Before star wide receivers Michael Irvin, Dez Bryant, and CeeDee Lamb rose to prominence with the Dallas Cowboys, another legendary Dallas wideout wore number 88 and made mincemeat of opposing secondaries.
That Cowboys wide receiver was no other than Drew Pearson.
Pearson, who started his pro football career as a punt and kick return specialist, earned the nickname “Mr. Clutch” because he always came through for the Cowboys in crunch time.
An eventual three-time First-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection, Pearson ran precise routes and caught anything Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach threw in his direction.
Pearson eventually entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the summer of 2021 after a lengthy 38-year wait.
This is Drew Pearson’s incredible gridiron journey.
Drew Pearson was born to parents Samuel Sr. and Minnie in Newark, NJ on January 12, 1951, per his 2004 autobiography, Hail Mary: The Drew Pearson Story, Ring of Honor Edition. Drew had three sisters: Denise, Debbie, and Sandra, and three brothers: Samuel Jr., Andre, and Carey.
Sadly, a younger sister, Sharon, passed away shortly after Minnie Pearson gave birth to her.
The Pearson family moved to a three-story residence in South River, NJ in 1954. Drew’s uncle, aunt, and cousins lived on the first floor while a single woman named Margie Brown occupied the third floor.
Drew’s dad Sam Sr. worked as a weigher and foreman for an agricultural firm in New Jersey. Drew described his dad as a physical man and a strict disciplinarian in his 2004 autobiography.
Drew’s mom Minnie worked as a house cleaner in the South River, NJ area.
Since both of Drew’s parents were away working during the day, he and his siblings had to fend for themselves. They had to learn how to cook food as well as wash and iron their clothes.
Drew has excelled at those things to this very day. He credited his household experiences as a youngster in New Jersey for these skills in his adult life.
Drew’s older brother Sam played football, basketball, and baseball in his youth. Drew looked up to him and as a result, played Pop Warner football when he was seven years old in the Garden State.
Although Drew played organized football at a young age, he still considered baseball his favorite sport.
“Growing up, nothing interested me except sports,” Pearson wrote in his 2004 book. “Even at the age of seven, all I wanted to do was play ball.”
First inductee Drew Pearson played @ South River HS in NJ.
His first touchdown catch in HS came from the arm of Joe Theismann.
— High School Football America (@HSFBamerica) August 8, 2021
The Pearson family moved to Edison, NJ when Drew was nine years old in 1960. They did not share this large house with anybody. It was a proud moment for them.
Regrettably, Samuel Pearson, Sr. became a raging alcoholic around this time. Whenever he was not in his right frame of mind, he flew into a rage inside their house.
Drew Pearson attended South River High School in his hometown. He excelled in football, basketball, and baseball for the South River Rams varsity squads.
When Drew entered his freshman season, he and his family left Edison, NJ, and moved back to the South River area. His parents also divorced when he began his high school athletics career.
Pearson played quarterback and wide receiver for Rams head football coach Joe Bellissimo. He also played on the same team as future Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann.
Pearson recorded his first receiving touchdown as a sophomore in 1966. He caught a 60-yard touchdown pass from Theismann that year.
Pearson took over as the Rams’ quarterback in his junior season. With Pearson under center, South River lost just two games over the next two years.
Drew Pearson also earned First-Team New Jersey All-State honors following his senior season in 1968.
As Pearson’s high school football career wound down, he committed to the Tulsa Golden Hurricane. He accepted a football and baseball scholarship from the school, per DrewPearson.com.
Pearson was a scrawny 145-pound high school quarterback, per Jeff Sullivan of the Dallas Cowboys official website.
Pearson did not evolve into a 200-pound signal caller as his football career progressed. Instead, a crucial position switch during his latter days at Tulsa made all the difference in his eventual Pro Football Hall of Fame career.
College Days with the Tulsa Golden Hurricane
Drew Pearson attended the University of Tulsa from 1969 to 1972. He played for Tulsa Golden Hurricanes head football coaches Claude Gibson and F.A. Dry.
Pearson started his college football career as a quarterback. He completed 36 of 86 passes for 423 passing yards, one touchdown, and five interceptions as a sophomore in 1970.
Gibson converted Pearson into a flanker prior to the latter’s senior season in 1972. It was a massive turning point for Pearson, who became a clutch wide receiver during his playing days with the Dallas Cowboys from 1973 to 1983.
It was a seamless transition for Pearson, who had a combined 1,119 receiving yards and eight touchdowns on 55 receptions from 1971 to 1972.
The undrafted free agent from Tulsa who made some of the biggest catches in NFL history…
— Tulsa Football (@TulsaFootball) February 7, 2021
Unfortunately for Gibson, the school fired him midway through the 1972 NCAA campaign. Former Houston Oilers assistant coach F.A. Dry took over for Gibson that year.
Nevertheless, Gibson thought Pearson was a natural wide receiver. He also could not fathom the idea that no NFL team drafted him in 1973.
“He was a natural,” Gibson said (via ProFootballHOF.com). “Moving him from quarterback was the best thing for him personally, but the worst thing for me and the team because we didn’t have anyone to turn the option right. It’s ridiculous he wasn’t drafted.”
Although Drew Pearson emerged as a top-notch wide receiver, the Golden Hurricane struggled during his three-year tenure with the team from 1970 to 1972.
Tulsa averaged just five wins per season year during that three-year stretch. They extended their postseason drought to seven seasons.
Nonetheless, Drew Pearson rose from obscurity, defied the odds, and eventually became a Hall of Fame wideout with Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys in the next phase of his gridiron journey.
Pro Football Career
The Dallas Cowboys signed Drew Pearson as an undrafted free agent prior to the 1973 NFL season.
According to Sullivan, the Cowboys signed him to a $14,500 contract with a measly $150 signing bonus that year.
Pearson immediately used $20 from his signing bonus to pay for his gas on the way back home. He signed his deal at a Tulsa, OK hotel during a meeting with a Cowboys scout.
Pearson eventually became one of the best undrafted free-agent acquisitions in Cowboys franchise history.
He joined a Cowboys juggernaut under the leadership of head coach Tom Landry. Dallas had won six division titles in the past seven years prior to Pearson’s rookie year in 1973.
The Cowboys won their first Super Bowl title in franchise history in 1971. They beat Don Shula’s Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VI, 24-3.
Can’t miss #8/8 day!
— Drew Pearson (@88DrewPearson) August 9, 2022
Drew Pearson, the unheralded wide receiver out of Tulsa with the huge afro, would help Dallas continue its winning ways until he played his final down in the National Football League in 1983.
It seemed the odds were stacked against Pearson when he participated in his first NFL training camp.
The Cowboys already had three veteran wideouts in their lineup. They also invited 41 free agents to camp in 1973.
However, Drew Pearson remained unfazed.
Pearson put in the work and impressed Landry and his coaching staff. Cowboys wide receivers coach Jerry Tubbs told The Associated Press (via ProFootballHOF.com) that Pearson had an uncanny ability to make himself wide-open in zone defenses.
Pearson’s blocking ability also impressed Tubbs, who thought Dallas stumbled upon a diamond in the rough.
Pearson punched his ticket into the NFL because of his potential as a special teams player. He started off as a punt and kick return specialist who racked up 168 return yards as a rookie in 1973.
Not only that, but Staubach also spoke with Cowboys personnel director Gil Brandt prior to the 1973 NFL season. He wanted Drew Pearson to make Dallas’s roster, per the team’s official website.
Pearson made the Cowboys’ roster and eventually asked Staubach to present him to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2021.
The Cowboys helped Pearson, who was already a married 22-year-old man at the time, and his family settle into an apartment near the team’s training facility, per DallasCowboys.com.
Pearson habitually looked for Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach’s car in the parking lot from his apartment balcony. If Staubach had already clocked in for informal workouts, Pearson quickly followed suit.
Pearson and some of his fellow NFL players had second jobs back in the 1970s. He also had a full-time job hauling furniture in semi-truck trailers when he burst onto the pro football ranks in 1973.
Pearson’s daily grind also included three-hour workouts six times per week. An exhausted Drew had no idea how he was going to keep up.
Then, out of nowhere, Staubach put in a good word for Pearson yet again. The former told Brandt about Pearson’s situation.
Before long, Brandt called Pearson and gave him a $500 check so he did not have to load containers during the day.
“This wasn’t cash, either,” a relieved Drew Pearson told Sullivan some 48 years later. “This was an official Cowboys check. I took a picture of it. That covered the rent until we left for camp and was enough for two plane tickets home to Jersey before we left, so I quit the other job.”
Drew Pearson showed his human side before he took the field on Sunday afternoons. In his 2021 A Football Life documentary on the NFL Network, he mentioned throwing up due to nervousness before just about every game.
Pearson got his chance when Cowboys wide receiver Otto Stowe fractured his ankle in a Week 7 game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Pearson filled in for the injured Stowe and gave Cowboys fans a glimpse of his otherworldly potential at wideout.
Pearson had 388 yards and two touchdowns on 22 catches in Dallas’s remaining seven regular-season games. He also had two touchdowns in a postseason victory against the Los Angeles Rams.
Pearson earned a reputation as a receiver who always came through in crunch time for the Cowboys. That game against the Rams at Texas Stadium on December 23, 1973 started it all.
With the Cowboys leading 17-16 in the first quarter, Pearson caught a short pass from quarterback Roger Staubach.
Pearson was in the position to make a short gain when the Los Angeles defensive backs plowed into each other.
Consequently, Pearson ran into the end zone unscathed for an 83-yard touchdown. Dallas beat Los Angeles, 27-16.
Pearson considered that game his favorite memory at the Cowboys’ old Texas Stadium, per the 2008 book, Remembering Texas Stadium.
With Pearson hitting his stride as a rookie, the Cowboys won ten games and reached the 1973 NFC Championship Game against the Minnesota Vikings. Unfortunately, the Cowboys lost, 27-10.
Drew Pearson never looked back. He had 1,087 receiving yards and two touchdowns on 62 receptions in the 1974 NFL season. It was the first of Pearson’s two 1,000-yard receiving seasons in his 11-year pro football career.
Less than one year after that breakout postseason game against the Rams, Drew Pearson struck again.
This time around, Pearson torched the Washington Redskins in a Thanksgiving Day game in 1974.
With Washington leading 16-3 in the third quarter in Dallas, Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach sat out the remainder of the game due to an injury he sustained after a sack.
Dallas rookie quarterback Clint Longley took over for Staubach and threw an improbable 50-yard game-winning touchdown to Pearson with just 28 seconds left in the game.
The Cowboys won in shocking fashion, 24-23.
The Cowboys won just eight games in 1974. It was the fewest games Dallas had won since their sixth year in the NFL in 1965.
Consequently, the Cowboys missed the postseason for the first time in nine years.
Nevertheless, Drew Pearson earned the first of his three career Pro Bowl and three career First-Team All-Pro selections following the 1974 NFL season.
Pearson earned a reputation as a clutch performer for the Cowboys. He had eight touchdown receptions in the postseason in his 11-year Hall of Fame career.
One of Pearson’s best catches was his 50-yard Hail Mary reception that helped Dallas edge the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Divisional Round on December 28, 1975.
Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach pump-faked and scanned downfield in the game’s waning moments with Dallas trailing, 14-10. Staubach then lobbed a desperate 50-yard pass in Pearson’s direction.
“I just threw it and prayed,” Staubach, who finished the game with 246 passing yards, said at the time (via the StarTribune’s Ben Walter).” I couldn’t see whether or not Drew had caught it. I didn’t know we had the touchdown until I saw the official raise his arms.”
Pearson was jockeying for position with Vikings defensive back Nate Wright on the right sideline. Wright fell down as Pearson was about to make the catch near Minnesota’s five-yard line.
Pearson caught the football and walked into the end zone for the game-clinching touchdown. He threw the ball into the stands while the Vikings fans in attendance were in shock. Dallas prevailed, 17-14.
Pearson admitted he might have gotten away with offensive pass interference on the play. The call could have gone either way in the eyes of many football experts.
“It was a lucky catch, but it was the most important catch of my career,” Pearson said (via StarTribune).
Pearson’s 870 receiving yards led the league in 1977. He also had two touchdowns on 48 receptions that year.
Pearson continued delivering for Landry’s Cowboys as the 1970s wound down. He had 113 receiving yards on seven receptions in the 1977 postseason.
Behind Pearson’s exploits at wide receiver, the Cowboys won 12 games in the regular season and earned their second Super Bowl title in franchise history that year.
Dallas’s relentless defense made life miserable for Broncos quarterback Craig Morton in Super Bowl XII. The Cowboys sacked him twice and picked him off four times. Morton completed just four of 15 pass attempts for 39 yards.
The Cowboys prevailed in blowout fashion, 27-10. Drew Pearson earned his first and only Super Bowl ring.
Pearson earned his second consecutive Pro Bowl selection and second straight First-Team All-Pro berth at the season’s end.
Pearson continued playing at a high level in his final six pro football seasons. Not including the strike-shortened 1982 NFL season, he never had fewer than 545 receiving yards from 1978 to 1983.
His best two-year stretch occurred as the NFL ushered in the 1980s. Pearson had a combined 14 touchdown catches from 1979 to 1980.
The Cowboys averaged 12 wins per season during that memorable two-year time frame. Regrettably, Dallas never made it past the NFC Championship Game.
Drew Pearson had a combined 1,541 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns on 111 receptions from 1981 to 1983.
Pearson was primed for a 12th pro football season when his world came crashing down on March 21, 1984.
Drew and his brother Carey were driving in Drew’s sports car to their other brother’s residence that day.
Drew accidentally plowed his vehicle into a tractor-trailer. Sadly, Carey was killed on the spot.
According to police reports that the Los Angeles Times’ Gordon Monson obtained, Drew was speeding and had an alcohol level of .053.
Pearson did not understand how that accident occurred considering he just had two beers on the Cowboys’ team bus prior to driving his car. He and his teammates were playing poker at the back of the bus.
Drew’s liver sustained massive damage during the accident. In his 2021 documentary, he said the hole was as big as a grapefruit. He also mentioned that the auto accident involving his brother was the most trying time of his life.
Although his injury healed in time for the 1984 NFL season, Pearson’s doctors discouraged him from playing another down. They feared playing would compromise his long-term health.
Pearson listened and walked away from football prior to the 1984 NFL campaign.
Pearson told Monson that he dealt with insomnia while he was recovering at the hospital. Whenever he managed to sleep, he had nightmares.
At the time, Pearson was still reeling from the death of his father, a recent divorce, financial hardships, and rough patches in his newfound television career.
Drew Pearson admitted in his 2021 documentary that he fought depression in the years after his 1984 auto accident.
Pearson finished his legendary 11-year NFL career with 7,822 receiving yards and 48 touchdowns on 489 receptions.
He was not your ordinary wide receiver. He seemed to thrive in the most critical moments for the Cowboys. Pearson had 1,131 receiving yards on 68 receptions in 22 postseason games in his career.
Landry attributed Pearson’s clutch pass-catching abilities to his disciplined route running and natural abilities.
St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame cornerback Roger Wehrli agreed with Landry’s assessment of Pearson.
“Anything he touches, he catches,” Wehrli told The Associated Press (via ProFootballHOF.com).
It wasn’t surprising at all when Pearson earned the nickname “Mr. Clutch” during his 11-year tenure in Dallas, TX.
“ The Original 88 “ Drew Pearson … Super Bowl Champion … 3 X Pro Bowler … 3 X First Team All Pro … Lead The NFL In Receiving Yards (1977)… NFL 1970’s All-Decade Team … Without Question A Hall Of Fame Career … #CowboysNation pic.twitter.com/zJ8yp4sUNu
— GSH (@gman416) January 29, 2020
Pearson was also a durable wide receiver. He did not miss a game until the 1979 season—his seventh in the National Football League. He missed just three games in his pro football career—two of those were in the 1983 NFL campaign.
Although it took some time, Drew Pearson finally earned his rightful place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the summer of 2021.
Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach put Pearson on a pedestal after the latter hung up his cleats in the early 1980s.
“There just wasn’t a better receiver in the NFL over my career than Drew Pearson,” Staubach told Sullivan in 2021. “There just wasn’t.”
Drew Pearson has two daughters named Tori and Britni and a son, Brian.
Pearson embarked on a broadcasting career with CBS Sports shortly after he retired from the NFL in 1984. However, the company released him from his contract after just one season.
CBS Sports NFL executive producer Terry O’Neill told Pearson that he lacked excitement as a broadcaster, per the Los Angeles Times.
Pearson also felt he did not fit the network’s broadcasting style modeled after former Oakland Raiders head coach John Madden.
After Pearson left CBS Sports, he thought about returning to the NFL at the urging of Cowboys team president Tex Schramm. However, that never materialized.
Pearson learned from his doctors that contact sustained on the gridiron could potentially damage his scarred liver and cause internal bleeding.
As a result, Drew Pearson stayed retired from the NFL.
Pearson launched the Drew Pearson Company, a renowned headwear and apparel firm, in 1985. The company’s clientele includes Sonic, 7-Eleven, KFC, Pizza Hut, the National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Hockey League (NHL), and the National Basketball Association (NBA).
The company operates Drew Pearson’s Cowboys Legends Pro Shop, which has the biggest selection of Dallas Cowboys legends replica jerseys.
Pearson riled up Philadelphia Eagles fans when he announced the selection of former Colorado Buffaloes defensive back Chidobe Awuzie in the 2017 NFL Draft.
During Pearson’s short time on the podium, he shouted “How about ‘dem Cowboys?” and mentioned that the Cowboys were five-time Super Bowl champions.
Drew Pearson became a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the summer of 2021. He had to wait 38 years after his retirement before he earned his gold jacket and bust in Canton, OH.
Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach, the man who vouched for Drew’s entry onto the Dallas Cowboys’ official roster in 1973, was Pearson’s presenter.
When Pearson took the podium, he said he had the biggest afro in league history. It was probably the biggest one among the 354 busts inside the hall.
Part of Pearson’s Hall of Fame enshrinement speech reads:
“Some said I was hopeless, a mind tangled in the light. But guess what? Strong hearts just keep going, and that’s why I’m standing here tonight at the steps of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”
Pearson also thanked former Dallas Cowboys owner Clint Murchison, former Cowboys president and general manager Tex Schramm, former Cowboys vice president of player personnel Gil Brandt, and former Cowboys head coach Tom Landry.
Pearson gave credit to those four men for teaching him the business side of football.
Pearson became the fourth former Tulsa Golden Hurricane football player who entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He followed in the footsteps of Bob St. Clair, Jim Finks, and Steve Largent, per the school’s official athletics website.
Drew Pearson is also a member of the Tulsa Athletics Hall of Fame, the New Jersey Sports Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame, the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, the NFL 1970s All-Decade Team, and the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor.
Pearson’s high school alma mater, South River High School, named an adjacent street “Drew Pearson Hall of Fame Way” in his honor in the fall of 2022.