As the final play last Saturday in Gainesville showed, no play in college football is as exciting as the “Hail Mary” pass. It once again proves that no game is over if you’re within a touchdown and your quarterback has a rocket arm.
All successful Hail Marys are amazing, regardless of whether the University of Alabama or the University of the Incarnate Word delivers them. But how do you determine where Florida’s last-second win against Tennessee ranks? Well in my opinion, a Hail Mary’s greatness boils down to its overall bearing on the season and the excitement of the game. Oh, and it also should be etched in our memories. With those factors in mind, Saturday’s game barely misses the cut (sorry Gator fans) of the top five Hail Mary plays of all time.
5. Tennessee 34, Georgia 31
Oct. 1, 2016 – Athens, Ga.
In a battle for tops in the SEC East, Georgia quarterback Jacob Eason threw a 47-yard touchdown pass to Riley Ridley with 10 seconds to go to put the Bulldogs up 31-28. A comedy of errors afterwards by Georgia put Tennessee on the Bulldog 43-yard line for one final play. Volunteers quarterback Joshua Dobbs slung a pass into the end zone that was snagged by Jauan Jennings. Last year, I had this ranked higher but said its future ranking would depend on the outcome of the Vols season. Tennessee went 9-4 so Dobbs' toss into a sea of defenders may ultimately move off this list at some point
4. LSU 33, Kentucky 30
Nov. 9, 2002 – Lexington, Ky.
LSU blew a 10-point fourth quarter lead and the Tigers’ situation seemed hopeless when Kentucky kicker Taylor Begley booted a 29-yard field goal to put the Wildcats up 30-27 with 11 seconds left. After the ensuing kickoff, LSU quarterback Marcus Randall lined up on his own 25-yard line with two seconds and heaved the ball as far as he could. Three Kentucky defenders batted the ball before it landed in LSU wide receiver Devery Henderson’s hands. Henderson raced into the end zone in a play that became know as “The Bluegrass Miracle.”
3. Boston College 47, Miami 45
Nov. 23, 1984 – Miami
Hurricanes running back Melvin Bratton scored with 28 seconds left to put Miami up 45-40. Unless you are 10 years old or have been living under a rock, you probably saw the play that happened next. With six seconds left, Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie took the snap and dropped back to his own 37-yard line to avoid the rush. Flutie threw it into the end zone – past the Miami defenders who did not think he could throw that far – and into the hands of wide receiver Gerald Phelan. It might be considered college football sacrilege to rank this at No. 3, but that should not take away from its greatness. Hail Marys happened before and after Flutie’s epic throw and as you will see, I just do not think they reached their apex in 1984.
2. BYU 46, SMU 45 (1980 Holiday Bowl)
Dec. 19, 1980 – Honolulu
Why does a play in the Holiday Bowl rank higher than Flutie’s Hail Mary? Because BYU came back from 45-25 deficit with 3:57 left in the game. Cougars quarterback Jim McMahon led his team on a 72-yard scoring driving and BYU then recovered the onside kick. McMahon threw a 49-yard touchdown pass to Bill Davis to cut the lead to 45-39 with 1:58 on the clock. BYU then blocked SMU’s punt with 13 seconds left to set up what happened next. With time expiring, McMahon threw a pass that tight end Clay Brown managed to catch in a sea of defenders. The Hail Mary capped one of the greatest comebacks in college football history and gave BYU its first bowl win (fifth postseason game) in program history.
1. Colorado 27, Michigan 26
Sept. 24, 1994 – Ann Arbor, Mich.
Both teams were in the top 10 and considered contenders for the national title when they met in Ann Arbor. Colorado jumped out to a 14-9 halftime lead, but Michigan scored 17 unanswered points to take a 26-14 advantage with less than five minutes to go. A one-yard touchdown plunge by Buffaloes running back Rashaan Salaam with 2:16 left closed the score to 26-21. Then after a Michigan punt, Colorado lined up on its 36-yard line with six seconds to go. Buffaloes quarterback Kordell Stewart took the snap and to quote him, “just heaved it.” The pass was tipped in the end zone before wide receiver Michael Westbrook caught it. Colorado would go 11-1 that season, its only loss being to national champion Nebraska, and Salaam won the Heisman Trophy.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.
(Top photo courtesy of @GatorsFB)