Third down was made for former Dallas Cowboys star Preston Pearson.
His style of play helped create the term “third-down back” for his ability to make first downs or touchdowns on the critical down.
Pearson played three seasons with Baltimore (1967-69), five seasons with Pittsburgh (1970-74) and six seasons with Dallas (1975-80). The Colts drafted him in the 12th round out of Illinois, where he starred in basketball, not football. He went to the Super Bowl with each team, played in five Super Bowls in total, and won two titles.
A successful businessman, Pearson remains a big player in the league. He recently helped support the launch of the NFL Players Association’s new program, Healthy Huddle in Dallas.
Healthy Huddle is a premium dental service for retired players and their families. It also provides players an opportunity to give back to their community through the Healthy Huddle Community Smile Project and Smile Brands Group Inc., programs that benefit underprivileged youth in Dallas and surrounding communities.
An all-purpose player in the NFL, Pearson finished his career with 3,609 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns along with 254 receptions for 3,095 yards and 17 touchdowns. Many of his plays came on third down.
But he is often overlooked when fans talk about great Cowboys players.
“People are always talking about Cowboys’ history and what guys are great and the Ring of Honor,” said Pearson, who co-founded Pro-Style Associates, a sports marketing agency in Dallas.
“What is the criteria for the Ring of Honor? I don’t think anybody knows that answer. It’s whatever [owner] Jerry [Jones] wants it to be. Right now, I think [the criteria] is too high.”
There are 20 players in the Ring of Honor, 13 are also in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Only Deion Sanders is in the Hall of Fame but not in the Ring of Honor. Sanders is in the Atlanta Falcons’ Ring of Honor.
“You have to be a Hall of Famer or a Pro Bowler,” Pearson said. “It’s not anything about being a team player or a good guy. It’s got to be more than those things, because it’s not about those standards for the Cowboys. It’s about what you bring to that star for the Cowboys.”
• What are your thoughts on the dental program? “As part of the retired players group in Dallas, we have been looking to create alliances like this for quite some time. Under Byron [Williams, president], we have become more aggressive on how we want our image [perceived]. People just think that retired players are just that group that are part of the concussions lawsuit and guys that are lining their pockets with someone’s money. We were never about that, but we are also trying to take care of our own. Get more involved with the community. Personally, I’ve always been involved with the community, supported many charities. You name it, I probably in some way supported the community.
• How special is it to involve the youth? “When it comes to the kids, we were all kids and just thinking about myself growing up in a dental standpoint, there was nothing there. And when it was there, we became so scared of the dentist because of the equipment available or not available, so we didn’t want to go back, and then your teeth suffered. Now we’re dealing with concussions and the physical nature of football, this is a heck of a marriage.
• How did you get the idea for Pro-Style Associates? “I formulated Pro-Style in the late ’70s, early ’80s, trying to establish something that I could fall into as I left pro football, while I was playing not waiting until after. The salary base back then wasn’t what it is today, so you couldn’t retire and have 20-30 years of profit in the bank. When I put together Pro-Style Associates, it was just a little ahead of free agency, and I was involved in the strikes that established the scenario for Tony Romo and Dez Bryant and all these other guys to be able to make $100 million. We’re still booking athletes and different clients and enjoying every second of it.”
• How do you view your NFL career? “Looking back on it, I don’t know if anyone in the history of the league had three teams that he can brag about in these ways: I had three of the best coaches ever, Don Shula, Chuck Noll and Tom Landry. There might be one or two guys that can match them. I don’t think anyone can qualify to say they played with the coaches I had, the Hall of Famers I had at quarterback (Johnny Unitas, Terry Bradshaw, Roger Staubach), at running back (Lenny Moore, Tony Dorsett, Franco Harris) and at receivers. I’m the guy that created that third-down receiver, what they call a slot back, that pressure guy that can get you that first down or touchdown. Despite not getting a lot of credit on a lot of things, I had as good of a career as any No. 1 draft choice. I was only a 12th-round draft choice after playing basketball in college, so I had a stellar career.”