Drew Pearson, the legendary wide receiver for the Cowboys of the 1970s and early ’80s, admitted last week that he’s been mistakenly introduced as a Hall of Famer for years. His stats and place in the league’s history have certainly warranted his place there ever since retiring from the game in 1983.
But now that Pearson can officially be called a member of the club, he was clearly excited to, as he put it, “wear it out.” Pearson said the words “Pro Football Hall of Fame” 15 times (and added the abbreviated “Hall of Fame” another eight times) in just 11 minutes at the mic at Tom Benson Stadium on Sunday evening.
Pearson’s long wait- and near-misses- for making the Hall had been well-documented, making his speech one of the most anticipated of the weekend. And the fiery Pearson didn’t disappoint, shouting, “The wait is over!” to open his remarks; spotlighting his bronze bust for having “the biggest Afro in NFL history;” pulling up his pant legs to show off the skinny legs that carried him all the way to Canton; even taking a friendly dig at fellow Hall of Famer Mike Ditka.
After paying tribute to Cowboys founding fathers like Clint Murchison, Tex Schramm, and Gil Brandt, the original member of the 88 Club honored many of his star teammates and coaches by name for the role they each played in his football journey. Ditka, a former Cowboys standout before going on to become the Chicago Bears’ Super Bowl-winning coach, got a special mention.
“Thank you, Mike Ditka, my first receivers coach in the NFL,” Pearson said. “Mike was an All-Pro tight end, which means he taught me nothing about running pass routes as a wide receiver.”
The crowd ate it up.
“But, Mike,” he continued, “you taught me how not to just be a pro, but be a professional. And you did that by the passion you showed and that you brought to the Dallas Cowboys.”
Pearson, as expected, brought plenty of passion to his enshrinement remarks, just as he had to his playing days. He spent considerable time thanking his family members, both those in attendance and those who were, in his words, “gone too soon.”
Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Drew Pearson hiked his pants to show off his still skinny legs during his Hall of Fame enshrinement speech. His family also covered an empty chair with stitched names of lost loved ones, including his parents. #HOF2021 #CowboysNation pic.twitter.com/iA0LNWzfAJ
— Tom Fox (@TomFoxPhoto) August 9, 2021
But he also took the occasion to give a shout-out to a relative unknown named Otto Stowe. Stowe was a wide receiver who played just seven games for the Cowboys in 1973, Pearson’s debut season in the league. Pearson emulated Stowe early that year, and it was Stowe’s season-ending injury that opened the door for Pearson to start as a rookie and never give the job back.
“I learned so much from you, Otto,” Pearson said Sunday. “And I would not be here today without you.”
But the person Pearson is most closely linked to professionally is his longtime quarterback, Roger Staubach. Staubach presented Pearson Sunday night, the culmination of a prolific pairing that’s most famously remembered for the 50-yard touchdown versus Minnesota in the 1975 playoffs that served as the NFL’s original “Hail Mary” pass play.
But Pearson was a key figure in several other Cowboys milestone moments, too. He snagged the opening touchdown in Super Bowl X. He threw the final block that sprang Tony Dorsett on his record-setting 99-yard touchdown run in 1983. He caught the game-winning touchdown from Clint Longley in the team’s famous 1974 Thanksgiving comeback. And were it not for a one-handed horse-collar tackle, Pearson would likely have negated Dwight Clark’s “The Catch” in 1981’s NFC Championship Game with a late catch and run into field goal range.
But it’s the Hail Mary that has largely defined Pearson’s career over the years, the moment most fans want to talk about, the photo that he most often signs. Even though Staubach coined the term, Pearson is the one who personalizes his autographs with “Hail Mary to you.”
And that’s how he signed off his enshrinement speech.
“There’s so many special people in my life, but my time has run out. I don’t have a Hail Mary in my pocket, so I’ve got to wrap this up… Hail Mary blessings to you all.”
Pearson may be best remembered for that one miracle catch, but he racked up 555 others over his 11-year career. The Hail Mary was only one score; there were 55 others. And after 8,927 receiving yards (regular and postseason combined), three Super Bowl appearances, three Pro Bowls, three All-Pro nods, a spot on the NFL’s 1970s All-Decade Team, and a place in the Cowboys Ring of Honor, Pearson can now add “Hall of Famer” to his resume.
Judging by how often he visibly enjoyed saying it Sunday night, that may well be how he signs autographs for the rest of his life.
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