As an undrafted free agent from the University of Tulsa, Drew Pearson became one of the more beloved and accomplished of all Dallas Cowboys.
Before joining another former TU star (Steve Largent) and a former OU wishbone wizard (J.C. Watts) for an Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame event on Tuesday, Pearson addressed a glaring injustice in his football life: that he has not yet been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
While making 88 a sacred Dallas jersey number, he was a clutch playmaker in 1973-83. During an 11-season run with Dallas, he played in seven NFC Championship games.
“I was one game away from seven Super Bowls,” said Pearson, who played in three such games (beating Denver and falling twice to Pittsburgh).
As Largent, Watts and the 68-year-old Pearson reminisced before a good-sized audience at the River Spirit hotel, the Cowboys legend was outfitted with the ultimate accessory: his Super Bowl XII ring. Stitched onto the lining of his jacket was a patch that read “exclusively tailored for Drew Pearson 88.”
Former longtime Cowboys talent scout Gil Brandt is using his new Hall of Fame membership to promote Pearson for Pro Football Hall of Fame consideration. In 1973, Brandt invited Pearson to the Cowboys’ training camp. Pearson’s signing bonus was $150.
“Let me put it this way — it can’t hurt,” Pearson said about Brandt’s Hall of Fame support. “There’s talk about expanding the (Hall of Fame) class this year because of 100 years of the NFL. I don’t care how I get in. Let’s just get in.
“What they want to clean up is this — getting (induction) for the All-Decade guys who’ve been passed over.”
Of the 22 offensive and defensive players who were members of the NFL’s All-Decade team of the ’70s, only two — Pearson and Cowboys safety Cliff Harris — are not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Pittsburgh’s Lynn Swann was the other ’70s All-Decade receiver. He played nine seasons and finished with 336 catches and 51 touchdowns. He averaged 16.3 yards per reception. In 2001, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
For Dallas, Pearson totaled 489 catches and 48 touchdowns. He averaged 16.0 yards per reception. His 1975 “Hail Mary” playoff touchdown at Minnesota — on a 50-yard pass from Roger Staubach with 24 seconds left — still ranks among the more famous touchdowns in the history of the sport.
Two plays before the “Hail Mary” miracle that resulted in a 17-14 Dallas victory, Staubach found Pearson for a 22-yard gain on fourth-and-17.
That play alone was on a Hall of Fame level, but the “Hail Mary” connection was the defining moment in Pearson’s career.
He gets asked about it nearly every day, and especially when he’s at the entrance to his “Sports 88” restaurant, located in the E terminal at the DFW International Airport. Travelers seem stunned when Pearson himself greets them at the door.
Pearson’s notoriety got a boost during the 2017 NFL draft. While at the podium in Philadelphia to announce Dallas’ second-round pick, he verbally punched Eagles fans in the teeth.
The reaction of the NFL Network’s Rich Eisen was nearly as good as Pearson’s impassioned delivery: “That is an all-time great pick announcement! I’m standing and applauding! Drew Pearson, soaking in the hate and spittin’ it back!”
Pearson was inundated with interview requests and personal-appearance opportunities.
“I had no idea it would take off like that,” he recalled. “It gave me a new life. I went back (to Texas) and saw my grandson, who was 6 years old at the time, and he said, ‘Grandpa, I didn’t know you were Drew Pearson.’ ”
Pearson arrived at TU in 1969. As a 145-pound high school quarterback in New Jersey, he also excelled in baseball and was drafted by the Atlanta Braves. He considered an offer to play football at Nebraska, but chose TU because he wanted to play both football and baseball. During those years, Tulsa had a nationally competitive baseball program.
Hurricane football coaches persuaded Pearson to forget baseball and to switch from QB to wide receiver.
Three years after his final game at TU — a home victory over North Texas — Pearson savored his “Hail Mary” moment.
In 2008, Pearson was inducted into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame. If a candidate’s qualifications center on the combination of winning, unforgettable plays and actual fame, then Pearson absolutely belongs also in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.