State Your Case: Drew Pearson

Drew Pearson completes 50-yard touchdown vs. Minnesota Dec. 28, 1975, in "Hail Mary" pass sequence in NFC Playoff game at Bloomington, Minn. (Photo courtesy of Dallas Cowboys)

Fred Biletnikoff, Charlie Joiner, Steve Largent, James Lofton, John Stallworth, Lynn Swann, Charley Taylor and Paul Warfield all played wide receiver in the NFL in the 1970s and all excelled.

All became Pro Bowlers during their careers and Hall of Famers after their careers.

Swann earned first-team NFL all-decade acclaim on his way to becoming one of the nine Hall of Famers from the most bountiful decade for receivers in NFL history. The other wide receiver spot on that 1970s all-decade first team went to Drew Pearson.

But Pearson is not one of the nine. He lacks a bust in Canton. In fact, he has never even been a Hall of Fame finalist. So his candidacy has never even been discussed.

Talk about someone whose career has been short-changed.

Long before Dez Bryant and long before Michael Irvin, Drew Pearson wore the 88 of the Dallas Cowboys. And he wore it well.

Pearson caught 489 passes for 7,822 yards and 48 touchdowns. Those statistics are dwarfed by the receivers of today, but Pearson played in a different era. A lack of receptions didn’t keep his contemporaries Warfield (427), Hayes (371) or Swann (336) out of the Hall of Fame.

Pearson’s 58 catches in 1976 were the most by any wide receiver in the NFC that season. Yes, 58 catches. That gave him his first and only NFC receiving title. The following season he caught 48 passes and led the NFL with 870 receiving yards — yes, 870 yards — averaging 18.1 yards per catch. Like I said, it was a different era back then. In 1979 he caught 55 passes with an 18.7-yard average.

“Drew wasn’t one of the fastest receivers in the league,” said his Hall of Fame teammate Tony Dorsett, “but he was one of the best route runners ever to play in the league.”

Pearson earned the nickname “Mr. Clutch” in Dallas for his penchant for the big catch. He caught the NFL’s first “Hail Mary” pass from Roger Staubach for the winning touchdown in the closing seconds of a 1975 playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings. Staubach explained afterwards that he closed his eyes, heaved the ball and said a Hail Mary on the 50-yard touchdown.

Pearson also caught a 50-yard bomb from Clint Longley in the closing seconds of a 1974 Thanksgiving game against Washington, giving the Cowboys a 24-23 victory over the Redskins. He caught a career-long 83-yard touchdown pass from Staubach in the fourth quarter to break open a tight game in the 1973 playoffs against the Los Angeles Rams.

Pearson also caught a 29-yard touchdown pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl X and almost rescued the Cowboys from the ignominy of that 1981 NFC championship game defeat at San Francisco.

On the play following San Francisco’s go-ahead touchdown on “The Catch” by Dwight Clark, Pearson beat cornerback Eric Wright deep but only a one-handed swipe by the 49er defender prevented a touchdown, tripping up Pearson and limiting the reception to 31 yards at the San Francisco 44. But that’s where the final Dallas drive ended.

But that shouldn’t have been where the story ended for Pearson. He played two more seasons before a tragic car wreck — one that took the life of his brother Carey — forced him to retire at the age of 33 because of a liver injury. At that point his 489 receptions, three Pro Bowls and all-decade acclaim became lost in the pages of the history books and his name never came up for Hall of Fame consideration.

Pearson was a college quarterback at Tulsa who signed with Dallas in 1973 as an undrafted free agent. Not only did he make the Cowboys, he wound up starting six games as a rookie for a Dallas team that would reach the NFC title game.

But the Drew Pearson story isn’t how he started his career. It’s what he did with his career. The Cowboys didn’t retire his number 88, but they only give it now to players the club considers worthy of wearing it. Which explains why the Hall of Famer Irvin wore it in the 1990s and Bryant now wears it in the 2010s.

The Cowboys inducted Pearson into their Ring of Honor in 2011. But that shouldn’t be the final honor of his career. He deserves discussion from the Hall of Fame selection committee for the ultimate honor in Canton.



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  1. Rich Quodomine
    June 19, 2015

    This begs the question: How do you measure those whose careers were cut short in years where the medical tech was not as good? The ultimate is probably Derrick Thomas, who was a no-brainer. But Pearson isn’t. However, if Lynn Swann is in, why is Pearson not even discussed?

    • Rick Gosselin
      June 25, 2015

      That is the question this committee has been grappling with for decades now — how do you judge injury-shortened careers? Thomas did play 11 seasons, so he was never an issue. But Pearson, Terrell Davis, Kenny Easley — there are a lot of great players on the outside looking in while this issue is being resolved (slowly).

  2. Daniel
    June 25, 2015

    That was indeed a different era, not just for football, but for America. I have pictures of standing on the Met stadium field with the score of that legendary game still on the scoreboard behind me. There’s not much doubt, at least in my mind, that Drew would have been inducted had his career not been cut short. Perhaps there should be a category that takes such circumstances into consideration.
    And oddly enough I didn’t know until just now that Fran Tarkentons father died during that game. Fran was also a class act who because of circumstances was not given the full credit he probably deserved.

  3. bachslunch
    March 20, 2016

    Agreed that Drew Pearson has a good HoF case given how poorly represented WRs tend to be. He’s in a group of eight who merit election that includes Mac Speedie, Billy Howton, Billy Wilson, Del Shofner, Harold Jackson, Cliff Branch, and Harold Carmichael as well as Pearson.

  4. Jab
    May 3, 2017

    Ridiculous , he has better numbers then players in the hall. He should be in the hall simple

  5. brian wolf
    October 6, 2018

    Pearson was not only clutch player but a key element to the Cowboys sustained success. He was Staubachs favorite receiver who always went over the middle and kept the chains moving. He blocked well and never acted like a Diva. A total team player.

    The only real knock on Pearson was that he didnt score enough TDs but thats because teams focused their coverage on him allowing other receivers to shine.
    Dallas loved to utilize many players in their system but when it came down to crunch time, they always went to Pearson. George Allen of the Redskins always believed in double teaming him and he should know, being one of the NFLs most respected Defensive coaches.

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