Pearson attended the University of Tulsa and started four games at quarterback as a sophomore, before being converted to wide receiver prior to the 1971 season. He caught 22 passes for 429 yards and three touchdowns his junior season. As a senior, he led the run-oriented Golden Hurricane with 33 receptions for 690 yards and 3 touchdowns. During his college career he caught 55 passes for 1,119 yards, six touchdowns and had a 20.3 yard average per reception.
Pearson received the university's President's Award as the team's "best spirited and most unselfish" member. In 1985, he was inducted into the Tulsa Athletics Hall of Fame.
In 1973, he was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Dallas Cowboys, where he rose to become one of the NFL's greatest wide receivers, earning career records of 489 receptions and 7,822 receiving yards, along with 189 rushing yards, 155 yards returning kickoffs, and 50 touchdowns (48 receiving and two fumble recoveries). Pearson was named one of the Top 20 Pro Football All-Time wide receivers, he was also recognized for his achievements by being named to the NFL 1970s All-Decade Team.
In 1979, he and Tony Hill—along with Tony Dorsett—helped the Cowboys become the first team in NFL history to have two 1,000-yards wide receivers and a 1,000-yard running back, when he recorded 55 receptions, 1,026 yards and 8 touchdowns. Pearson and Hill also became the first wide receiver tandem in Cowboys history, to record 1,000-yard receiving seasons in the same year.
In 1980, the Cowboys selected Pearson as their nominee for NFL Man of the Year. Pearson is known as "Mr. Clutch" for his numerous clutch catches in game-winning situations, especially the "Hail Mary" reception from Roger Staubach that sealed the victory in a 1975 playoff game, one of the most famous plays in NFL history. He also caught the game-sealing touchdown in 1973 playoff game against the Los Angeles Rams and the game-winning touchdown pass from reserve quarterback Clint Longley in the 1974 Thanksgiving game against the Washington Redskins. All three of those plays were named among the Top 75 plays in NFL history by NFL Films in 1994. All were included on a video/DVD by that name. In addition in the 1980 playoff game at Atlanta, Pearson's clutch receptions helped win that game in a comeback by the Cowboys. In the 1981NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers, Pearson almost rendered "The Catch" irrelevant when, in the waning moments of the game, he caught a long pass from Danny White that would've gone for a touchdown and won the game for the Cowboys had 49ers cornerbackEric Wright not made a one-handed tackle, stopping him just outside field-goal range (White fumbled on the next play, thus preserving victory for the 49ers and putting them in Super Bowl XVI). In 2009, on the NFL Network show "NFL's Top 10", in the episode titled "Greatest Dallas Cowboys", he is number 10 on the list.
On March 1984 he fell asleep while driving his Dodge Daytona, causing a crash against a parked tractor-trailer. The accident ended his younger brother’s (Carey Pearson) life and forced him to retire from the internal injuries he suffered.
Was the General Manager of the New York/New Jersey Hitmen during the only season of the XFL. Midway through the season, he began attending games from the sideline and talking with announcers, something head coach Rusty Tillman refused to do.
Pearson is exclusively represented by PPI Marketing for speaking engagements and appearances. Pearson currently lives in Plano, Texas.
Received the NFL Alumni Career Achievement Award in 2005 for his post-NFL career success.
Pearson wore #88 with the Cowboys. Later, Michael Irvin wore #88 for the Cowboys during his Hall of Fame career, giving the number a special "dual" legacy in club history. When the Cowboys drafted Dez Bryant in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft, they immediately announced that Bryant would wear #88 and Pearson later posed for a photo in a Cowboys uniform with Bryant and Michael Irvin that was part of the 2010 edition of the popular Dave Campbell's Texas Football magazine.