Cowboys' top plays: The Hail Mary

AP Photo/Bill Kostroum

This is one of three finalists for the most memorable plays in Dallas Cowboys history. We already discussed the Troy Aikman-to-Alvin Harper pass in the 1992 NFC Championship Game. On Wednesday, we will include Bob Lilly's sack of Bob Griese in Super Bowl VI.

Please vote for your choice as the Cowboys' most memorable play.

Score: Cowboys 17, Vikings 14

Date: Dec. 28, 1975 Site: Metropolitan Stadium

What if Roger Staubach didn't grow up Catholic? Would "Hail Mary" be part of today's lexicon?

With 24 seconds left in a 1975 divisional playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings, the Cowboys had the ball at midfield and needed a miracle. They had dominated statistically, but the Vikings had a 14-10 lead.

As happens many times before iconic plays, smaller plays get overlooked, but to just get the ball to midfield for the Hail Mary, Staubach and Drew Pearson connected on a fourth-and-16 pass at the sideline that by today's rules would have likely been ruled incomplete or overturned on replay. On first down, a Staubach check-down to Preston Pearson was off. Had the pass been complete, the Cowboys might not have gotten off another play because they didn't have a timeout.

With 32 seconds left, Staubach mentioned in the huddle a double-move route Drew Pearson used against the Washington Redskins earlier and to do it again on this play. Pearson took a couple of steps to his left, then sprinted down the right sideline to create separation.

Staubach pumped to his left after taking the shotgun snap in hopes of moving safety Paul Krause away from the sideline. As he pumped, Staubach said he nearly lost the ball, causing the pass to be underthrown.

And here's where allegiances matter. Vikings players, coaches and fans will forever believe Pearson pushed cornerback Nate Wright. Cowboys players, coaches and fans will forever believe Wright slipped.

Wright went down. Pearson pinned the ball against his right hip and backed into the end zone. Replays show Krause pointing at Pearson, expecting a pass interference penalty. An orange flew past Pearson in the end zone, and soon he was surrounded by celebrating teammates after heaving the ball over the scoreboard.

"It was just a Hail Mary pass; a very, very lucky play," Staubach said after the game.

Staubach's Hail Mary was answered ... and born.