Countdown to Canton: Drew Pearson needs another Hail Mary
The Pro Football Hall of Fame loves wide receivers.
The Hall has enshrined 32 of those pass catchers – more than any other position except quarterback and running back. And first-team all-decade selection has become a rubber stamp for wide receivers for Canton. Seventeen of the last 18 first-team all-decade wideouts have been enshrined dating back to the 1930s, including both Marvin Harrison and Randy Moss from the most recent all-decade team (2000s).
The only wide receiver of that group who does not have a bust is Drew Pearson – and he has never even had his career discussed and debated by the Hall of Fame selection committee. Pearson has never once been a finalist. The other first-team all-decade wideout from the 1970s has a bust in Canton – Lynn Swann. So does Paul Warfield, who was selected to the 1970s second-team.
Fred Biletnikoff, Charlie Joiner, Steve Largent, James Lofton, John Stallworth, Lynn Swann and Charley Taylor also caught passes in the NFL in the 1970s. All have busts in Canton. Yet Pearson has waited and waited and waited. His candidacy is now in its 31st year of eligibility.
But Pearson will finally get his hearing from Canton next week. He is one of 20 players named as a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame’s Centennial Class of 2020. But only 10 of the players will gain admission to the Hall when the committee meets Wednesday.
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.
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.”
In 1994, on the anniversary of the league’s 75th season, NFL Films compiled a reel of the 75 greatest catches in league history. Pearson had three of them, having earned the nickname “Mr. Clutch” in Dallas for his penchant for the big catch.
Pearson 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 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 the 49ers' 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.
Pearson made big plays in big games. Isn’t that the mark of a Hall of Famer? He was inducted into the Cowboys Ring of Honor in 2011 -- but that shouldn’t be the final honor of his football career.