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.
To 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??
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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