Steelers receiver Barry Pearson came away from 'The Play' with a great story to tell
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Maybe if the plan had been followed, the name Barry Pearson would be revered in these parts the way the names of many of the Steelers greats are.
But that didn't happen, so all Pearson has is a great story about his role in the Immaculate Reception -- the famous play from the Steelers 13-7 win against the Raiders in the 1972 playoffs -- and thoughts about what could have been had Terry Bradshaw not been flushed out of the pocket by the Raiders pass rush on that play.
That's because the play, which was called half right, split opposite, 66 out end in, was designed to go to Pearson for a 12-yard reception and a first down to extend the drive.
"People forget it was fourth-and-10, but that wasn't the last play of the game, there was still some time left so all we wanted to do was get the first down," said Pearson, who brought the play into the huddle from the sidelines. "The plan was to have Al Young run an 18-yard out, Frenchy [Fuqua] ran a curl, and Franco did a little flair into the flat.
"And then we had John McMakin, the tight end, run a deep post and I ran underneath him for 12 yards. The play was supposed to go to me and I was wide open, but I was on the right side of the formation and the pressure came from that side and forced Terry Bradshaw out of the pocket to the left. Of course, he couldn't throw it back across his body to me so he threw it to Frenchy.
"The rest, as they say, is history."
Pearson, who is now the CEO of HPC Food Service in Connecticut, didn't have a catch in the game and knows he may have made history had he caught the ball, extended the drive or perhaps broken a tackle and run to the end zone.
But he is more than happy that Franco Harris got the glory.
"I'm glad Terry didn't throw me the ball -- had I dropped it, they would have hung me," Pearson said with a laugh. "Plus, Franco is one of the all-time greats and that play was sort of the one that really elevated his status to the level it should have been.
"He was a special player, so that was meant to be his moment."
The fact that Pearson, who is 5-foot-11 and wore No. 83, was even on the field -- or the sidelines -- to witness the Immaculate Reception was a stroke of luck. He was a practice squad player (they were called the taxi squad back then) for the entire season and wasn't activated until that week because of an injury to another receiver, Frank Lewis.
Pearson was a rookie and an undrafted free agent from Northwestern who was discovered by Steelers receivers coach Lionel Taylor.
Pearson had opportunities to sign with a number of teams but the fact that Taylor had gone to Northwestern several times to watch him practice and had developed a relationship with him made it an easy choice to sign with the Steelers.
"They liked my hands and the fact that I could catch the ball extremely well," Pearson said. "And that meant a lot to me that Lionel came to see me a few times and I knew him and he wasn't just some nameless scout or coach I had never met.
"I just felt like they wanted me more than the other teams, so it was an easy decision to sign with them."
Pearson's good fortune continued the next season, when, just before the opener in 1973, Lewis again was injured and that meant Pearson would again get to play. He made the most of his opportunity.
Pearson responded with six receptions for 58 yards in a 24-10 win against Detroit and got the game ball. He ended up playing 13 games that season and finished with 23 receptions for 317 yards and three touchdowns. But that would be the end for his run with the Steelers. He was traded to Kansas City, where he played three seasons for the Chiefs before he retired.
Of course, there is a story behind that trade as well and it also involves a hall of famer -- or two.
"The Steelers drafted a couple of guys named Swann and Stallworth in 1974. They were pretty good, you may have heard of them," said Pearson, then he laughed. "I think those two did OK for themselves. I had a great run there, though, and my career in Kansas City was great as well."
Pearson coached for a few years after his playing career ended and then, in 1980, got into the food service industry and has remained in it for 32 years.
First Published October 14, 2012 12:00 am