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Hall of Fame 'Knocks': 'Hail Mary' Tandems Final Completion

Hall of Fame 'Knocks': 'Hail Mary' Tandems Final Completion

02/16/2021
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By George Veras
Executive Producer, Pro Football Hall of Fame

First-person on-site accounts of the Class of 2021 Pro Football Hall of Fame “Knocks on the Door.”

Football lore is legendary, if not the stories themselves but the story-tellers, like NFL Films. But with due respect to the father-son combination of Hall of Famers and NFL Films co-founders Ed and Steve Sabol, this next story is about as John Facenda voiceover-ready – with music by Sam Spence – and by coming full circle as made for NFL Films as any tale ever told.

Chapter 1: the Cowboys-Vikings playoff game in the 1975 NFC Divisional Round. The scene: a titanic defensive struggle in the frigid and windy conditions at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minn. With the clock ticking down to 0:00, Roger Staubach heaves a throw to wide receiver Drew Pearson, who’s streaking down the right sideline toward the end zone. The wind grabs the ball, forcing Pearson to pivot back to make the catch before covered the last few yards into the end zone

When asked about the play after the game, Staubach, a devout Catholic, looked up and said, “It was a prayer, a ‘Hail Mary.’” Church and religion had rarely been evoked in football postgame news conferences to that point, but coming from the choirboy, innocent face of a Navy veteran – the former No. 1 pick whom the Cowboys had waited four years as he fulfilled his military service obligation – it came across as spoken from the pulpit. Pearson’s response was reflective of a free agent from Tulsa who scrapped and clawed his way to become Staubach’s favorite target: “I had to make the catch.”

Roger was inducted into the Hall in 1985. Drew waited until 2021 for his Hall baptism.

It is not that catch that got Drew into the Hall. Roger called him “the best receiver ever.” Not very large or fast, Drew was so determined to make the Cowboys he rented an apartment above where Roger parked every day to follow him into the weight room, alone, at 6:30 a.m. Roger noticed that, but also noticed Drew was dragging on the practice field. He found out Pearson had another job, paying $50 a day, unloading iron scraps to supplement his meager $150 signing bonus just to live in that apartment to work out with Roger.

Roger got Gil Brandt to up the bonus to $500, and the result was seeing No. 12 throwing a decade’s worth of key completions to No. 88. The Cowboys’ top receiver wearing “88” became a tradition that continued through Michael Irvin to Dez Bryant and now CeeDee Lamb.

Chapter 2: The 2021 “Knock on the Door.” The scene: An orchestrated meeting called by Jerry Jones, through a Cowboys “insider” (preserving his identity for any future stings), at the STAR in Frisco for Roger and Drew to discuss “a real estate deal.”

Flying into Dallas that same day – after meeting Coach Tom Flores at his home in California – was Pro Football Hall of Fame President & CEO David Baker. One year earlier, Baker had watched Drew hold a preemptive “Hall of Fame announcement social media party.” Then, denied a spot on the Centennial Class of 2020, Drew bitterly denounced the selection process.

As Drew and Roger walked past the five Lombardi Super Bowl trophies in the lobby of the STAR, Baker was given the cue to begin his walk, with cameras following, crossing past the wall of all 32 NFL team helmets to the back door of the meeting room. His fist pounded on the narrow door, and through the wall was heard Jones’ voice: “Drew, could you please get that?”

The heavy door swung out toward Baker.

“What is this? … Oh, no. … He’s not here just to tell me, ‘Hi.’”

Behind Drew were Jerry and Roger, the latter sporting a statesman-like beard. “No, Drew, it is your time.”

Drew, looking fit enough to play the position still, choked through his words. “I can’t believe this. It is perfect … Roger and Jerry being here, I would have never thought it could be.”

Even though the tears welled, his voice was firm, the eyes remaining bright looking to Baker and back to his new Hall of Fame teammates. He recalled the apartment story, the “Hail Mary,” playing at Tulsa as a senior with future Hall of Famer Steve Largent an incoming freshmen.

“When I come to Canton for the Gold Jacket-only Ray Nitschke Luncheon,” he said, “I want to talk to all of them – Paul Warfield, Randy Moss, my fellow Hurricane Steve Largent – soak it all in and never leave.”

This from the Cowboy Insider who has been there for three decades: “I‘ve had the good fortune to be part of so many special days in my career, but today ranks right up there with the best. Nothing more touching than seeing the raw emotion and happiness from a 70 year-old man whose life now is going to be different – in a very positive way – for as long as he lives.”

Drew, this is only the beginning of the impact you will have going forward now that Canton is your forever home. Your story of hard work, struggle, grit and determination will surround the legend of the “Hail Mary” and the Cowboys’ tradition of wide receiver No. 88 that started with “Hall of Famer” Drew Pearson.

Watch Drew Pearson's "Knock"

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