ARLINGTON -- Three former Dallas Cowboys will be officially hailed as all-time greats on Sunday with their induction into the team's hallowed Ring of Honor. For only one -- Drew Pearson -- the move has a more far-reaching effect, because he helped the Cowboys become America's Team. Certainly, the moment is starting to sink in for offensive lineman Larry Allen, an 11-time time Pro Bowler, three-time Super Bowl champion and likely shoo-in to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in February. "It's great," Allen said. "The years I have been away from the game, I have been traveling. I've been to Rome and France and seeing all the statues and monuments. [Going into the Ring of honor] will be like that for me."
Defensive end Charles Haley certainly didn't think about the Ring of Honor or even know what it was when he was traded to the Cowboys in 1992 after starting his career with the San Francisco 49ers.
He helped the Cowboys win three Super Bowl titles in the 1990s. Add those to the two he got with the 49ers, and he is the only player in NFL history with five Super Bowl rings.
"I think it defines my career," Haley said. "I may not have started my career with the Cowboys, but the years I played, it really had an impact. What I did was appreciated. Other than the Hall of Fame, this is one of the greatest things that can be bestowed upon a player. I'm going to enjoy every minute of it."
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This could be just the beginning of a big year for Haley, who is hoping to be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in February. He has been a finalist the past two seasons.
Pearson is holding out hope that his inclusion into the Ring of Honor would help spring him into the Hall of Fame one day as a seniors candidate.
In addition to holding all the Cowboys' receiving records upon his retirement in 1983, Pearson was a member of the 1977 Super Bowl title team, made three Pro Bowls and was a member of the all-decade team of the 1970s, joining Hall of Famer Lynn Swann on the first team. In fact, Pearson is the only member of the first team not in the Hall of Fame.
Pearson not only understands the depth, the reach and scope of the Ring of Honor and what it means, but seeing his name forever etched on the facade high above the field is a dream come true.
He has envisioned this day ever since he witnessed the first induction as a player in 1975.
"Just the thought of it gives me chills," Pearson said. "Without a doubt, it is special to me. I came to the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent, weighing 170 pounds with the skinniest legs you ever seen. Other players looked at me and laughed, thinking I had no chance.
"But I overcame all that to make the team and start my rookie year and start from then on. Every time I stepped on the field at Texas Stadium, I looked at the Ring of Honor. I wanted my performance to be worthy of that type of recognition. It inspired me."
The moment is so special and significant to Pearson that his wait for inclusion is now nothing more than a footnote.
The reasons behind his exclusion and the supposed hard feelings have all dissipated.
All is now right with his Cowboys legacy.
"People tell me it's long overdue and I should have been here before," Pearson said. "The only regret that I have is that my mom, my sister and teammates like Harvey Martin, Bob Hayes are no longer with us and won't be a part of it. Other than that, I take it as it comes. My grandsons are old enough to see it. My kids are older and have a greater appreciation. From that side of the coin, you can say it's a good time. I'm 60 years old and it catapults me back into the public eye. It's a good time. I ain't mad at nobody. I'm in now."
The moment also introduces a new generation of Cowboys fans to Pearson's greatness.
Debates will rage for years about which former players should be included in the Ring of Honor.
Former general manager Tex Schramm intended for it to be elite and exclusive. Owner Jerry Jones has certainly kept it that way.
But Pearson's absence had left a void, because his play and his career embodied what being a Cowboy and a member of the Ring of Honor was all about. It wasn't simply the receiver records and the numbers, but his style, namely, the Afro sticking out the back of his helmet, and clutch plays that made him great, which in turn also helped shape the Cowboys' image as America's Team.
Most know about the legendary 50-yard "Hail Mary" touchdown reception from Roger Staubach in the 1975 wild-card playoffs, sending the Cowboys to an upset victory and sparking them to a Super Bowl appearance.
There was also the 83-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter that keyed a playoff victory against the Rams in his rookie year. There was the touchdown catch from the Mad Bomber, Clint Longley, in the legendary Thanksgiving Day comeback against the Washington Redskins. Also, his two touchdown catches from Danny White in the final four minutes to rally the Cowboys to a remarkable comeback victory against the Atlanta Falcons in the 1980 playoffs.
Simply put, Pearson has been a part of as many big plays and/or great Cowboys moments as any player in franchise history.
"I'm so happy for him because this means so much to him," said former Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett, a former teammate and member of the Ring of Honor and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. "He is most deserving. He made so many great plays. He helped the Cowboys become America's Team."
Staubach has long said the Ring of Honor was incomplete without Pearson. He is credited with lobbying Jones the longest and hardest to finally make Pearson's inclusion come true.
"I'm a big Drew Pearson fan," Staubach said. "When he came in 1973, he made a bunch of plays where he was Mr. Clutch. We didn't throw as much back then. If we did, he would have monster stats. He has made some of the most important receptions in Cowboys history. Drew Pearson is a Ring of Honor player if there ever was a Ring of Honor player if you look at what he did and what he meant to the Cowboys."
A fitting topper would be for Staubach to pick up the ball one more time and ask Pearson to go deep.
"One of my favorite pictures in my home office was that induction Sunday when Roger went in," Pearson said. "He was in a suit and I was in my uniform. I wanted him to suit up and throw me one more pass. I know he is going to be looking for a football Sunday. It's been a long time coming."
Clarence E. Hill Jr., 817-390-7760