FRISCO, Texas – Over the course of a 33-year wait to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Drew Pearson has been dealt some tough surprises.
As the only member of the NFL's 1970s All-Decade team not to be inducted, Pearson joked that the only question he seems to hear is "why aren't you?" Those questions reached a crescendo just last year, when the original No. 88 learned yet again that his wait would continue.
In 2021, though, the surprise was a good one.
Speaking Sunday morning as one of the seven newest members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Pearson detailed how he learned of his induction – and how both the Cowboys' owner and his quarterback, Roger Staubach, orchestrated it to catch him off guard.
"Jerry Jones requested us for a meeting," Pearson said. "He said he didn't know what it was about, but he thought it had something to do with real estate and the businesses going on at The Star. I figured this was logical, because Roger and Jerry are involved in a business deal with a high rise condominium there, and I thought maybe they wanted to include me in this deal."
Pearson and Staubach took the meeting, arriving to the Cowboys' facility at the same time and sitting down with Jones in a meeting room just off the lobby of the main headquarters. Very quickly, what seemed to be a business meeting turned into a celebration.
"We come in, he says a few words and they're talking – and the next thing you know, you hear that knock on the door," Pearson said. "Jerry tells me to go open the door, so I open the door and bam – the doorway was filled with Mr. David Baker."
Baker has of course become synonymous with Hall of Fame induction. The enormous President and CEO of the Pro Football Hall of Fame has become famous for his thunderous knock, as he visits inductees in their hotel rooms to inform them of the good news.
Of course, one of the many changes brought on by COVID-19 is that candidates did not stay in a hotel in the Super Bowl host city, as has been the custom. Instead, Baker traveled the country during the previous two weeks to inform them of the news – which they then had to keep a secret until the choices were announced.
Pearson said it was a hard secret to keep, though the payoff was well worth it.
"If that's the hardest thing I had to do to get into the Hall of Fame, I'll do it – and I did it happily," he said.
Pearson's induction resolves one of the biggest head-scratchers in recent Hall of Fame memory. As a three-time All-Pro, Pearson retired with several Cowboys receiving records and helped the team cement itself as a perennial favorite in the 1970s, highlighted by a win in Super Bowl XII. He was the first notable receiver to wear the No. 88, which Michael Irvin, Dez Bryant and now CeeDee Lamb have all helped to make iconic in the NFL. He even sported an iconic hairstyle, as Pearson joked that his bust in Canton will be sure to feature the signature afro from his playing days.
Despite the long wait, and despite the arguments that it shouldn't have been so long, Pearson said it was all worthwhile. As both he and Baker pointed out, enshrinement is forever. And while Pearson said he was happy that he can call himself a Hall of Famer for the rest of his life, it's also something his family can enjoy and benefit from long after he's gone.
Whether he had gotten the call during his first year of eligibility, or right now – 33 years later – Pearson said the feeling is just as good. And however long he might have waited to achieve this accomplishment, it's something he can cherish forever.
"I'm just excited that it happened," he said. "To me, it didn't matter when it happened – yeah, I was disappointed a few times and wondered why. But I know it's a tough process. I survived that process, and I'm a Pro Football Hall of Famer. That's all that matters."