Drew Pearson was a long shot to have a successful NFL career after going undrafted in 1973. He was signed as a free agent and became the third wide receiver on the Dallas Cowboys depth chart. After injuries to Otto Stowe and Mike Montgomery, Pearson’s role increased. He appeared in 14 games (six starts) and registered 22 receptions for 388 yards and two touchdowns. Welcome to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Once Stowe asked to be traded in 1974, Pearson became a full-time starter, and he didn’t disappoint. He set career highs in receptions (62) and yards (1,087). Also, Pearson would receive Pro Bowl and First-Team All-Pro honors.
He earned two more Pro Bowl and All-Pro nods over the next three seasons. In 1977, his 870 yards led the entire NFL and he helped the Cowboys win their second Super Bowl title.
The former Tulsa Golden Hurricane led the Cowboys in receiving for four consecutive years until 1978 when Tony Hill took over as the team’s top receiver. Although he was the number two option, Pearson had one of his best overall seasons in 1979. He had the third-most receptions (55), second-most yards (1,026), and the most touchdowns (8) of his career.
Pearson and Hill became the first duo in Cowboys history that season to have 1,000 campaigns simultaneously. Also, along with Hall of Fame running back Tony Dorsett, the Cowboys became the first team in NFL history with a 1,000-yard rusher and two 1,000-yard receivers in the same season.
By the time Pearson retired he was the franchise’s all-time leader in receiving yards. He had earned the nickname (Mr. Clutch) for his ability to make big plays in big games. In the 1973 playoffs, he caught the game-sealing touchdown against the Los Angeles Rams. A year later, he hauled in a game-winning touchdown on Thanksgiving against the then Washington Redskins. However, no play involving Pearson is more famous than when he caught the “Hail Mary” against the Minnesota Vikings in the 1975 playoffs. The play won the game for the Cowboys and would become one of the most infamous plays in NFL history.
When NFL Films did a countdown of the Top 75 plays in league history in 1994, all three of the plays mentioned made the list. He also made clutch catches to complete the Cowboys comeback against the Atlanta Falcons in the 1980 playoffs and had the key block in Dorsett’s 99-yard touchdown run against the Vikings in 1983, his final season in the NFL.
After several big plays in the playoffs, Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections to his credit, and being a member of the 1970’s All-Decade Team, Pearson was a lock to be a Hall of Famer soon after his retirement, right? Wrong.
Pearson would spend over 30 years playing the waiting game to hear his name called to be inducted into football heaven. In 2020, he was named a senior finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a part of its “Centennial Slate” of 20 senior finalists. Unfortunately, Pearson wasn’t selected and it hurt him to the point that he didn’t hold back about how much he disagreed with the decision.
Patience is something Pearson has had for over three decades as he’s waited to take his rightful place in Canton, Ohio. It was a long struggle full of confusion and disappointment. However, when you weather the storm there are always sunny days again, and Pearson would get his moment back in February.
With his quarterback Roger Staubach and team Owner Jerry Jones beside him, Pearson was told by President and CEO of the Pro Football Hall of Fame David Baker that he had been selected to be a part of the 2021 class. An emotional Pearson was overjoyed after 33 years of being let down and he promised to uphold the standards of being in Canton, Ohio.
The next step would be for Pearson to receive his gold jacket and his bronze bust before making the speech he’s waited so long to give. It was only fitting that the man he caught some many passes from, Staubach, would be his presenter. Finally, the “Original 88” as he’s known as took the stage and addressed the world as the newest member of the most elite class of football players on earth.
About ten seconds into his speech, Pearson let it be known that there wasn’t anymore speculation to be had about his Hall of Fame status.
“This confirms it,’’ Pearson said joyfully. “The wait is over. Over.
“How about that? The original No. 88 being presented for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame by my Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach.
This journey wasn’t always easy for Pearson. That’s very understandable when you consider that he was one of the best at his position during his playing days. However, it was well worth the struggle for him as he explained in detail.
“You know, there are times I remember I had to fight just to hold my head up,” Pearson said. “Those times when even my friends would try to make a fool of me.
“There were things that my heart would attack that they just couldn’t see. Some said I was hopeless, a mind tangled in the night. But guess what? Strong hearts just keep going, and that’s why I’m standing here tonight at the steps of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“I’ve seen the light and the sun break through the storm, and I’m standing here as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”
Pearson gave a powerful message about how his story to get to the Hall of Fame is what everyone should celebrate.
“Tonight, don’t just honor the man,” Pearson said. “Tonight, honor the mission as well. Don’t judge me by reaching the heights of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Judge me by the depths from which I’ve come.”
It was a speech full of excitement and raw emotion from Pearson. Now, when anyone addresses him, they’ll have to use the term “Hall of Famer” before saying his name.
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