Tuesday, January 31, 2012

How Long Must Drew Pearson Wait?

Coming to the Super Bowl every year is a real pleasure for a football junkie. It is a chance to see the meeting place of everyone who is anyone in the NFL historical archives mixing with the present day stars. It can be a bit much, but I never get tired of celebrating the greatest sport of them all one more week before we send it away on its offseason vacation for several months before it starts again in the late summer.

As everyone jokes, there is actually a game at the end of the long week (which we will get to soon enough), but along the way there are several items of business that must be conducted. Easily the most interesting item to me is the annual Hall of Fame selection meetings, where new players are selected to be enshrined in to the hallowed hall in Canton, Ohio.

This year, 15 finalists will be considered as well as 2 additional senior committee finalists. These 17 names will be broken down and carefully examined over the course of many hours on the day before Super Bowl 46. Those with local ties include Charles Haley, Tim Brown, and the legendary coach, Bill Parcells. It will be interesting to see if any or all of those 3 can run the gauntlet to the finish line, as the pro football HOF continues to pride itself on being a very difficult building to enter for a candidate.

But, every time I see another year come and go in the hall of fame selections, it makes me wonder about another Cowboys' great that I have a hard time understanding why he is absent from the yellow jacket club.

Up through 2005, there was a woeful under-representation of Dallas Cowboys in Canton. One of the most prolific franchises in the history of the sport had only 5 players who played the majority of their careers in Dallas. Bob Lilly, Roger Staubach, Randy White, Tony Dorsett, and Mel Renfro.

Then, in 2006, those many arguments of an "Anti-Cowboys Bias" began to melt away as 6 Cowboys were added in the next 6 seasons. Troy Aikman, Rayfield Wright, Michael Irvin, Bob Hayes, Emmitt Smith, and last season, Deion Sanders were all put into the Hall. 11 primary Cowboys now move the franchise way closer to being properly represented with Haley certainly soon behind and Larry Allen a short distance down the road.

There are certainly others who time is getting closer to forgetting, and one in particular that really bothers me: The absence of Drew Pearson.

Pearson's career speaks for itself if you have even the slightest grasp of NFL history. Hardly a NFL Films reel can be shown without Pearson's greatness spilling onto the screen. He made plays. Historic plays. Plays in historic games that will never be forgotten by those who witnessed them.

And yet, he has not been inducted. The Senior Committee could right this wrong down the road, so Drew must wait - like he did for the Cowboys Ring of Honor for so many years, but it is imperative for those of us in the media that feel this is a severe oversight to not let the issue die until he is in.

Many will tell you it is simply a raw numbers issue, and in fairness to those who may have that argument, his numbers are exceeded by several from his era. If it is simply a question of total receptions or yards, Charlie Joiner, Steve Largent, and James Lofton will have quite an advantage over Pearson. On the other hand, you can put all of their post season numbers together and Pearson could measure right up.

What makes Pearson a legend was simply knowing the league. Knowing the most dangerous receivers on the most dangerous teams and seeing that Drew Pearson was always a factor. 22 playoff games in his 11 seasons attests that he played in games that mattered when the world was watching. And the fact that you can picture many of his playoff moments of greatness right now as you read this suggest that this shouldn't be too complicated to consider.

And yet, here we sit. He is out, while those with similar resumes - Lynn Swann and John Stallworth are both in. It has been said a million times "to the victors go the spoils", and I get that. But, that would seem to suggest that the Cowboys never had their day. This isn't an Andre Reed (0 rings in 4 Super Bowls) vs Michael Irvin (3 rings in 3 tries) case. Reed never won the big game. Pearson was a part of Super Bowl 12's celebration. Reed belongs in the hall, too, but the fact that he will likely get in this week and Pearson may have to wait much longer is just not right to me.

If Jackie Smith makes the catch in the end zone or the Benny Barnes pass interference is called differently, is Pearson in and some guy in Pittsburgh is still petitioning to get Swann in the Hall? Is that how we measure decade long careers?

Swann is in the HOF for reasons that numbers cannot justify. Here are the 3 receivers from the two rivals of the 1970s:


HTML Tables

Quite comparable, right? Stallworth and Swann have both been inducted. Pearson is no longer even a finalist. The numbers will look quite pedestrian to those who are playing today. Tim Brown and Cris Carter dominate these numbers and Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson will have no problem blowing by them all. But this is about era-context. In 1977, Pearson led the NFL with 870 receiving yards. 870 yards in 2011 would have ranked Drew 35th in the NFL. Behind Michael Crabtree (874) and in front of Jeremy Maclin (859) and Laurent Robinson (858). The game is played quite differently today, so we must simply compare players to those in their era and in similar situations. That is why this 3-man comparison seems proper.

Here is the same chart, but just playoff numbers:


HTML Tables

Again, I feel that Drew Pearson needs no defense with these numbers. Those guys were in - not because of their raw stats that Steve Largent could mock. Instead, they are in because they were who they were on teams that were outstanding. Nobody would take that away from the Steelers any more than someone would try to say Joe Namath doesn't belong in the HOF because he has thrown 47 more interceptions than touchdowns. The Hall is not just about numbers. It is about players that made the league what the league is today. Legends who made memories.

And yet, the guy who caught the original "Hail Mary", the guy who wore 88 as the #1 receiver for Roger Staubach, the guy who was a one-handed tackle from rendering "the Catch" meaningless is not in the Hall.

At some point, #88 will hopefully be no longer overlooked. But in a hall where Lynn Swann was recognized for being more than just a numbers account, I have to believe that it is a shame that Drew Pearson is not afforded the same respect.

Let's hope that gets fixed soon.

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