As we browse the headlines this time of year, it is not unusual to find biblical phrases such as 'immaculate' and 'miraculous'. And indeed there are those occasional events that defy logic, defy science, defy everything we know about human possibility. Yes, I am talking about the 40th anniversary of Franco Harris' Immaculate Reception. The controversial play is considered one of the most famous in NFL history. Harris' delicate fingertip catch and subsequent bolt to the end zone gave his Pittsburgh Steelers the win over the hated Oakland Raiders. Although the Steelers lost the AFC championship game to the Dolphins the following week, The Steelers went on to dominate the game for years afterward.

Roger 'The Dodger' Staubach, hero of my youth

The Immaculate Reception is just one of many athletic events compared with the miraculous. The Hail Mary pass has long been a staple of football, only used in the most desperate situations, risking everything in hopes that the right receiver is fast enough and tall enough to make it down field in time to catch a ball that is floated up there, well, on a wing and a prayer (since we have come this far with the religious metaphors). Originated in the 1930s, the term 'Hail Mary' cemented its place in NFL history when Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach used it to describe his game winning pass to Drew Pearson in a 1975 playoff game against the Vikings. Apparently Aaron Rodgers is a fan of this strategy. His recent Hail Mary to close out the first half of their wildcard playoff against the Giants took my breath away.

There is another famous play involving the Cowboys, but since it doesn't have a snappy catch phrase and since it caused the Cowboys to lose and therefore is disqualified from miracle status, no sense mentioning it here, amirite?

Football also brings us

  • the Miracle Bowl (1980 Holiday Bowl Brigham Young vs SMU which also included a Hail Mary by BYU to win the game)
  • the Music City Miracle (2000 AFC playoff game Titans vs Bills), featuring the Titans winning in the remaining seconds using a trick lateral play on a kick-off return
  • additional Miracles at
    • Michigan (1994 - Colorado Buffaloes defeat Michigan Wolverines at home in the final seconds with - you guessed it - a 70 yard, intentionally deflected Hail Mary)
    • Mississippi (2007 game between two no-name D3 schools, ending the final two seconds with a 60-yard run made possible by the use of 15 different lateral passes)
    • The Meadowlands (Philadelphia Eagles defeat New York Giants at home in 1978 due to boneheaded play calling and a fumble recovery resulting in a touchdown)
Basketball God

Religious hyperbole is not limited to professional football. In a 1986 FIFA World Cup soccer match between Argentina and England, Argentina's Diego Maradona scored a goal known as the Hand of God goal. He named it thusly when explaining how it happened, saying it was due to a little of his work and a little help from above. Most observers agree it was more Maradona's hand, but he branded it well, and Hand of God it remains.

The NBA brings us not just one supernatural limb, but the whole enchilada. After a
1986 Celtics-Bulls playoff game, none other than Celtic Larry Bird said of his opponent's 63 point performance, "He is the most exciting, awesome player in the game today. I think it's just God disguised as Michael Jordan."

And what about the 2001 Miracle Flip by Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter? The Yankees needed a win against Oakland to keep their playoff hopes alive. They got it when Jeter dashed across the field to the first base line to retrieve a relayed ball from the outfield, then neatly flipped it to the catcher to prevent Jason Giambi from scoring.

Hockey provides us with the Miracle on Ice, underdog USA's now-famous defeat of hockey world powerhouse Russia during the 1980 Winter Olympics. The win sent the USA to the finals, where they defeated Finland for the gold medal.

All this talk of higher powers has me pumped up for some more supernatural displays. Too little, too late for my Cowboys against the miraculous Aaron Rodgers and his Packers (which he won in the final seconds with another near-miracle pass, bless his heart).  Here's to my Rangers making a miracle happen for me in October instead.