Drew Pearson has chosen Roger Staubach to be his presenter for his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction this August.
Maybe he should have selected Otto Stowe.
Stowe was a second-round draft pick by Miami in 1971 who went to a pair of Super Bowls with the Dolphins as Hall-of-Famer Paul Warfield’s understudy. He started five games over those two seasons, catching 18 passes and scoring three touchdowns. The Dolphins traded him to Dallas in 1973 where he was paired with another Hall-of-Fame wide receiver, Bob Hayes, in the starting lineup of the Cowboys.
Pearson signed with the Cowboys as a rookie free agent that season. A former college quarterback at Tulsa, Pearson was still in the early stages of learning how to become a professional wide receiver.
“I’d only been a receiver for two years,” Pearson said. “My receiver coach in college (Tulsa) was Ted Plumb, who was a really good coach and helped me a lot. But once I got to the pros, my receiver coach was Mike Ditka. I loved Mike. He was a great guy … but he had been a tight end.
“Mike got (tight ends) Billy Joe (Dupree) and Jean (Fugett) ready, but I’m out here (on the flank). Mike used to tell me, `Just knock his head off.’ So what am I going to do? He can’t show me how to run a pass route – the out-route or the in-route. So I got into Otto Stowe’s pocket.”
Pearson knew Stowe had spent his first two seasons in Miami receiving his own education at the position from Warfield, one of the smoothest, most-polished, most-dynamic receivers ever to play the game. Warfield was one of only six receivers in NFL history to average better than 20 yards per catch in his career. He led the league with 12 touchdown catches for the Cleveland Browns in 1968 and 11 for the Dolphins in 1971.
“I knew what Paul Warfield did, and Otto came from Miami,” Pearson said. “He looked like Paul Warfield running his routes. I learned how to run pass routes from him, how to be disciplined in running those routes, how to get in and out of your breaks quickly without having all those choppy steps that you see from guys nowadays. Coming off the line of scrimmage – using your hands, giving them that shoulder … I emulated everything Otto did.”
Stowe was everything the Cowboys hoped he’d be and Pearson expected him to be. In his first seven games he was having a Pro Bowl-caliber season with a team-leading 23 catches for 389 yards and six touchdowns.
“It looked to me like I was going to be behind him for a long time,” Pearson said. “He was really good at route running and he could catch anything. Luckily, we played the same position – left, right, in the slot, in motion … he perfected that motion. I watched him, studied him. He was my blessing.”
But in the seventh game of the 1973 season at Philadelphia, Stowe suffered an ankle injury. That moved Pearson up in the depth chart to No. 2 at the position behind Mike Montgomery. Two weeks later at the Giants, Montgomery pulled a muscle and also retired to the sideline with an injury, moving Pearson into the offensive huddle.
Pearson never gave the position back to either Stowe or Montgomery. He caught one pass that day and one more in his first NFL start the following week at home against Philadelphia. The Cowboys staged his coming out party the following week on Thanksgiving – a game that Stowe had circled on his own calendar. Pearson caught seven passes for 71 yards on national television against the Dolphins.
Three weeks later, in the season finale at St. Louis, Pearson turned in his first career 100-yard receiving game and scored his first two NFL touchdowns on catches of 28 and 17 yards. The following week, in the NFC semifinals, Pearson caught two passes for two touchdowns against the Rams, including an 83-yarder midway through the fourth quarter that sealed the Dallas victory.
Pearson earned his first Pro Bowl invitation in his first full season as a starter in 1974, catching 62 passes for 1,087 yards. He led the NFC with his 58 catches in 1976 and led the NFL with his 1,026 receiving yards in 1977. Pearson retired after 11 seasons as the franchise’s all-time leading receiver with 489 catches for 7,822 yards and 48 touchdowns.
“I just got the opportunity and stayed,” said Pearson over a cup of coffee at a Dallas restaurant. “But it could be Otto Stowe you’re talking to right now instead of Drew Pearson.”