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The Original 88

Former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver, Drew Pearson, talks family, football and finding new fame

 

Photography by Brandon Hurd

If you’re not a football fan you probably wouldn’t recognize Drew Pearson’s name right off the bat, but chances are you know his legacy. Drew made the famous catch from quarterback Roger Staubach in 1975 to win against the Minnesota Vikings, which became the origins of the “Hail Mary” pass. He helped the Cowboys make three Super Bowl appearances including a victory in 1978, and in 2011 he was inducted into the Dallas Cowboys’ Ring of Honor. He made the number 88 a part of Cowboys history long before Dez Bryant and Michael Irving.

But Drew wasn’t quite done making history. This past spring, he was chosen to announce the Cowboys’ second draft pick on national television in Philadelphia; home to one of the Cowboys’ biggest rivals, the Eagles. It was an opportunity he was surprised and incredibly honored to receive.

“I was…honored because there are so many other Cowboys that are worthy. There are Hall of Famers that are Ring of Honor members…there’s a lot of deserving guys,” Drew says.

Two hours before the draft started, all the presenters gathered together in the green room backstage. But Drew didn’t mind the wait. He was surrounded by great players he admired like Jim Brown, Jim Taylor and Frank O’Harris. There was a sense of camaraderie; everyone was dreading the idea of having to pronounce a tricky name on live TV. As Drew watched the various presenters read their cards, he realized he wanted to make the most of this otherwise fleeting moment.   

“I’m sitting here, [watching] all this time—I’m not going to go out for two seconds, read a card, and go back,” Drew says. “I laid out what I wanted to say, and good thing I did because once I came around that corner… Now the boo’s were coming.”

With a smile on his face, he opened his speech: “How ‘bout them Cowboys? I want to thank the Eagles fans for allowing me to have a career in the NFL. Thank you!”

“When I started talking the boo’s kept getting louder! I think that [the audience] can’t hear me so I started projecting louder and louder. Being in the media, I should know better that the microphone always picks you up. I didn’t think it was any big deal. I just made a presentation and walked back. It was cool hanging with the NFL commissioner, [Roger Goodell], for that extra minute backstage. He was all excited and pumped up.

“Next thing you know, I’m getting messages saying that I’m trending worldwide. I was surprised [my speech] was received that way. It wasn’t intended to make a splash like that. It was intended to highlight some of the great things about the Cowboys organization right in the face of Philadelphia Eagles fans. That was intended.”

Every Cowboys fan has seen the video, and if you haven’t you’re not much of a fan. It’s a minute and thirty seconds of true greatness that will get your blood pumping and make your thirst for football season even worse.  

Drew continued:

“On behalf of the five-time world champion Dallas Cowboys, Hall of Fame owner Jerry Jones, Team Jones and the Jones family, coach Jason Garrett, all the Cowboys players that played before me, that played with me, that played after me, with the second pick and the 60th pick in the second round, the Dallas Cowboys select defensive back from Colorado, Chidobe Awuzie.”

Many believe it will go down as one of the best—if not the best—draft pick announcements of all time. But Drew does give props to the Eagles fans, whose feathers he ruffled quite easily.

They’re pretty obnoxious, but you can’t fault them because they’re excited about their team. Sometimes they go to great lengths to show that support, but other than that they’re pretty cool fans…The only problem with the Eagles fanbase is that they’ve never won a championship, and they’re still so hungry for that they become extra excited about anything.”

Drew and I meet at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse at Legacy West for a drink. He’s a sharp dresser wearing a muted blue jacket, a white pocket square with blue detail, a white linen shirt underneath and of course, his Super Bowl ring. It’s nearly impossible to miss. His coolness matches the elegance of the restaurant’s decor. As he walks in through the bar, patrons address him as Mr. Pearson and shake his hand with a mix of fervor and fangirl. Even our photographer snags a quick selfie with him before we sit down to talk. Clearly this is Cowboys country, and to fans, former players like Drew are living legends who happen to live just down the street. Drew and his family have resided in Plano for over 15 years. He wasn’t surprised at all when Jerry Jones decided to move the Cowboys practice facility from Valley Ranch to Frisco.

I had a feeling when the Cowboys said they were looking to move…that this was the area they would end up being in because they see the growth. Jerry’s not just into football, but real estate too. They have their eye on all the hot areas, and this is the hottest. They wanted to be a part of that.”

Drew originally moved out west of the Tollway to escape the hustle and bustle of city life, but he’s more than happy that city life is once again knocking on his back door.  

“When I first moved out here…we had one mall, Collin Creek Mall. I moved to have space and freedom. But now everyone says, ‘Oh man, it’s too crowded, let me move further north,’ but then I say, ‘Why should I move?’ We have everything we want right here in a two and a half mile radius. Let everyone else move. I’m staying right here. I see all the conveniences of living in this area, and I want to take advantage of that. The quality of life in Plano is really second to none.”

Currently, Drew is waiting for football season to start up again, just like the rest of us. It’ll be his 13th season covering the Cowboys for NBC Channel 5. For him it’s a way to stay connected to the Cowboys. He says doing live shots from the stadium on Sunday nights for the post-game show is chaotic, but also exciting and helps get him out of bed on game day. “I can’t play,” Drew says, “but this is the next best thing.”

Even though he loves the sport, Drew admits the game just isn’t quite the same anymore. Due to the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement, a labor agreement made between NFL Players Association and the team owners, teams have stricter rules for practice times.   

I just don’t like limitations on preparations. I think it limits the ability for a team to be better. Today’s game, as far as training camp is concerned, is a lot easier. We veteran guys call [training camp] Club Med now,” Drew jokes. “We used to go two straight weeks with two-a-days. [Was our football playing] better…I don’t know. We didn’t have as many injuries. The team stayed together. I think what we produced on the field was better quality football because of the consistency of the coaches, systems and players year in and year out. Now, you have players moving with free agency and coaches…changing on a regular basis. Therefore the product that’s out there on the field, I don’t think it’s the same quality. But it’s not noticeable because you got mediocrity against mediocrity. You don’t have greatness going against greatness like we did back in the day.”

Of course, there are a lot of things Drew misses from his 11 years as a Cowboy.

“I miss scoring touchdowns and beating the Redskins. And beating the Eagles,” Drew says with a flair of passion reminiscent of his draft announcement. “I miss beating the Giants. I miss talking noise out there. I miss being in that kind of condition. You know you’re a world-class athlete. You miss that level of satisfaction. I don’t want to be in that shape now, because it’s not just physical—it’s mental conditioning, too. If you slap me, I don’t need to be able to take it now. It’s okay for it to hurt. If you slapped me back in the day, I would have been strong enough to take it! That’s a mentality you had to have back then, but of course you become a little softer.”  

Drew says softer, but one could say his priorities simply changed from football to family. He’s got two stepchildren and five grandkids to chase around, plus plenty of their sporting events to attend. Two of his grandsons will play on Frisco’s varsity football team this season, so he’s hopeful there may be another star in the family. He also has three adult children—two daughters and one son—who have all graduated college; his son finished this past year. He considers putting them through school to be his greatest achievement.

“Education has always been important in our household. As a kid growing up it was important to [my] parents. In our household back in the day, we had ‘no pass, no play’. If you didn’t pass, you didn’t play—my dad made that very clear. I feel blessed that I had that kind of upbringing. [Going to college] was…stressed within our family. All of us seven kids, all my brothers and sisters, went to college and graduated. I wanted my children to be raised the same way,” Drew says.

Being a Dallas Cowboys is a close second best.

“My adult years of becoming a man were pretty much formulated with my time on the Cowboys. That was a special time. I had mentors like Tom Landry, Roger Staubach, Lee Roy Jordan, Bob Hayes, Calvin Hill…all these great guys helped me develop and adjust to becoming a Dallas Cowboy and a mature man,” Drew says.

The last question I have to ask Drew: Is it finally the Cowboys’ year?

“It could be the time for the Cowboys because you just look at percentages—it’s been 23 years now, so it might be our turn. Before you get to that championship you’ve got to knock on the door. Maybe last year’s success was them knocking on the door. If they can build off of that, they can not only knock on the door, but kick that door in and go on right to the Super Bowl.”

If that’s the case, Drew finds the location of the Super Bowl fitting: Minnesota. The same place where he made history catching that Hail Mary pass.

Cori Baker
Cori Baker is a journalist and photographer based in Plano, Texas. Cori is an alumna of Plano Senior High School and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor's in Journalism and a minor in business.

Cori has worked as an intern for KUT Radio, Austin's NPR affiliate station, a photographer for Reporting Texas, and is currently the Creative Assistant at the Plano Profile. Her work has been featured on Reporting Texas, Orange Magazine, Plano Profile, and the Austin American-Statesman.

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