Pearson tells students ‘look sharp, be smart’
Former Dallas Cowboy returns to South River to discuss life’s lessons
BY JOHN DUNPHY
With his shaved head and pinstriped suit, Drew Pearson looked a bit different than the student who walked the halls with a large Afro and street clothes 36 years ago.
When the football legend and 1969 South River High School graduate returned to his hometown last week to discuss his new book and speak to students, the former NFL All-Pro wide receiver sported a sharp, dark blue suit, a crisp white shirt and dark red “power” tie.
“I could have come here in my sweats,” the 54-year-old alum said to a packed high school auditorium that included students, staff and many who knew him when he lived in the borough. “I could have worn jeans hanging off my butt. But I thought it was important to wear a suit and tie. This is what it takes to be successful. You better wear the uniform for the meeting.”
Pearson, who created Drew Pearson Marketing Inc., which is involved in the manufacture and distribution of officially licensed sports headwear, is more famous for his 11 years as a Dallas Cowboy. During his career, he was selected for the Pro-Bowl three times and contributed to the Cowboys’ Superbowl victory in 1977 over the Denver Broncos.
Known as “Mr. Clutch,” Pearson recalled catching the winning touchdown pass from quarterback Roger Staubach in a 1975 playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings with only 10 seconds remaining.
“Staubach said to me, ‘We need to get one into the end zone,’” Pearson told the audience. “When I came out of my break, Roger threw the ball as far as he could and I made that catch, and we won that game.”
Pearson recalled reporters’ questions to the future Hall of Fame quarterback about what was going through his mind when he made the winning pass.
“He said, ‘I threw the ball as far as I could and said a Hail Mary,’” Pearson said. “And that’s how the term got popular in the NFL.”
Besides entertaining the audience with stories from his professional career, Pearson spoke of the three years he’d spent as a wide receiver and quarterback for the South River Rams.
“We had great coaches; we had great discipline,” he said. “I don’t know if I could have made it in the pros or gone to college if it wasn’t for great coaches.”
Bill Csatari, a 1962 South River High School graduate who began coaching for the Rams soon after, recalls the team in the 1960s as a “super-fraternity,” where both players and coaches worked as one inspired unit.
“We are forever bonded,” said Csatari, who still coaches for the team. “Drew Pearson was a member of that super-fraternity. He not only caught a Hail Mary pass, but he became a model for all athletes.”
Joe Theismann, another South River High School graduate, was also a part of the super-fraternity. Pearson entertained the audience by revealing how the former Washington Redskins quarterback changed the pronunciation of his surname from its original “Theez-man” to “Thighs-man” to rhyme with Heisman, the college football trophy.
“He didn’t win it; but here, he’ll always be Joey ‘Theez-man,’” he said.
South River Board of Education member Andy Miller, who graduated from the high school in 1970, recalled his days on the team alongside Pearson.
“He was always a leader,” he said. “He was always the guy that pushed the other guys. It didn’t matter if you were a superior athlete. He pushed everybody.
“And to this day, he never forgot South River,” Miller added.
Even with the great amount of attention Pearson and the rest of the Cowboys received in the 1970s, Pearson said he “made sure I mentioned the name South River and South River High School any chance I got.”
“We have a tradition of respect,” he said. “A tradition of having great students and educators coming through.”
Pearson noted that, as a youth, he was diagnosed with a rare bone disease and was told he was too small and too weak to ever play football, let alone professionally. If he could overcome such adversities to become successful in life, he told students, each of them could as well.
“It’s about realizing your dreams,” he said. “There’s no price to pay for dreams.”
Pearson told the teenagers their time in school was very important, and that they should enjoy and take advantage of it.
“This is your edge,” he said. “Being smarter than the next guy, sharper than the next guy. Football comes and goes, but education and learning never stops.”
His book, “Hail Mary: The Drew Pearson Story,” is now available in book stores.