Drew Pearson Should Be In The Pro Football hall of Fame

When you think of the great NFL teams of the 1970’s, the team that usually comes to mind first are Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys. Now Pittsburgh Steeler fans will argue they were the team of the decade and most fans and pundits should think of their team first. Yet think about it… Whenever the 1970’s Steelers are brought up, everyone points to the 2 Super Bowls when they defeated Dallas. Very rarely are the Super Bowls brought up over the Rams or Vikings. Therefore, Dallas was the most visible team. One of the most visible performers on the NFL’s most visible team was standout WR Drew Pearson.

pearson1To the casual observer, Pearson only had two 1,000 yard seasons, 3 All Pro & Pro Bowl seasons. In 1974, only Drew and Cliff Branch topped 1,000 yards that year in receiving in the NFL. Yet if you were cheering against the Cowboys, as many of us were in those years, no one struck more fear in you when the game was on the line.

From playing every year on Thanksgiving, to numerous appearances on Monday Night Football, and annually making the playoffs, we were always watching the Cowboys. The moment Pearson burst onto a nation’s conscience was the 1974 Thanksgiving tilt vs the hated Washington Redskins. Roger Staubach had been knocked from the game thrusting rookie Clint Longley into his 1st significant action.

In a nationally televised game, the Cowboys appeared headed for a loss down 16-3 in the 3rd quarter. Then out of nowhere Longley and the offense got hot. Two touchdown marches gave the Cowboys a 17-16 lead before the 4th quarter began. What gave the game a unique quality was the fact a rookie QB and Pearson, in only his 2nd season, were drawing up plays in the dirt. It was not Landry’s intricate precise passing game leading the charge.

After a Duane Thomas touchdown put the Redskins back on top, Landry’s unknown players had a chance to win it late. As they had turned this game around playing shoot from the hip football, Longley and Pearson drew up another play in the dirt with just seconds to go in the game. George Allen’s Redskins and Landry’s Cowboys coaching staff’s had been in place for 5 years at this point. They knew each other’s playbook. It took Pearson making an adjustment on a “16 Route” in Cowboys terminology, to what amounted to an in and up. The safety bit and Pearson blew by as Longley hit him with a last minute 50 yard bomb and a 24-23 triumph.

Millions of fans digesting Thanksgiving turkey fell out of their Lazy Boy’s as they watched a game still revered in Cowboy lore. Pearson had 5 rec. 108 yards and the game winning touchdown. Bolstered by the heroics performed and notoriety of this game, Pearson was voted All Pro and made his 1st Pro Bowl. In 1975 Pearson was a marked man and had less receptions and yardage yet combined with Staubach for 8 touchdowns during the regular season.

So what makes Drew Pearson Hall of Fame worthy?? The moments. To turn in clutch performances in the final minutes when many players shrink at the moment of truth. How many times have you heard a coach describe how they have to get their player into the game with play calling to keep him engaged?? Well the 10-4 wildcard Cowboys of 1975 made the trip to play the Minnesota Vikings in an NFC Divisional Playoff Game. Against one of history’s best defenses and on target to play in their 3rd straight Super Bowl, the Vikings had held Pearson without a catch. With the game on the line… it was 4th and 17 from their own 25 down 14-10 with :44 left when…

The Hail Mary to win the ’75 playoff in Minnesota not only propelled the Dallas Cowboys to Super Bowl X, it marked Pearson as one of the NFL’s best clutch performers. The next two seasons he was voted to the Pro Bowl and the All Pro team. The second of which the Cowboys won Super Bowl XII to conclude the 1977 season.

As the late ’70’s beckoned, Pearson shared more of the spotlight with newcomers Tony Dorsett and fellow wideout Tony Hill. His numbers suffered but they were a better team as they appeared in back to back Super Bowls in 77 & 78. Everyone thought the magic would be over with the retirement of Hall of Fame QB Roger Staubach after the 1979 season. Pearson had a mediocre season in ’80 (43 rec 568 yds 6TDs) as the Cowboys adjusted to new QB Danny White. Yet when the 12-4 wildcard Cowboys found themselves down 27-17 to the favored Atlanta Falcons in the divisional playoffs, it was Pearson to the rescue again. First he scored to close the gap to 27-24 midway through the 4th quarter.. then this happened with :49 left in the game.

Unfortunately this miracle touchdown didn’t propel the Cowboys to the Super Bowl as they fell in the first of 3 straight NFC Championships. However if you’re keeping count, from 1975-1982 Dallas played in at least the NFC Championship in 6 of 8 seasons and Pearson was the only featured performer on all 6. Staubach was only there for 3 of them. They played in 3 Super Bowls in a 4 year span and Pearson was able to make magic moments happen with 3 different quarterbacks.

Over the length of Drew’s 11 year career, he only scored 48 touchdowns. Yet he seemed to always score the money touchdowns that ruined opponent’s seasons. His career ended after a horrific car accident after the 1983 season and the Cowboys were never the same. In fact the very next year (1984) marked the first non playoff season for Dallas since 1974. In an era where the Dallas Cowboys became America’s Team, how can you talk about that era without mentioning his heroics??

Please lend your thoughts as well by writing in to the Pro Football Hall of Fame to the address below. Please be respectful and positively lend your voice:

Please write & nominate #88
Send letters to:
Pro Football Hall of Fame
Attention Seniors Committee
2121 George Halas Dr NW, Canton, 
OH 44708

For induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present Drew Pearson.

Epilogue 4/29/2017: In Philadelphia during the NFL draft, Pearson stepped to the mic and offered this passionate delivery in announcing Dallas’ 2nd round selection.  He honored every Dallas Cowboy who has ever played along with owner Jerry Jones and coach Jason Garrett:

Now it’s time for an induction speech from him.

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Top Ten Single Season Defenses in NFL History : #8 1975 Minnesota Vikings

Much like the “dead ball” era in major league baseball when pitchers dominated the 1960’s, NFL defenses in the ’70’s were the equivalent in football. Up in Minnesota, the Vikings used a dominant front four to limit opponents to 225.2 yards per game. Far and away the best in the league that year. In fact the ’75 Steelers, #9 on this list, was ranked 4th allowing 261.5 yards for the season. They only gave up 180 points or 12.3 pts per game in the ’75 campaign.

Interestingly this team didn’t use it’s cold weather advantage to compile these statistics. They played 3 of their final 4 games on the road. One of those came in the temperature controlled Silverdome against the Lions. Within their statistics you can definitely see their dominance. They held 6 teams to 10 points or less while ranking #1 against the pass (115.8 yds / gm) and #1 against the run (109.4 yds/ gm).  This team threatened to go undefeated bolting out to a 10-0 start.

Hall of Fame DE Carl Eller warming up pregame.

Led by All Pro and Pro Bowl DT Alan Page, this group put significant pressure on the quarterback. Free Safety Paul Krause, the NFL’s all time leading interceptor had 10 on the season. He made the Pro Bowl in ’75 along with MLB Jeff Siemon who picked off 3 more passes and CB Bobby Bryant who snatched 6. They were 3rd in interceptions with 28.

NFL's All Time interception leader with 81. Paul Krause

NFL’s All Time interception leader with 81. Hall of Famer Paul Krause

The only knock on this group is they played just 2 top 10 offenses the entire year. However they did face the #1 ranked offense in the Buffalo Bills in the season finale. OJ was threatening for 2,000 again and playing at home, was held to 57 yards rushing to finish with 1,817. They held the Bills to just 13 points and forced them to miss the playoffs.

From this group, Alan Page, Paul Krause, and DE Carl Eller all made the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There are many who believe DE Jim Marshall should be in as well. This team went into the playoffs with a head of steam. They lost 17-10, when Roger Staubach hit Drew Pearson in the famous “Hail Mary” with :24 left in the NFC Divisonal Playoffs.

There stellar defensive season ranks 8th in The Chancellor of Football’s list.

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Hail Mary: Dallas Cowboys 1975 Miracle Finish

Roger Staubach lets fly against the Minnesota Vikings in the 1975 Hail Mary Game

There are some NFL games that last in the memory longer than others, especially when it comes to playoff games.  None holds true more than the miracle finish that won the 1975 NFC Playoff game for the Dallas Cowboys over the Minnesota Vikings 17-14. Minnesota was trying to equal the feat of the Dolphins in terms of reaching their 3rd straight Super Bowl. Yet they had to get by the rebuilding Cinderella Cowboys who were in the midst of a rebuilding year. The window was closing for this great team to win that elusive Super Bowl.

After the upset loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl IV, the Purple People Eater defense had stayed among the league’s best while the offense had to be revamped. After going a few seasons without having adequately replaced Joe Kapp, the Vikings reacquired Fran Tarkenton in 1972 to add leadership and a grade A quarterback to the offense.  Also in 1972, they acquired John Gilliam who became the first deep threat ever for the Vikings. In that first year, Gilliam teamed with Tarkenton to become the first Viking in team history to top 1000 yards in receiving.

They finally had some offense but needed one more element and got that boost in the 1973 draft.  Chuck Foreman gave the Vikings their first great running back. Combining his skills with Gilliam and Tarkenton and the Vikings made it to the top of the NFC.  However back to back Super Bowl losses to Miami and Pittsburgh dulled some of the luster to the 1973 and ’74 seasons. Yet they were seasoned and primed to win it all in 1975. Just have to get past a youthful Dallas Cowboys team that made the playoffs as a wildcard. Easy money….right??

After missing the playoffs in 1974 while transitioning in 14 new players, the Cowboys had said goodbye to familiar faces like Bob Lilly, George Andrie, Chuck Howley, Calvin Hill, and Walt Garrison.  Players that had epitomized the era of the “Next Year’s Champion” Cowboys through their ultimate triumph in Super Bowl VI.  From 1966-1972 this team was among the league’s elite playing for multiple championships. Yet as we make it into the mid 70s, those aging great players started to retire and a new breed of Cowboys started to infuse the roster. An Ed “Too Tall” Jones in place of a George Andrie, a D.D. Lewis to replace a Chuck Howley. Understand this team had plenty of veterans to lead this young team into this playoff game. MLB Lee Roy Jordan, OLB Dave Edwards, DT Jethro Pugh, and CB Mel Renfro were among the mainstays on defense.

On offense Roger Staubach had developed into a complete NFL quarterback. His ability to move within the pocket was enhanced with the installation of the “Shotgun” formation. Coach Landry had re-introduced a formation that was the birth-child of the early 1960s San Francisco 49ers and Coach “Red” Hickey.  This hodge podge set of Cowboys made the pilgrimmage to Minnesota’s Metropolitan Stadium for an NFC Playoff Game.  The ’75 Cowboys didn’t even win their division, they came in with a 10-4 record and seemed to go as far as their talent could take them…right??

To borrow a line from Chris Berman “That’s why they play the games!!”

Drew Pearson scoring on the “Hail Mary” with :18

Epilogue: It was this game that launched the mid to late 70’s Dallas Cowboys. Roger Staubach had already performed a great come from behind playoff game against the 49ers in the 30-28 epic1973 NFC Divisional Game out in Candlestick. Yet it was this second one that spread the belief in his team psychologically that they were never out of a ball game with Roger at the controls.

This was also the game that ushered in Drew Pearson as a playmaker that would be a scourge for many a Cowboy foe over the next decade or so in the playoffs. They would go on to win the NFC Championship in an upset blowout of the Los Angeles Rams in the LA Coliseum 37-7 before falling to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 21-17,  in Super Bowl X.

As for the Minnesota Vikings a window was narrowing shut on their championship chances.  The great line of Hall of Famer Carl Eller, Hall of Famer Alan Page, Jim Marshall, and Doug Sutherland was aging and wasn’t as dominant as in years past. In the 1976 season, Buddy Ryan was hired to coax one more good year out of this group. They got it even though they wore down toward the end of the season. They made it to their 3rd Super Bowl in 4 years, and 4th  Super Bowl in 8 years total yet they lost to the Oakland Raiders 32-14 in the 11th edition.

The latter part of the 1970s saw the great play of the Vikings diminish as their stars retired or were phased out. Fran Tarkenton would go on to retire with more passing yards than any quarterback in  NFL history with 47,003 yards. The day of the “Hail Mary” game dealt Tarkenton a more severe blow when he learned his father had died of a heart attack while watching the game in Georgia.  He was standing in a CBS truck when he learned of his father’s passing.

Yet there is one lingering question from the “Hail Mary” game… Did Drew Pearson interfere with CB Nate Wright or did Nate Wright simply overrun the play?? While it can be noted that if you look at the play before the touchdown, you can see Preston Pearson lose his footing. So it doesn’t seem implausible…. Did he push off??