Staubach chooses to bow out a winner
Anytime you can get 200 reporters, representing papers from nearly 20 different states, to a press conference in Dallas nearly three months after the pro football season has ended, either the food or the speaker has to be extra good.
This time it was the man behind the microphones, a gifted all-around athlete who for 11 years made his living playing for the Dallas Cowboys. But he probably also had the skills to play pro basketball or major league baseball.
It was an emotional setting because 38- year-old Roger Staubach, who had quarterbacked and led the Cowboys to so many important victories, made his retirement from pro football emotional. Also honest, candid, and to the point.
Among other things, Staubach said he wanted to spend more "quality time" with his wife, Marianne, and their five children. If another pro athlete had voiced something like that, you might wonder. But with Roger it was believable, even expected.
Staubach also talked briefly about how the competitive fires had suddenly begun to flicker, leaving him with the feeling that he might not be able to give us much in the years ahead as he had in the past. Several head injuries in recent years, he said, had also forced him to pause and take stock of the future.
"What I'll probably miss most is the competition on game days," Roger said. "I don't think there is anything more thrilling in athletics than the experience of winning and the time one spends with his teammates in the locker room afterwards. I know I'm going to miss that, but at least I'll have custody of the memories."
Staubach didn't become a quarterback until he was a senior in high school. Prior to that he had been a defensive back. It was only after his appointment to the US Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1962 that Notre Dame, Purdue, and Ohio State offered him football scholarships.
While at Annapolis, Roger earned seven varsity letters in football, basketball, and baseball. He also took Navy to the Cotton Bowl and was awarded the Heisman Trophy as a junior and the Maxwell Award as a senior.
Staubach had everything that the people who run football teams look for in a QB, including a brilliant mind, sixe (6 ft. 3 in., 200 pounds), the ability to scramble, and a quick passing release.
But Roger, with the kind of values he recognized even then, honored his Navy commission first, which meant four years of active, full-time duty. Among his assignments was a one-year tour of duty as a supply officer in Vietnam.
The point is, Staubach presumably came to professional football without a lot of time left on his personal playing clock; with the sand in the hourglass already heavier at the bottom than it was at the top. Then he repealed the law of averages by staying around for 11 years.
Although Dallas had made made Roger its 10th-round pick in the 1965 National Football League draft, it wasn't all that interested now in a 27-year-old who wanted to try pro football after four years away from the game. The Cowboys let Staubach into camp, but just barely.
Keeping in mind that most top college quarterbacks go through a long learning period after joing the pros, Roger was fortunate that the quality of his throwing arm was noticed right away. Still it wasn't until midway through the 1971 season that he became a starter.
But once Staubach got the job, he kept it, and the Cowboys prospered, winning several division titles as well as Super Bowls VI and XII. Under Roger, Dallas had a winning percentage of .746 (84-29) in regular-season games, plus an 11-6 record in the playoffs.
"Mental toughness is the one thing all top quarterbacks share, regardless of how they conduct their lives off the field," Staubach once told a national magazine. "That and concentration. I mean, this is something you have to live with 24 hours a day during the season."
Asked where he rated Roger among the National Football League's all-time great quarterbacks like Otto Graham and Johnny Unitas, Dallas Coach Tom Landry replied: "I don't know of any quarterback I've played against or watched that I'd rather have than Roger."