Drew Pearson gets rightful recognition

Roger Staubach remembers only one time he got mad at his favorite receiver. It was because, of all things, a celebration.

It occurred after Drew Pearson's second touchdown against the New York Giants on Dec. 2, 1979. Pearson leaped into the air with the intention to toss the ball into the stands before thinking better of taking a $150 fine. After a moment of indecision, he awkwardly hit the ground, spraining his right knee.

Pearson actually scored a 44-yard touchdown his next snap despite limping on a post route, but he wasn't himself the rest of the season. He certainly wasn't himself when the Los Angeles Rams visited Texas Stadium for a playoff game a few weeks later and the Dallas Cowboys' comeback attempt fell short in what ended up being Staubach's final game.

"To this day, I blame him for us not going to the Super Bowl in my last season," Staubach said. "That's how valuable he was."

Of course, Staubach long ago forgave Pearson. In fact, the Hall of Fame quarterback was the driving force for Pearson getting a fitting, long overdue celebration for his career.

On Sunday afternoon, Staubach's go-to guy will finally join him in the Cowboys' Ring of Honor. One-man selection committee Jerry Jones acknowledged when this year's class was announced that Staubach's persistent pushing for Pearson played a significant part in the Original 88 getting his due in Dallas.

"You want to go in on your own credentials," said Pearson, who owned since-broken franchise records for receptions (489) and receiving yards (7,822) when his career ended after the 1983 season. "For 28 years, that wasn't enough. That wasn't working for whatever reason.

"I think somebody needed a little push. Nobody pushes any better with respect than Roger Staubach."

This isn't a case of an old friend just lobbying for a buddy. Pearson's absence had long been an egregious omission from the Ring of Honor. A strong case could be made that Pearson merits Hall of Fame consideration.

Pearson began his NFL career as a too skinny, too slow undrafted afterthought and ended it as one of the league's premier clutch performers. He was an All-'70s receiver whose statistics compare favorably with those of Lynn Swann, the Steelers receiver from the same era who landed in the Hall of Fame because of his penchant for producing in the clutch.

"If you look at his productivity and the quality of his catches," Staubach said, "it was phenomenal."

The 50-yard touchdown pass from Staubach in the final minute of a 1975 playoff upset over the Vikings at Minnesota's Metropolitan Stadium is the first play that pops to mind when thinking of Pearson. It's the original Hail Mary, a football phrase coined by Staubach while recounting the play to reporters after the game.

Old-time Cowboys fans can choose from plenty of other clutch Pearson plays.

Maybe your favorite was his 50-yard touchdown catch from backup Clint "The Mad Bomber" Longley to cap a crazy Thanksgiving comeback over the hated Washington Redskins in 1974.

Or it might be his two touchdowns from Danny White in the final four minutes against the Atlanta Falcons to finish off a rally from 14 points down in a 1980 playoff game at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

And there were so many clutch connections with Staubach, aka Captain Comeback.

"Every time I threw it to Drew, I had a lot of confidence," Staubach said. "He wasn't afraid of anything. That had a lot to do with a lot of the big plays he made."

Added Pearson, half-kidding: "There's no truth to the rumor that I would hope we were losing in the fourth quarter and especially the last two minutes so I could pull out the football game. But I was always confident I could perform in those situations."

Pearson's personal favorite clutch memory is from his first playoff game, less than a year after no team deemed him worthy of being selected in a 17-round draft.

Pearson had his breakout performance the previous week, catching five passes for 140 yards and the first two touchdowns of his career during the regular-season finale, a rout of the St. Louis Cardinals. He followed that up with a 4-yard touchdown in the first quarter against the Rams, but he didn't catch another pass until late in the fourth quarter.

With the Cowboys protecting a one-point lead and momentum on the Rams' side, Staubach called double posts for Pearson and future Hall of Famer Bob Hayes.

"Drew," Staubach said to the rookie as the Cowboys broke the huddle, "I'm going to you all the way."

Pearson beat double coverage and caught a bullet from Staubach at midfield. The two defensive backs collided and Pearson glided into the end zone for an 83-yard score, the key play of the win.

"Hey, I think I can play this game," he told his brother, Carey "Moose" Pearson, on the drive from the stadium. "I think I can make a career in the NFL."

Pearson made a Ring of Honor career. Thanks to a little help from his quarterback, he's finally getting his rightful recognition.

Tim MacMahon covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com.