Pro Football Hall of Famer Gil Brandt, who served as vice president of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys from 1960 to 1989, explains what makes Cowboys great Drew Pearson, who joined the team as an undrafted college free agent in 1973, deserving of a bust in Canton.
I admit to having mixed emotions when I learned who had been chosen for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Centennial Class of 2020.
As excited as I was to see one of my favorite former players, safety Cliff Harris, tapped for induction, I was crushed that another Dallas Cowboys legend had fallen short in the selection process.
So I was overjoyed on Tuesday to learn that player, wide receiver Drew Pearson, took one giant step toward induction with his selection as the senior finalist for the Hall of Fame's Class of 2021. While Pearson is not quite there yet, there is now a clear path for one of the game's greatest wideouts to get his due.
Pearson still needs 80 percent of the votes from the Hall's 48 selectors to be inducted. It is not a lock, but history shows us the odds are in Pearson's favor, with 17 of the past 19 senior candidates nominated between 2009 and 2019 passing with flying colors. The lone exceptions in that span were defensive end Claude Humphrey, who was ultimately chosen in 2014 after being rejected in 2009, and guard Dick Stanfel, who was ultimately selected in 2016 after failing to be inducted in 2012.
The well-deserved respect the Senior Committee has earned goes a long way toward influencing voters, as evidenced by the committee ultimately helping players like Humphrey and Stanfel earn induction.
I'm hoping the same weight is given to Pearson's nomination over several other outstanding senior candidates, including the late Ken Riley and Chuck Howley, one of my favorite former Cowboys who remains the only player from a losing team to win Super Bowl MVP honors (in Super Bowl V).
But just don't take it from the Senior Committee (for whom I served as a consultant this year, along with fellow Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau). Take it from me.
As a scout, there's a special pride in unearthing a college free agent who shows they belonged at the top of what would have been their draft class. Pearson falls under that umbrella, along with Harris in 1970. If Pearson joins Harris in Canton, he would make me only the second executive in NFL history, besides Paul Brown, to sign two undrafted college free agents who went on to reach the Hall of Fame to the same roster.
In today's NFL, we would have drafted Pearson out of Tulsa via New Jersey, where he was a high school quarterback following in the footsteps of Joe Theismann -- or "Theesman," as Pearson knew him back then.
The late, great Dick Mansperger was among our scouts who had Pearson squarely on our radar. But in 1973, we figured we didn't have to invest the draft capital at the receiver position, where so much talent was readily available after all selections were made. How times have changed.
After Drew drove his Volkswagen stuffed with personal belongings from Tulsa to Dallas, I suggested he live in an apartment complex across the street from where Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach would do his offseason training. I'm not sure Roger ever caught on as to why Drew was always there whenever Roger wanted a partner for throwing sessions.
The personal chemistry between Staubach and Pearson was on full display in 1975, when they connected on a Hail Mary to win our playoff battle with Minnesota. That chemistry helped Drew make the 1970s All-Decade Team, a squad so elite that all but one first-team member is either in or headed toward the Hall for induction. That member -- Drew -- is a fantastic all-around talent who averaged a healthy 16 yards per catch on 489 catches. Compared to what today's receivers put up, Drew's yearly totals would reflect a secondary wideout, but they were among the league's best in his prime years, between 1974 and '79. His legacy continues to this day in Dallas, whenever a special rookie wide receiver is given Drew's No. 88, to try and follow in his giant footsteps. Michael Irvin and Dez Bryant have met the standard in the past, and 2020 first-rounder CeeDee Lamb is the next to try.
Fittingly, Dallas and Pittsburgh, one of the Cowboys' great historical rivals, are set to play each other in the 2021 Hall of Fame Game. I'm hoping CeeDee, the Cowboys organization and yours truly are there in person to see Pearson let the same tears of joy run down his face, when he sees his bust unveiled, that he did on Tuesday when learning he was on the cusp of receiving the famed knock on the door from Hall of Fame president David Baker on Feb. 6, 2021, after the vote for the Class of 2021 is conducted.