HARKER HEIGHTS — The setting at the Indian Oaks Living Center made the sunny, easygoing Thursday afternoon more reminiscent of a Sunday NFL tailgate.
Dallas Cowboys tablecloth and banners drew attention to all the usual football finger food on a table and the room was tied together by navy, silver and white balloons on the ceiling, but the residents weren’t getting ready to watch the current team take on the New Orleans Saints during Week 4 of the regular season.
It was Dallas Cowboys legend Drew Pearson making his way to Harker Heights to sign autographs, tell jokes and talk about “America’s Team.”
“It’s really cool coming to a facility like this,” Pearson said. “You have to come to these folks, they can’t come to you. To be able to come out here, see your fans and it doesn’t matter what kind of physical condition they’re in, they still remember you and the great teams that you played for.”
An estimated 170 residents along with their family and friends lined up as Pearson spent the better part of two hours with the group.
He showed a sense of humor and ability to own a room.
“I think if the Cowboys won this week, you’d be little more excited,” Pearson joked.
Pearson went from being an undrafted free agent out of Tulsa to one of the best Cowboy players ever.
In 11 seasons with the Cowboys, Pearson had 489 receptions for 7,822 yards and 48 touchdowns, including 145 yards and a touchdown on seven catches in three Super Bowls. He was a three-time Pro Bowl selection, three-time first team All-Pro and was a member of Dallas’ Super Bowl XII winning team.
Cowboys fans remember Pearson from a number of memorable catches, including the 50-yard “Hail Mary” to beat the Minnesota Vikings in the 1978 playoffs, an 83-yard strike to beat the Los Angeles Rams in the 1973 playoffs, two touchdown catches against the Atlanta Falcons in the 1980 postseason and a 50-yard scoring catch to beat the rival Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving Day 1974.
Pearson is a member of the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor.
Rhodonna Wright, 54, of Nolanville, has been a Cowboys fans for the last 48 years and remembers watching Pearson play.
Wright stood in line for about 30 minutes, swaying back and forth with excitement the closer she got to the player that made No. 88 with a Cowboys a special uniform. She was well prepared for the front of the line wearing a gray Cowboys T-shirt, a white Cowboys visor and carrying a Sports Illustrated commemorative book.
“I am so glad and so happy that I saw him and I got everything signed,” an elated Wright said. “Fifty years of football and I got his autograph on the picture of his ‘Hail Mary.’”
For Wright, meeting Pearson was a moment she won’t soon forget. But it did leave her with only one regret, not being able to pose with Pearson’s Super Bowl XIII ring.
“I was so excited about getting my picture taken, I didn’t get to see it,” Wright said.
Making their day
Indian Oaks Life Enrichment Director Myrna Sahagun said the center wanted to have the event during football season and Indian Oaks’ Dallas-based parent company, Senior Care Centers Ltc., organized the afternoon.
For Pearson, talking with fans about both the 1970s and 2015 Cowboys makes the trip to Harker Heights worth it.
Playing for the Cowboys has afforded him a special opportunity. Though Pearson is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and hasn’t caught a pass in more than 30 years, being a Cowboy means his name still resonates.
“It’s made a difference, there’s no question about it,” Pearson said. “Now I don’t know what it might be like being a former Chicago Bear or New York Giant, but I do know what it means to be a former Dallas Cowboy, but not just that, a former Dallas Cowboy that played for Tom Landry, with Roger Staubach, Lee Roy Jordan, Bob Hayes and people like that. It’s been 33 years since I’ve played in the NFL and because of that association with the Cowboys and consistent winning, people still want Drew Pearson’s autograph and still know Drew Pearson.”
While a signed football is great, Sahagun said that for the residents, it’s the experience of meeting a Cowboys legend and even posing with his Super Bowl ring that made the day.
Pearson even took the time to go back to the rooms of some of the bedridden residents who could not make it to the front lobby to meet him.
“To me, that’s worth more than a million dollars,” Sahagun said.
The 2015 Cowboys were seen as a Super Bowl contender before the injury bug set in and Dallas lost key starters like quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant, the current No. 88. But that didn’t stop Pearson from pandering to the crowd and predicting the result of Sunday night’s Cowboys at Saints matchup.
“The Cowboys are going to win this one 31-24,” Pearson said.