Possibly one of the greatest players to ever go undrafted was the original #88, the one and only, Drew Pearson.
In 1973, Pearson was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Dallas Cowboys and soon became one of the NFL’s greatest wide receivers. He earned career records of 489 receptions and 7,822 receiving yards, along with 189 rushing yards, 155 yards returning kickoffs, and 50 total touchdowns.
Pearson is known as “Mr. Clutch” for his clutch catches in game-winning situations, especially the “Hail Mary” reception from Roger Staubach that sealed the victory in a 1975 playoff game against the Vikings.
The Cowboys were 8-point underdogs going into Minnesota. Trailing 14-10 late in the 4th quarter, Roger Staubach completed 4 straight passes to Drew Pearson. At midfield, the Cowboys didn’t call a play from their playbook. Instead the only instruction came from Staubach to Pearson, and that was to run a specific route that had won them the Thanksgiving Day game a year before. “Run a turn and take off,” Basically, “Go Long.”
Staubach said a Hail Mary prayer before taking the snap from the shotgun with 32 seconds left on the clock. Thus, the Hail Mary Pass.
He pump faked, which warded off one of the safeties double covering Drew Pearson on the opposite sideline and then launched it up toward the end zone. The ball came down and hit Pearson at the five yard line. He controlled the ball with his right elbow and hip before taking a few steps into the end zone for the game winner.
The play is one of the most prolific plays in NFL history and is the first Hail Mary pass.
Thank you, Drew Pearson.
He also caught the game winning touchdown in a 1973 playoff game against the Los Angeles Rams. He ran the same route in Minnesota as he did when he caught the game-winning touchdown pass in the 1974 Thanksgiving game against the Redskins a year before. All three of those plays were named among the Top 75 plays in NFL history by NFL Films.
Pearson helped the Cowboys to three Super Bowl appearances and a victory in Super Bowl XII in 1978. He also scored a touchdown in Super Bowl X.
In 1979, Pearson, Tony Hill and Tony Dorsett helped the Cowboys become the first team in NFL history to have two 1,000-yard wide receivers and a 1,000-yard running back. Pearson and Hill also became the first wide receiver tandem in Cowboys history to record 1,000-yard receiving seasons in the same year.
Pearson was named one of the Top 20 Pro Football All-Time wide receivers, he was also named to the NFL 1970’s All-Decade Team. Pearson was named All-Pro three times, All-NFC in 1975 and second Team All NFC in 1978. In addition, Pearson was selected for the Pro Bowl in 1974, 1976 and 1977.
His career accomplishments left such a mark with the Dallas Cowboys that his number 88 jersey is reserved for the best talent at wide receiver. Michael Irvin and Dez Bryant have been the only ones to wear it.
On August 19, 2011 Jerry Jones announced that Pearson would be inducted into the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor.
Drew Pearson was more than just an undrafted wonder, he was an undrafted hero, an anomaly, a player that embodied the spirit of America’s Team and defined what it meant to be a Dallas Cowboy.