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Throwback Thursday: Doug Flutie's Hail Mary - Boston College vs. Miami, November 23rd, 1984


Boston College's Doug Flutie prepares to launch the most famous pass of his college career. (Image credit: wbur.org)

In the annals of college football history, certain moments stand out. On November 23, 1984, Boston College travelled to Florida to face defending national champion University of Miami at the famous Orange Bowl. Two future NFL quarterbacks, Miami's Bernie Kosar and Boston College's Doug Flutie would combine for five touchdown passes and a staggering 919 passing yards. It would be Flutie who would write his name into college football history with his third touchdown pass of the game.


Background


Doug Flutie was a multi-sport athlete at Natick High School in Massachussetts, excelling in baseball and basketball as well as football. His size was prohibitive for top-tier college football scouts to select them for their program. Flutie was 5'10" and weighed 175lbs, too small for many schools, although ironically a similar size to this year's No.1 overall draft pick, Carolina's Bryce Young. What Flutie did possess, in abundance, was a natural talent, competitiveness and sheer will to win.


Boston College, just 11 miles away, would be the only Division 1-A school to recruit him. Flutie would play all four years of his college eligibility, starting in his freshman year, and amassing 7,152 passing yards and 40 touchdown passes in his first three years. He finished his junior season in third place in the 1983 Heisman Trophy voting, behind Brigham Young quarterback Steve Young, and winner Mike Rozier, the Nebraska running back who ran for 2,148 yards that season at an astonishing average of 7.8 yards per carry.



By his senior year, Flutie was recognised as one of the best quarterbacks in college football (Image credit: si.com)

Flutie's trajectory continued to be noticed. The Eagles quarterback featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated and headed into his senior year in 1984 tipped for great things. The November 23rd showdown with Miami would prove to be the highlight of his college football career.


Boston College came into the game ranked No.10 in the nation and despite an 8-3 record and No.12 ranking, the University of Miami Hurricanes started as six-point favourites.


After three quarters where the lead changed hands several times, the Eagles and Hurricanes were tied 31-31. The fourth quarter was equally unpredictable, and with 28 seconds left, Boston College were in possession. Flutie drove the ball to the Miami 48-yard line with six seconds left. The stage was set.


The "Hail Mary"


The Hail Mary is referred to as a Catholic prayer for help and strength. On the gridiron field, the phrase is used to describe a last-gasp opportunity for a team a long way back from the opposition goal line, in the dying seconds of play, to launch a pass downfield into the end zone and secure a game-winning touchdown. The odds of this play are seen as close to miraculous, hence the name. Its origin in college football is believed to have come from the famous Notre Dame team of the 1920s, which featured the notorious Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. One of the four, Elmer Layden, coached Notre Dame to victory over Ohio State in a November 1935 match known as the "Game of the Century", where he described the winning play in the late seconds of the fourth quarter as a "Hail Mary" play.


Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach, describing his game-winning pass to Drew Pearson in a win over the Minnesota Vikings in December 1975, said:


"I closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary."

How often are these passes successful? In the NFL, just 33 passes were successfully completed in a 45-year period between Staubach's pass in 1975 and the end of the 2020 season. Aaron Rodgers is statistically the most successful, having completed three game-winning Hail Mary passes in his career, all within a thirteen-month span.


Hail Flutie



On the very last play of the game with Boston College trailing 45-41, Flutie took the snap. Flushed out of the collapsing pocket by an onrushing Miami defender, he scrambled back 15 yards, stepped forward and threw the infamous "Hail Mary" pass 63 yards through the air, straight past the Hurricanes' secondary and into the arms of Eagles receiver Gerald Phelan. Boston College won the game, 47-45. The incredulous scenes of the Boston College players sprinting down the field, carrying Flutie at one point, to celebrate an improbable victory, have been woven into college football history.


Aftermath

Flutie's Hail Mary pass is captured in a statue outside Alumni Stadium (Image credit: Foursquare)

Doug Flutie's incredible Hail Mary pass is captured forever in a statue dedicated to this timeless moment, outside the Eagles' Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill.


The Boston College quarterback finished the season as the 1984 Heisman Trophy winner, with career statistics of 10,579 passing yards and 67 touchdown passes. He also won the Davey O'Brien Award, given to the best quarterback in college football.


Flutie would go on to play 12 seasons in the NFL, for five different teams, winning the 1998 Comeback Player of the Year award, being voted into the Pro Bowl that year. He had started his professional career with a one-year stint in the shortly-lived USFL, for the New Jersey Generals. His most successful professional period was in the Canadian Football League (CFL), where he won the CFL Super Bowl equivalent Grey Cup three times, and broke single season records for passing yards (6,619) and touchdown passes (48).


Doug Flutie's career showed that his size, questioned by both college and professional football scouts, could be overcome with a burning drive to succeed an insistence on never giving up, attributes captured eternally in six seconds of play with that famous, game-changing Hail Mary pass in November 1984.


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