By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
It's been a long time since he's wrapped himself in deep blue and silver and taken to the turf. A long time since he hauled in that Hail Mary pass against the Vikes and made you cheer his soft hands as though a war had just been won or countless riches found. A long time, nearly two decades, since you heard his name crackled over the Texas Stadium loudspeaker, and if his memories of playing for the Cowboys haven't altogether faded, the glory certainly has.
Maybe that makes him easy to forget. If nothing else, it makes him easy to push aside. Drew Pearson waited for a while, for years, after his career effectively ended with an early-morning car crash back in 1984 (a crash that claimed his brother's life while leaving Pearson with serious internal injuries). Waited for the Pokes or some other NFL team to pick up the phone and call his number again, to reward him for time served. A coaching job, a front office job, a job, that's all he wanted. Considering his business acumen--he's the founder/president of Drew Pearson Marketing, Inc., a successful Dallas-based sports and entertainment headwear licensing company--and his football pedigree, it stood to reason that he'd get a shot. With a little time.
He briefly held a coaching position with the Cowboys in the mid-'80s and with the Dallas Texans of the Arena Football League, but those gigs were merely bit parts. They weren't what he wanted--he wanted in, not "in, but stand over in the corner and don't touch anything." Eventually, he figured it out. For whatever reason, nobody wanted him.
"If I waited on the NFL or the Cowboys for a job, my kids would starve," says Pearson, who hooked on with the new XFL as vice president/general manager of the New York-New Jersey Hitmen. The season kicks off Saturday. "The NFL and the Cowboys know all about Drew Pearson, Drew Pearson Marketing, what I've done off the field, how I've conducted myself and how successful I've been. You'd think, especially with the problems this organization has had [off the field], that someone would approach a Drew Pearson and ask him to speak to the players. But that never happened. And I have all the respect in the world for this man, I think he's great, but to hire Paul Warfield as a consultant...I guess it's not surprising. There's a consistent exclusion of the former players, and it's a shame. And it's not just me, but other guys are upset too. Those guys should have opportunities too.
"I can't continue to wait and wait on the NFL. I can't even get in the damn--I should say 'darn,' I mean--Ring of Honor."
Bitter? Maybe, although Pearson denies it. He says this isn't about redemption or revenge or any other sinister-sounding cliché. (In an absolutely shocking turn of events, several attempts to reach Jerry Jones for comment were ignored by the Cowboys. Imagine that.) It's about opportunities, business- and football-related, and, if nothing else, Pearson knows good ones when they lay the WWF Smackdown on him.
He'd already done deals, through Drew Pearson Marketing, Inc., with Vince McMahon, the puppeteer of the World Wrestling Federation and mastermind of the fledgling football league. If McMahon is an excitable caricature on television, then he's just as much the shrewd moneymaker when the cameras are off. With the backing of NBC, well, lending his name to this XFL venture wasn't a difficult call for Pearson. Of course, it fit nicely for the XFL too.
"Drew Pearson is what the XFL is all about," league president Basil DeVito opines tritely. "Since retiring from the Cowboys, he has become a very successful business man. He's a leader and we're lucky to have him in the XFL."
Him. And his name.
Make no mistake, this is about marketing right now. Pearson knows it. He's fine with it. For now. At least initially, he's aware the XFL must shamelessly promote itself through the few names it has--like Pearson and Hall of Famer Dick Butkus, who serves as the league's "director of football competition"--and lord knows those names aren't playing. (Casey Weldon, who plays for the Birmingham Bolts, and Rashaan Salaam, who plays for the Memphis Maniax, are some of the no-name "name" players. What I want to know is, Why did they overlook Babe Laufenberg?)
"I know what the situation is, and I'm fine with it," Pearson says. "I knew what to expect getting into this. Vince McMahon approached me and said I would add some credibility and some legitimacy. We've created a buzz, but we all know what's gonna keep the fans coming back is the quality of the game on the field, and we think we've got some pretty good quality players and a pretty good product."
Used. Not used. Doesn't much matter so long as this XFL bird flies. And if it does, if it takes off the way McMahon's schemes usually do, then Pearson can concentrate solely on football operations while helping the league turn a tidy profit. And if that works, if the league gets into the black, and the Hitmen start hitting, and winning, no one will remember much about the XFL's genesis or Pearson's part therein. All they'll remember is how the NFL, and the Pokes, passed on a local legend, and how that legend excelled in football. Again.
"I'm 50 years old, and I've been out of the [NFL] for 17 years," he says. "It used to hurt that no one called or that I didn't get a real shot. Now, it's more disappointing than anything. It's frustrating. I mean, not even to be invited back. I look at what Jim Fassel did, bringing back some of the [Giants] players like Lawrence Taylor. Everyone knows Lawrence wasn't a model citizen, but bringing him back, bringing them back, it's part of their tradition and it meant a lot to the fans. It could have the same type of effect on the Cowboys, but our former players don't have the same opportunity. It's disappointing and frustrating.
"Indirectly, I suppose this job could show them what they're missing, but, directly speaking, I don't care what the Cowboys think anymore. I care about what Vince thinks and what Dick [Ebersol, NBC sports deity] thinks, that's who I report to. I really don't care what the Cowboys think. They've had their opportunity, and I had to fight them every step of the way."