Preston Pearson

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Preston Pearson
Preston Pearson 2012.JPG
Pearson signs autographs for fans, 2012
No. 26
Position: Running back
Personal information
Date of birth: (1945-01-17) January 17, 1945 (age 70)
Place of birth: Freeport, Illinois
Height: 6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)
Weight: 205 lb (93 kg)
Career information
High school: Freeport (IL)
College: Illinois
NFL draft: 1967 / Round: 12 / Pick: 298
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Rushing yards: 3,609
Receiving yards: 3,095
Touchdowns: 30
Stats at
Stats at

Preston James Pearson (born January 17, 1945 in Freeport, Illinois) is a former professional American football running back in the National Football League who played for the Baltimore Colts (1967–1969), the Pittsburgh Steelers (1970–1974), and the Dallas Cowboys (1975–1980). He played college basketball for the University of Illinois.

Early years[edit]

Pearson attended Freeport High School, where he received All-State honors as the center of the basketball team. He also played football.

After writing a letter to head coach Harry Combes, he walked on at the University of Illinois. In college he was moved to guard and became a two-year starter. He was known primarily for his tough defense and was one of the few players to have ever block a "skyhook" shot from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (known as Lew Alcindor).[1]

Although he possessed the athletic and leaping ability, he never developed his offensive game, finishing his career with a 6.7 points average in 47 games.[2]

Professional career[edit]

Baltimore Colts[edit]

Pearson was selected by the Baltimore Colts in the twelfth round (298th overall) of the 1967 NFL Draft despite never playing a down of college football, after the team was impressed with his speed and athleticism.[3] He was first tried at defensive back and was promoted from the taxi squad to the regular roster on November 1, playing mostly on special teams.[4]

The next year he was moved to running back and became a captain of the special teams units after leading the league in kickoff returns with a 35.1 yards average. He also registered the longest return of the year (102-yards).

On May 31, 1970, he was traded along with defensive back Ocie Austin to the Pittsburgh Steelers in exchange for linebacker Ray May and a twelfth round draft choice (#294-Bobby Wuensch).[5]

Pittsburgh Steelers[edit]

In Pittsburgh, he reunited with head coach Chuck Noll who was the defensive coordinator with the Baltimore Colts. He became the starter at running back in his first year with the team. In 1971, he was the fifteenth ranked running back in the AFC with 605 yards (second on the team).

In 1972, he was the eighth leading rusher in the AFC through the first 4 games, until he tore his left hamstring against the Houston Oilers. He was replaced with rookie Franco Harris, who would not relinquish the position again on his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.[6] The next year he was switched to wide receiver during training camp, but was moved back to running back before the start of the season.

His relationship with Noll eventually became strained, because of being an outspoken person and his role as one of the Steelers player representatives during the 1974 strike. In 1974, he was the team's third leading rusher even though he missed five games with a hamstring injury.

On September 16, 1975, the team waived him after deciding to keep rookie running back Mike Collier instead.[7] At the time only six players in franchise history had run for more yards.

Dallas Cowboys[edit]

In 1975, after losing Calvin Hill and Walt Garrison, the Dallas Cowboys were looking for an experienced running back, so they signed Pearson as a free agent and in turn waived rookie quarterback Jim Zorn to make room for him on the roster.[8] Pearson and the Dirty Dozen draft were the key reasons that helped the team reached the Super Bowl that year.

His best season came in 1975, when he became a starter and rushed for 509 yards, caught 27 passes for 351 yards, and gained another 391 yards on kickoff returns. He then went on to assist the Cowboys to a Super Bowl X appearance by catching 12 passes for over 200 yards and three touchdowns in their two playoff games, including a seven reception for 123 yards and three receiving touchdowns (tied a league record) performance against the heavily favored Los Angeles Rams in the NFC title game. His team ended up losing the Super Bowl to the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he had a good performance – rushing for 14 yards and catching five passes for 53 yards.

During his time with the Cowboys he was widely recognized as the player who defined the position of "third-down back", forcing defenses to use nickel schemes to assign a cornerback to cover him, or to double-team him. He was an all-around player, contributing in running, receiving, blocking and special teams. Head coach Tom Landry once said: "He's one of the best halfback blockers I've seen".[9]

In 1977, he began the season as the starter at running back, before giving way to Tony Dorsett after the ninth game, finishing second on the team in receptions (46) and receiving yards (535 yards). The next year he led the team with 47 receptions.

In his last three seasons he was used mostly as a receiver out of the backfield and retired on July 15, 1981.[10]


Throughout his NFL career, Pearson was used frequently as a rusher, receiver, and kickoff returner on special teams. He played for some of the most famous teams of his era, and played in five Super Bowls (Super Bowl III, IX, X, XII, and XIII) – tied for second most all-time.[11]

In his 14 NFL seasons, he rushed for 3,609 yards, caught 254 passes for 3,095 yards, returned seven punts for 40 yards, and gained 2,801 yards on kickoff returns. Overall, Pearson gained 9,545 total yards and scored 33 touchdowns (17 rushing, 13 receiving, two kickoff returns and one fumble recovery).

Pearson also holds the distinction of being one of the few, if not the only, players to have been led by Don Shula, Chuck Noll and Tom Landry — three of the greatest coaches in NFL history with eight Super Bowl titles among them.

Not only were his coaches Hall of Famers, but also his quarterbacks (Johnny Unitas, Terry Bradshaw and Roger Staubach), fellow running backs (Lenny Moore, Franco Harris and Tony Dorsett) are also enshrined in Canton.

Personal life[edit]

In 1981, Pearson teamed with self-promoter Janie Tilford to form Pro-Style Associates. Pro-Style began by matching corporations with athletic talent to create a unique marketing endeavor for special events. Preston is the president of Pro-Style Associates.

During the formation of the Asia Pacific Football League, Pearson was contracted by the league to consult and assist the league in its organizational efforts. What became of his role is unknown as the APFL was never formed.[12]

He wrote a 1985 memoir, Hearing the Noise, My Life in the NFL, ISBN 978-0688041915.


External links[edit]