THERE MAY BE NO CRYING IN BASEBALL, but there’s plenty of prayer in football. What happened was that, many years ago, the Haines City Hillbillies were losing by five points in the final minute of the fourth quarter of their game with the rival Podunk Porkbellies. A time out was called and the team gathered at the sideline with their coach, the local parish priest. “We don’t have a prayer,” cried the disappointed quarterback. “Yes, we do,” the coach replied. “Yes, we do,” he repeated, “a Hail Mary.” Everyone knew that a Hail Mary was a prayer to the Virgin Mary that consists of salutations and a plea for her intercession. “What good is that going to do?” spat a disgusted lineman, the dirt of the playing field smeared all over his grimy face. “Here’s the play,” announced the coach. “I want you linemen to keep any rushers off the QB; I want all you receivers to go full out for the endzone. The QB is going to heave the ball all the way into the endzone and, dear Lord, one of you is going to catch it. We’re going to call the play a Hail Mary.” And so it was that the Hillbilly QB threw that football for all he was worth, an arching parabola that came soaring down into the endzone fifty-five yards away, and into the sure-handed grip of wide receiver Johnny Grabowski for the winning score as time expired. The Virgin Mary had, through the power of prayer and last-ditch desperation, come through for the Hillbillies, adjudging in her everlasting omnipotence that the Hillbilly prayer should supersede the equally fervent Porkbelly prayer. The Hail Mary pass still lives in playbooks today.
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