The world is too much with us, as Wordsworth said. We live in an age of venality, corruption, scandal and immorality. Diogenes would have to walk a long way with his lamp these days to find an "honest man." Ironically, he might find him in the vicinity of Dallas, a city more renowned for high-roller excesses than cynicism, as Diogenes and his ilk defined it. If the old Greek Cynic ever returns, he would do well to shine his lantern on 2511 Prairie Creek, the home of one Roger Thomas Staubach in the Dallas suburb of Richardson. For Staubach is by all accounts the Galahad of the Gridiron, the NFL's own personal St. Francis of Assisi, the straightest arrow in the quiver.
Consider these credentials. Preeminent quarterback and team leader of the world-champion Dallas Cowboys for most of the 1970s—and that despite four years lost to service in the Navy. A loyal husband and family man, the father of five fine youngsters (four girls and a boy). Successful off-season businessman (his own real estate firm). Active in as many do-good organizations as he can fit into his hectic schedule: the American Diabetes Association, the Salvation Army and, of course, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
It's enough to make a lesser man swear off of hard likker and head for the nearest hair-shirt factory. But there is a devil in the lesser man's bones, an imp who would seek out imperfection even in the perfect—most importantly in the perfect—so as to justify his own far greater failings. And when reality cannot provide such unworthy titillation, the imagination goes to work, as in this fictional scene (with apologies to Holy Mother Church):
Place: The cool, rainbow gloom of a Catholic cathedral on a Saturday afternoon. An aura of old incense and melting wax fills the air. Low light filters through the stained-glass agonies of Christ, and the only sound to be heard is the muted, mutter of penitents, punctuated by the occasional creak of a genuflecting knee joint. A tall, lean figure with short dark hair strides in its turn to the busy confessional booth in the side aisle, pulls its heavy drapery aside and enters.
September 3, 1978
Penitent: Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It is a full week since my last confession. Since then I have committed the following sins. First, I stood idly by and said nothing while other men took the Lord's name in vain—
Padre: Excuse me, my son, but what did they say?
Penitent: It was at the start of two-a-days, Father, and they can be tough. One of these men said, 'Lord, it's a hot day!' And the other said, 'You dang tootin', hotter than the hinges of You Know Where.'—
Padre: Very well my boy. (A soft groan from the confessor's side of the box.) Proceed.
Penitent: Next, I coveted my neighbor's goods. It was after practice yesterday, in the cafeteria. I was late getting to the chow line and there was only one steak left. Before I could take it, Too Tall Jones reached out, grabbed it and gobbled it up, the way he does those smaller backs, you know? I had to settle for liver and onions. It was then that I coveted—
Padre: All right, all right—go on to the next sin.
Penitent: There's only one left, Father, but it's the worst of all. I harbored evil thoughts regarding another man.
Padre: Aha! Now it looks as though we're getting somewhere. What was the, ummm, nature of these evil thoughts, my son?
Penitent: I wished physical harm to a fellow football player. It was as I was falling asleep the night before the Denver game. I was just dozing off, when suddenly I had this hateful vision. Lyle Alzado had blasted through the pass-blocking and was coming for me. I was back in the shotgun, but I couldn't get my arm cocked. It was like some devil was clinging to my elbow—you know the feeling, Father. Well, just before he hits me, Lyle steps on this banana peel and skids and dislocates his shoulder.
(Long pause; long priestly sigh.)
Padre: I'm afraid you haven't made it yet, my son, not even to the minor leagues. That's just the instinct for survival. You're about as evil as a first communicant. For your penance, go forth and try to be less perfect.
In this age of the public confessional, when a touch of naughtiness is as much a part of a superstar quarterback's persona as a strong throwing arm or a glib tongue on camera, perfection may indeed be Roger Staubach's only failing. Recognizing this failing in their leading man, the Dallas Cowboys are quick to tell a visiting reporter about Roger's "sense of humor." "He's the Good Humor Man," they say. Yes indeedy, ol' Rog has done some pretty rascally things in his day. Like the time he rode a camel.
Wow, far out! Where did he ride it—into some Arab oil sheikh's harem?
Uh, no, it was for a charitable cause. The Paul Anderson Youth Home, one of Roger's favorite charities, was screening the film Hawmps as part of a fund-raising drive, and they got Rog to straddle a dromedary for a promo film. It was a heck of a sight, though. Couldn't tell who was more serious, the camel or the QB.
Then there was the time he drove in a demolition derby. He could hardly get hurt, you see, because the cars are all beefed up with roll cages and padding....
Got anything better?
Yeah (a triumphant grin). The time he was in Tex Schramm's 11th floor office and jumped out of the window. Tex, who is the Cowboys' president, had been on the phone all morning and Roger was leaving town and wanted to talk with him. Well, time was a wastin', so Roger just leaped out the window and waved his arms like a madman. Tex like to passed out.
Staubach is listening to the story as it is retold. A faint smile comes over his usually solemn face and a faint flicker appears in his eyes—aha, maybe there is a wild man lurking back in there somewhere. A tiny one to be sure, but the real thing.
"Tex had his feet up on the desk when I jumped out," he says. The faint smile struggles to become a grin. "He dropped the phone and his eyes rolled back in his head. You can't see the ledge I landed on when you're sitting at the desk." The grin dies aborning. "But I was perfectly safe. The ledge was three feet wide, and I couldn't have fallen if I'd tried. But when Tex's eyes rolled that way, I thought maybe I'd scared him into a stroke. Anyway, he sat up and kind of shook himself all over and flagged me to come in."
End of levity, beginning of serious stuff.
Staubach himself is aware of—and more than a little bit hurt by—his image as pro football's goody-goody quarterback. He recalls a halftime show when Phyllis George contrasted his life-style with that of Joe Namath. The implication was that George preferred a fun-loving swinger like Broadway Joe to a stick-in-the-mud Staubach. "Darn it," Roger complains, "I enjoy sex as much as Namath, but only with one woman."
Actually, wild-man quarterbacks have always been a minority, though a much-publicized one, in the NFL. Bobby Layne, Sonny Jurgensen, Namath, Billy Kilmer and Ken Stabler are the delightful exceptions to a hard, true rule: quarter-backing the pro game is such a demanding, serious and physically painful vocation that most athletes who play the position have no time for high jinks off the field. Late hours, booze, bimbos and general carousing can, of course, lead to titubation in a time of peril and even to terminal absquatulation. (In case your dictionary is out on loan, titubation is the staggering or stumbling gait characteristic of certain nervous disorders, such as being cold-cocked by a blitzing linebacker. To absquatulate is dog Latin for "to go off and squat elsewhere"—like on the bench.)
Bart Starr, a man every bit as straight as Staubach off the field, and in some ways his equal or superior on it, once remarked quite casually that from the first heavy hit of the preseason to a month after the Super Bowl he never once stopped aching. With ligaments, tendons and shoulder joints popping and snapping like it's the Fourth of July, it's just a matter of time before even the most fit of quarterbacks makes the injured reserve list. Clearly, clean living and hard physical conditioning can delay the inevitable and make for a more speedy recovery. Some of the least injured and longest lived quarterbacks of recent years—Starr, Staubach, Fran Tarkenton—were all cast from the straight-arrow mold. Staubach or his publicists should keep that in mind the next time a Phyllis George pops up.
Staubach came by his rectitude—and perhaps his fierce, playing-field determination—via those traditional Middle American routes: church, sports and military service. He was born 36 years ago in Cincinnati and grew up in the suburb of Silverton. His father Robert was a manufacturer's representative (shoe and leather) and his mother Elizabeth worked 25 years at the local General Motors plant. They are both deceased. "Neither of them pushed me into sports," he says. "But I grew up with a lot of older kids—I was one of the youngest kids on the block—and I played ball with them. You had to work hard to keep up. A neighbor named Mr. Brannen had a basketball hoop on his garage, and we were over there all the time, morning, noon and night. When you're only four feet tall, you have to be clever and pushy to snag a rebound."
Baseball was his other early love, and there are many cognoscenti who feel he would have made a first-class major league outfielder and hitter. As a third classman at Annapolis, he batted .420.
"I started in baseball when I was 6," he says. "Our coach was a man named John Fink, and he picked an all-star team from our neighborhood. We played kids from the other neighborhoods." He shakes his head and smiles wryly. "Those were some games—20-walk innings, scores like 48-25. I was a pitcher, catcher and outfielder, and we once won 40 straight games. Later, when I was in high school, my father said to me after a game, 'You know, Roger, it's funny. I used to dread the ball being hit to me when the game was tight; you seem to relish it.' And he was right. I did relish it. There's a special kind of fire that lights up when things get really tough. I used to feel dreadful when I'd foul up or when we'd lose—I'm a tough loser at anything, not just football or Super Bowls. The whole bottom would fall out of my life. But now I've disciplined myself. I only feel rotten for two days afterwards. Then I shut off the recrimination and get on to the next game. If it hangs with you, you'll just lose again."
Staubach came to football comparatively late, and later still to the position at which he excels. "I didn't play quarterback until my senior year in high school," he says. "Before that I was a defensive back and had spent one season injured. Rick Forzano, then an assistant coach at the Naval Academy, scouted me in my senior year and was interested. I'd never thought of the Navy before that. In fact, being Catholic, I would have preferred to go to Notre Dame. But they didn't show any interest until I was already committed to the Academy. Purdue and Ohio State also contacted me, but after I'd been to Annapolis and looked it over, I knew it was the right place for me."
And Staubach was the right man for Navy. He was, in fact, the best all-round athlete in recent Academy history. He earned seven letters in football, baseball and basketball, and seven of his passing records still stand. In his junior year he won the Heisman Trophy, defeating such other stick-outs as Billy Lothridge and Dick Butkus for the honor, and received the Walter Camp Memorial Trophy and the Maxwell Trophy as well. In his senior year he won the Academy's top athletic honors: the Thompson Trophy Cup (for the third time) and the Athletic Association Sword.
Now came hard-decision time, not so much for Roger as for the pro teams that had him pegged as a near-perfect NFL quarterback prospect. He stood 6'3" and weighed close to 200 pounds—big enough by more than a bit. Not only could he pass with a quick release from a standard pro set and drop, but he could run as well—in a wild, explosive gallop that perforated defenses like a six-inch naval projectile. Ideal. Except for the fact that his Navy commission required a small repayment in time of four years' service on active, full-time duty. Anchors aweigh. No man had ever laid off the game for four years and returned to become a first-rank professional quarterback.
"The thing that kept me credible," Staubach says, "was the College All-Star game after my senior year. We were up against the Cleveland Browns, and although we finally lost, 24-16, I had a pretty good first quarter. Then an injury to my left shoulder put me out. It was a dislocation. I remember that Paul War-field was also hurt, and he was getting a cracked collarbone treated in the training room, so I had to take my first aid in the locker room. The doctor braced his arm in my armpit and cranked my arm but it was no go. Later I had to have surgery. Still, the pro scouts must have liked what little they'd seen of me under pressure from real football players, because both Kansas City and Dallas wanted to sign me."
Color blindness prevented Staubach from receiving a commission as a naval line officer or as a flight officer, so he took his commission in supply. "That was a disappointment," he says. "I had hoped to get into naval aviation or into the Corps." But duty as a supply officer had its advantages. A few months after he was commissioned, Roger married his childhood sweetheart, Marianne Hoobler, and the chances for shore duty are much greater in supply than in the line. "I never really cared for sea duty—the long separations," he admits.
These were the years of the Vietnam war and it beckoned even to newly married supply officers. Staubach found himself for a year at Chu Lai, in charge of the "Sand Ramp," an ugly curve of oil-stained beach where LSTs crunched ashore to disgorge vehicles, ammo, fuel and crated supplies.
"I had 100 or more enlisted men under me and about 30 Vietnamese," he says. "I was in effect the beachmaster there, in the Freight Terminal Division. We moved gear, all right. Fortunately, I never came under fire, and my 12-month tour of duty ended before the Tet Offensive of early '68."
By July of 1969 Staubach's active-duty commitment to the Navy also expired, and he quickly executed a uniform shift: from Navy blue to Cowboy blue and silver. "I had stayed in good shape during my time in the Navy, playing a lot of basketball and a little tennis and football," he says, "and I'd done my best to keep abreast of the tactical changes in the game. So I was really no worse off than any rookie coming to the pros fresh from college." Indeed, he was probably a long way ahead of most. Four years of leading men, even if not in combat, can be a rapid road to maturity. And from what Coach Tom Landry, no slouch himself at the art of command, could see, Staubach had certainly followed that road.
But it takes a while for a quarterback to learn the pro game, and it wasn't until midway through the 1971 season that Staubach got a chance to start. Once he took the helm, it was all ahead full: in that season he passed for nearly 1,900 yards at a 59.7% completion rate. According to the NFL's complicated formula for ranking quarterbacks, he had a rating of 104.8, the highest he has yet achieved. He also ran 41 times for an 8.4-yard average and scored two touchdowns on top of the 15 he hit through the air. That season was capped by Dallas' 24-3 defeat of Miami in the Super Bowl and Staubach was rated the game's Most Valuable Player.
"If I hadn't known it already," he says, "that season and that Super Bowl taught me what an excellent strategist and tactician Tom Landry is. Everyone holds him in the highest respect. But he's an impossible man to get close to—as aloof and as cold as any admiral I ever met. He and I belonged to many of the same civic and charitable organizations, and if there was a dinner or a luncheon scheduled, I'd check first to see if he was going to be there. If he was, I'd weasel my way out of it. I was that frightened of him."
Staubach is quick to point out that it is meaningless to compare his performance as a quarterback with those of the other top-practitioners of the art. "I suppose that on the right day, I can execute as well as most," he says, "but I don't call the signals. Tom Landry does that. Back in '73 he let Craig Morton and me alternate calling the signals, and we had one of our best offensive seasons ever. But I guess he just couldn't stand not calling the shots himself. During one game, a 14-7 loss to Miami, I called an audible at the goal line and it failed to score. Then the field goal failed as well. That was it."
Staubach's passing, as he would be the first to admit, lacks the big-game-rifle range of a Bert Jones or the rattlesnake release of a Ken Stabler, but it combines elements of these and joins them with a jaw-grinding determination to connect when he has to. Take last January's Super Bowl game against Denver.
"It was a strange scene," Staubach says. "Playing indoors made it very difficult. The huge crowd—all that noise—it was very hard to hear. Very confusing. There was a pent-up, almost a panicky, feeling to it all. That may have accounted for some of our offensive mistakes. And then too, their defense played very tight all the way. But so did ours, so ultimately it was a question of putting points on the board the routine way, the hard way."
According to Staubach, the crucial play was the third-period touchdown pass to Butch Johnson in the end zone. The Cowboys had blown a lot of scoring chances up to that point, and although the score was 13-3, they had an ominous feeling that the Broncos could turn it around at any moment. The Cowboys had taken a punt from Bucky Dilts on their 42 and worked their way to a first down on the Denver 45. Staubach handed off to Tony Dorsett through the left side, but he couldn't get anything. Then Golden Richards went deep into the right-side end zone, but Roger overthrew him. It was 3rd and 10, and as the Cowboys waited for the play to come in from Landry, Staubach could feel that gluey, claustrophobic atmosphere growing and the crowd muttering like big bees humming all around him.
"The play called for Butch Johnson, the secondary receiver, to go deep left into the end zone," Staubach says. "But I told him to go to the post. I knew the Old Man wanted a touchdown right then. If we put it off any longer, they would go berserk on us. Butch had half a step on his man, and I let it go. It was a diving catch—45 yards and the touchdown.
"So when we finally scored on that pass play, we gained a lot of confidence. Then Newhouse's 29-yard option pass to Golden in the fourth quarter cemented it, 27-10. Hardly a classic game, but like most of them, anywhere, it was a tough one."
Staubach's statistics were impressive: 17 of 25 passes for 183 yards and no interceptions. He threw for only one touchdown, but it was the big one. By contrast, his erstwhile rival for the starting job at Dallas, Craig Morton, hit just four of 15 passes for Denver and was intercepted four times.
In the early 1970s, when Landry was trying to make up his mind between Morton and Staubach as the Dallas starter, arguments raged fiercely among Cowboy fans as to the two quarterbacks' respective strengths and weaknesses. Staubach, it was said, was green yet old, and he ran too much: he'd ultimately get clobbered so hard he'd be gone from the game for good. Morton, howled the opposition, might be a picture-book passer and more familiar with the Cowboy system but he was a softie, a loser.
Both sides were wrong. Staubach was neither too green nor too old, as his subsequent performances have shown. Nor has his running led to any serious injury—yet. He is certainly a dedicated, hard-driving competitor, and his style shows it. Morton, on the other hand, may have played for a lot of losing teams, but his acquittal of himself last season at Denver was hardly that of a softie—nor, despite the Super Bowl, that of a loser. Like most of the men who play the game, he is a mature, realistic, highly competent professional. As the old Texas saying goes, "Some days you eat the bear. Some days the bear eats you." Last Jan. 12 in New Orleans, the bear was mighty hongry...for pony meat.
"Craig and I competed hard against one another for the starting job," Staubach said last month while walking across the campus of California Lutheran College in Thousand Oaks, where the Cowboys had their training camp. "But that's only to be expected. We have always been good friends off the field, and I've always wished him well. And that's no sea story. I sure won't say anything to put him down. He's a good man and a good quarterback. Before the Super Bowl, when all the reporters were trying to make this so-called big rivalry between us a major story, I got faintly ill with it all. That's not at all how it is in professional sports."
Cal Lutheran is only 17 years old, and legend has it that Tom Landry was flying across the then-empty stretch of tawny hills when he pointed down and said, "Let there be a college." Certainly it is a better site for a training camp than Dallas, which suffered from 18 straight days of 100° temperatures this summer, replete with melting streets and heat-cracking buildings. At Cal Lutheran, even at midday it is dry and cool in the shade, the air astringent with the smell of sweating eucalyptus trees. Staubach walked straight as a midshipman, an invisible chin strap holding his head up and back. Without pads, he is somewhat slope-shouldered, and he walks with an ursine gait. A black rookie passed him going the other way, moaning to his buddies, "There ought to be a law against gettin' beat up every day." Staubach suppressed a grin.
John Fitzgerald, the Cowboy center, was carrying his tray from the cafeteria line as Staubach entered the dining hall. "Hey, John," Staubach said, "we're going to have to do something about that matter I mentioned to you this morning." Fitzgerald is beefy, flushed, his curly hair still wet and tousled. "Yeah," he said, "maybe I ought to start wearing gloves."
"Well, something," Staubach said. He explained that Fitz had come to camp overweight and wore a sweat belt during practice to boil off the blubber. His hands were so sweaty that Roger couldn't get a proper grip on the ball. Minor tactical considerations.
"Being in shape gives me confidence," Roger said, sitting down to eat. "Quarterbacks have to be confident. If you think something is going to go wrong, it will. Mental toughness is the one thing all top quarterbacks share, regardless of how they conduct their lives off the field. That and concentration. I have got to concentrate on football non-stop during the season, give it first priority, full time. Fortunately, my family understands; they're well-regimented. And real estate—I just set up my own firm last year—permits me to forget about it during the critical sales months.
"As to the physical preparation, I try to stay fit all year round. I've got a weight machine in my garage and it helps a lot with upper-body development. That in turn helps me to take the punishment during the year. I don't know if it's made me a stronger passer, but it's kept me healthy enough to keep passing. I also work out at the Aerobics Activity Center, which is run by Dr. Ken Cooper, the man who made aerobics popular in this country. But the best conditioning sport for a football player is basketball—the stopping and starting, the weaving movement, the demand it places on endurance. I mean full-court basketball. Not just killing each other under the hoop as you do in half-court. I also play tennis, but only once a week. I'm afraid that more tennis might lead to tendinitis."
All that physical activity coupled with church and charities doesn't seem to leave much time for intellectual nurture.
"Oh, no," he said. "I read a lot. Right now I'm into an "odd parlay: Nixon's memoirs and Colleen McCullough's The Thorn Birds. I'm a Watergate freak, I guess. I've read everything from Magruder to, well, Colson's Born Again. I'm very concerned about public morality and leadership, but I'm sure not going to set myself up as an authority. Entertainers and athletes should certainly have their own opinions of how society ought to be run, about right and wrong, but how can they in good conscience prescribe behavior the way they do on the talk shows? Being in the public eye is no license to suggest how people should live or govern themselves. Renown alone is hardly a credential.
"When you've achieved a certain measure of popular fame, you also have the power to exert enormous leverage on impressionable minds. A lot of well-known people don't realize that in its fullest implication. I feel very comfortable with my religion, and I know I couldn't be happy without it, but I'm not about to go around telling everyone to believe as I do, to pray as I do. I've been able to absorb the changes that grew out of Pope John's Vatican Councils, and I think they are good changes. The Church should have a social conscience, should take care of people's spiritual needs regardless of race or politics. I hate the hypocrisy of, say, the pious churchgoer who observes the Sabbath to the letter and then later in the week harangues against 'niggers' and fosters bigotry. It's simplistic, maybe, and Phyllis George might not like it, maybe, but I believe in being good. It makes other people feel good, and I feel good when they feel that way.
"But," and now he grinned wide open, "when I'm on the football field, I like to win."