By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
In football, desperation passes with the game on the line are called “Hail, Mary!” passes, the first one coming back in the days of the Dallas Cowboys dynasty when quarterback Roger Staubach snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with just such a throw to wide receiver Drew Pearson in Minnesota.
At West Virginia, the “Hail, Mary” pass has a completely different connotation, for it doesn’t have to be out of desperation or even a game winner, and when you consider that the Mountaineers ended their last season with a 70-33 Orange Bowl victory over Clemson and started the 2012 season with a 69-34 triumph over Marshall, there really doesn’t seem much need for any desperation passes.
No, here with the Mountaineers, a “Hail, Mary” pass simply is a connection between quarterback Geno Smith and wide receiver Stedman Bailey, considering that their football relationship was something born of religious inspiration.
You must go back to their childhood days when they were growing up in the same neighborhood in south Florida, not far from Miami. In those early days they would get out there in the sandlots and throw the football around, Smith to Bailey, over and over and over.
When it came time to go to high school, however, Smith attended Miramar High while Bailey, a year behind Smith, attended Carroll City High School.
Geographically the schools were close, but philosophically on the football field they were much different.
“He was at a school that ran the ball every down and I was at a school that passed the ball every down, but we just didn’t have very good receivers,” Smith recalled. “It was a pretty good move on both our behalves.”
“At Miramar they always ran a spread offense,” Bailey explained. “I was at Carroll City and it was more a run first offense.”
Smith was well aware of this because they would spend a great deal of time talking about in, of all places, church.
“We talked about it in church and I’d tell him, ‘You know, man, you’re too good to have one or two passes a game,’” Smith said.
“We realized we probably could be pretty special together,” Bailey said. “In church, we’d be talking. You know, ‘How’d you do this week?’ We shared statistics.”
And the statistics always had Smith completing 30 passes for 300 yards and Bailey making a couple of catches, doing whatever he could when given an opportunity.
“When I had the opportunity to catch the ball I was making plays as a young guy out there on the field,” Bailey said. “I figured, OK, if I go to a spread, there’s a lot of opportunities to make plays.
“I was able to put up like 1,000 yards my first year with Geno and 11 touchdowns.
“We’d talk about different games. We figured, we should come together ... you’re a quarterback, I’m a receiver.”
But it didn’t really just happen. Smith was in full recruiting mode.
He pushed hard to make it happen, almost as hard as Doc Holliday had pushed to recruit them to WVU.
“He was like, ‘OK, I’ll come over.’ The good thing was my mother got in good with his mother and that helped win him over,” Smith said, smiling at the thought.
And both were smiling at the results in the opening game of the season, a rout that began with Smith finding Bailey for a 32-yard TD for the season’s first touchdown on something of a “Hail, Mary” pass even in the traditional sense.
Smith had taken the snap but could find no one open, moving around for what seemed like an eternity until he latched on Bailey, who was covered but had half a step on a defender. He floated a perfect pass ... at this stage of the game every one of his passes was perfect as he completed his first 8 and ended up with 32 of 36 completions for 323 yards.
“That play wasn’t a play that would necessarily go to me. He was supposed to read the field from right to left and I was pretty much the last option. I saw he was rolling out a long time for so long, I guess everything was covered up. He threw it up and I was able to make the catch,” Bailey said.
It was one of nine catches Bailey would make in the game for 104 yards with two touchdowns.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.