Jags make the list, but original 'Hail Mary' remains best ever

David Garrard's late-game heroics on Sunday got us wondering what were the most exciting -- as well as most important -- "Hail Mary" plays of all time.

Not merely touchdown catches to win games. Not last-second throws like Brett Favre's prayer to Greg Lewis last season to beat the 49ers. But rather the classic throw the ball up for grabs from midfield and hope that one of your guys catches a break -- and a touchdown.

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David Garrard dialed up a Hail Mary pass that bounced off a Houston defender and into the hands of Mike Thomas for a Jags win. Was that the best Week 10 had to offer? Vote now

There have been some great ones over the years. In fact, the Falcons have won more on these end-of-the-game bombs than any other team, so much so that they had a name for the play: Big Ben. They've even done it in three different decades. Michael Haynes' grab to beat the 49ers in 1991 (and subsequently knock the 49ers out of the playoff race) did not make the cut. Although, it almost made it based on the sheer fact that a 22-year old Brett Favre came running into the camera shot with a really bad beanie on, despite the fact he'd done nothing but chew on sunflower seeds and hold a clipboard all day. The legendary Billy Joe Tolliver threw that ball.

Tim Couch delivered the "new" Browns the first win of their second incarnation when he hit Kevin Johnson to beat the Saints in 1999. That didn't make it, either. Nor did the Jaguars' Mark Brunell, who amazingly completed two Hail Mary's in one game. The second was caught at the 1-yard line.

Another Jag makes our list at No. 5. Please be sure to vote for your favorite "Hail Mary" play in our poll in the right column.

5. Tealing a victory

Texans at Jaguars, Nov. 14, 2010

Tied at 24. Ball on the 50. Just a couple of ticks left. The Jags were counted out of the playoff race back in June, but here they were at 4-4, trying to make a second-half run. The first step was knocking off division-rival Houston.

Garrard launched it perfectly -- about 55 yards in the air -- to a confluence of teal and white jerseys just past the goal line. But the funny thing was, Texans cornerback Glover Quin got there before the convoy did, and proceeded to do exactly what he was coached to do: KNOCK IT DOWN.

Except, he swatted it right to little Mike Thomas. The 5-foot-8 Thomas didn't need any extra height; he just had to protect his family jewels as Quin's swat came at him at about 180 miles per hour. In almost a defensive motion, Thomas secured the ball before walking into the end zone.

Some people were beginning to wonder whether a Hail Mary would ever win a game again. There's your answer.

4. Harbaugh's near-miracle

Colts at Steelers, Jan. 14, 1996

Aaron Bailey had it right there. The ball stayed suspended on his stomach as if for an eternity, only to roll to the Three Rivers turf.

The 1995 Colts and Comeback Player of the Year Jim Harbaugh did not complete their desperation pass. But as exciting as the play was, and considering a Super Bowl berth was on the line, this almost-answered prayer was good enough for our list.

Despite the fact their best player was hurt, the Marshall Faulk-less Colts pulled off road upsets in San Diego and Kansas City to make it to the AFC Championship Game.

The heavily-favored Steelers gave Indy all it could handle in a game in which both teams let big plays slip through their hands (anyone remember Quentin Coryatt?). Down 20-16 in the fourth quarter, Harbaugh drove the gritty Colts 55 yards to the Steelers 29-yard line. And then, the play.

Harbaugh got just enough air under his throw for everyone to jump. As Bailey was falling, the ball inexplicably landed in his lap -- for a moment. The rest is history.

3. Purple haze

Browns at Vikings, Dec. 14, 1980

The Vikings had big stakes on the line when they had to chuck and beg in Week 15 of the 1980 season. At 8-6, they were just a game up on the Detroit Lions in the NFC Central. Their opponent, the Browns, could clinch a playoff spot with a victory.

In a hard-fought game that featured a furious fourth-quarter comeback led by quarterback Tommy Kramer (who threw for 456 yards), the Vikings were down to their last drive: 80 yards to go and just 14 seconds in which to cover it.

First, an improbable hook-and-ladder play to Ted Brown worked for 34 yards. That left just four ticks to either try a 63-yard field goal, or heave-ho. On the next play, Kramer launched it toward the right goal-line pylon, where Browns safety Thom Darden tipped the ball with his left hand. Ahmad Rashad casually reached behind him and pulled the deflection in with one hand, walking into the end zone as if it was a designed play.

Game over.

2. Slippery White Shoes

49ers at Falcons, Nov. 20, 1983

Billy "White Shoes" Johnson was a dynamic returner for the Houston Oilers in the mid-70s, bringing four kicks back for touchdowns in 1975 alone. But by 1983, Johnson was a 31-year-old wide receiver for the Falcons just trying to hang on to an NFL career. After missing all of the 1981 season, and only catching two passes in 1982, the future didn't look very bright.

Nor did it look bright for Atlanta in Week 12. Down 24-21 to the 49ers with just two seconds left, White Shoes delivered.

Steve Bartkowski unleashed a moon shot toward the left pylon that resembled a Shane Lechler punt. As the ball came down, White Shoes slipped like the girl singing the national anthem at a hockey game. While Johnson was on his rear, the ball got tipped. In almost one motion, he got up, caught the ball, and ran -- backwards. Feeling Ronnie Lott to his right, he cut inside and lunged from the 3-yard line. Touchdown.

There are some who say he never scored. Watch the video ... you be the judge.

1. The original 'Hail Mary'

Cowboys at Vikings, Dec. 28, 1975

Our No. 1 wasn't without controversy. The 1975 Dallas Cowboys were a 10-4 club that squeaked into the playoffs as the NFC's lone wild-card team. They were the modern-day New England Patriots, stringing together wins with no fewer than 12 rookies. Unfortunately for them, their opponent in the first round was the Minnesota Vikings, who had won consecutive NFC championships and started the 1975 season 10-0.

Playing outdoors in December, Minnesota's cold weather was difficult enough for opponents in those days. It was even harder for quarterback Roger Staubach, whose team was down 14-10 with the ball at midfield and only seconds to play. He had already converted a fourth-and-16 to Drew Pearson earlier in the drive. After the play, Pearson told his quarterback that he needed a play to catch his breath.

Two plays later, Staubach backpedaled, pumped left, and threw it toward a streaking Pearson 50 yards downfield. The ball was underthrown. But in a split-second, Vikings corner Nate Wright slipped, Pearson caught the ball between his forearm and hip, and a new term was born. After the game, everyone north of Kansas swore Pearson pushed off. To this day, no one knows for sure and Pearson isn't 'fessing up.

Meanwhile, reporters asked Staubach what he was thinking when he threw the pass. The devout Catholic said, "I closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary."

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