I recently interviewed Drew Pearson for the Texas Sports Hall of Fame Podcast. He shared deep details about the Hail Mary catch and game-winning drive. The interview took place at a Tristar Productions event.
Drew Pearson made one of the most iconic plays in NFL history when he caught the Hail Mary pass from Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach for a touchdown to win the 1975 NFC Divisional Playoff against the Minnesota Vikings. The final score was 17-14. Pearson spoke candidly about the Hail Mary catch and the entire drive on The Texas Sports Hall of Fame Podcast.
Did Drew Pearson push off?
As with many storied plays in NFL history, Drew Pearson’s catch attracted some controversy. Ask a Minnesota Vikings fan or Vikings defensive back Nate Wright and they will tell you that Pearson pushed off and offensive pass interference should have been called on the play. Pearson states that he simply used pro receiver technique to get to an underthrown ball.
Pearson explained the entire play during the sports history podcast. He described what Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach said in the huddle, what pass route he ran and why, and the specifics of what happened while the ball was in the air.
The Hail Mary Play Call
The Hail Mary play started with 32 seconds left in the game. The Cowboys with the ball on the 50 yard-line. The play sent Pearson on an in route designed to entice Vikings defense back Nate Wright into thinking Pearson was running a shorter route. Dallas learned from watching game film that Wright might bite on such routes.
On the podcast, Pearson said, “We ran the in route. When I felt him (Wright), I broke it back, broke it deep, and when I broke it deep, he spun around. We were even neck and neck. That’s all I wanted because I expected the ball to be thrown out there. Then I had that other gear I shift in to go get it. I was fast to the football.”
A second piece to the plan was for Staubach to pump fake to receiver Golden Richards on the other sideline, to draw safety Paul Krause over to help cornerback Bobby Bryant. Pearson: “Roger pumped (Krause), he bit, and that left me man-to-man on Nate.”
The play worked exactly according to plan thus far. The ball, however, was underthrown. Pearson needed to shift from accelerating into his extra gear to slowing down in order to catch an underthrown pass. Drew Pearson spoke about how he adjusted to the football and gave an NFL-level lesson on how to play wide receiver at the same time.
Common NFL WR Technique
Pearson illustrated the technique wide receivers use to catch underthrown passes. He made what he called a “coaching point.”
“I saw it was going to be underthrown, came back, and did the swim move to get inside position on Nate. You got to use your outside arm to do that. If you use your inside arm and you turn you’re (in an awkward position), if you use your outside arm and then you turn — bam! You’re right to the ball. Coaching point.
“That’s why they claim I pushed because there was contact when I put my arm around. But there was no deliberate push.”
Pearson added that Wright was running full speed with all the intensity and emotion that only the NFL playoffs can bring. Anyone running full speed can fall down, especially when movement changes suddenly because of an underthrown pass. That can happen with or without the slightest bit of contact.
The Hail Mary, one of the most famous moments in NFL history, provided the game-winning touchdown for the Dallas Cowboys. The play was well-thought out and drew Hall of Fame safety Paul Krause away from the play. The pass route was designed to fool Nate Wright before Pearson broke deep. The play also illustrated Pearson’s ability and knowledge as a receiver to beat a defender to an underthrown pass.
The 1975 NFC Divisional Playoff between the Cowboys and Vikings at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota was a tremendous game from start to finish. You can read a play-by-play summary of the first half here. You can read a play-by-play summary of the second half here.
Drew Pearson is a member of the 2010 Texas Sports Hall of Fame class and the 2021 Pro Football Hall of Fame class.