Photo of Chuck Nice and Gary O'Reilly in the Playing with Science studio.
Photo of Chuck Nice and Gary O'Reilly in the Playing with Science studio.

Extended Classic: The Art of the Hail Mary

Chuck Nice and Gary O'Reilly break down the "Miracle at Michigan" in the Playing with Science studio. Credit: Ben Ratner.
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About This Episode

Now extended with Gary O’Reilly, Chuck Nice, and sports physicist John Eric Goff answering your Cosmic Queries about physics and football.

The Hail Mary pass is one of the most exciting plays you’ll ever see in any sport. In this episode of Playing with Science, hosts Gary O’Reilly and Chuck Nice look at one of the greatest, the “Miracle at Michigan,” with the man who threw it, Kordell Stewart. You’ll get a firsthand account of the play from Stewart, who was the quarterback for the Colorado Buffaloes in 1994 when they came from behind to beat the University of Michigan Wolverines just as time expired. Find out what Kordell did to “stretch time” so his receivers could get down the field, what he was thinking when he let the ball loose, and what he says went wrong with the pass. Next, Chuck and Gary explore the science of the 71-yard play with returning physicist John Eric Goff. They examine the play in terms of release velocity when Kordell Stewart let it fly, the 45 degree angle the ball needed to reach its target, and the 600 RPM rate of spin the ball needed for stability. But if one Hail Mary is good, three are better, so Gary, Chuck and Eric take a look two more game-winning, come-from-behind Hail Mary passes: Doug Flutie’s “Miracle in Miami” (or the “Hail Flutie”) in November 1984 where Boston College beat the University of Miami Hurricanes, and Aaron Rogers “Miracle in Motown” in Dec. 2015 when the Green Bay Packers beat the Detroit Lions (although, during the episode, the guys mistakenly refer to this as Rogers’ other Hail Mary that season, in the January 2016 game against the Arizona Cardinals).

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