverage with Vikings corner Nate Wright.

The ball was underthrown, Staubach was hoping to find his target around the goal line, but Pearson can be seen slowing down within a second of the ball being thrown. He knew. So did Wright, who tried stepping directly into Pearson's path. As the ball arrives, Wright falls down, and for eternity, Minnesota's players and fans will scream for offensive pass interference, but it's certainly not there on the replays. Wright just sort of lost his balance, and fell to the ground.

There was contact on both ends, but the incidental kind that couldn't be avoided in such an instance. Pearson, in the midst of slowing his sprint, caught the ball awkwardly, pinning it between his right hip and elbow at the 2-yard line. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the catch was that he remained upright, then took a stride and scored the touchdown.

As the ball was thrown, the game announcer, Don Criqui cited the pass as a "home run ball." Staubach has said he thought of it as an "alley-oop" or a "bomb." However, in the locker room after the game, he told reporters, "I closed my eyes and said a 'Hail Mary.'"

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