JENNIFER FIERRO • STAFF WRITER
HORSESHOE BAY — After a professional football career that included several trips to the Super Bowl and a college career at the Naval Academy along with winning the Heisman Trophy, former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach had to really dig through his gridiron years when it came to picking his most important completion.
It wasn’t one that would win a Super Bowl, or even a regular season game. And it didn’t come during his time at the Naval Academy.
Staubach’s most important pass completion came in Cincinnati, years before he ever put on a Cowboys jersey. It came during a game for Purcell High School, and Staubach said it changed his life.
Staubach, who lives in Horseshoe Bay, was the guest speaker at the Horseshoe Bay Sports Club on Sept. 21. During the event, which was sponsored by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Staubach talked about his incredible journey from high school receiver and defensive back to MVP and two-time Super Bowl champion.
For Staubach, his playing career and big decisions have come at important moments, he said.
“There are certain things that happen in your life. You get lucky and you take advantage of them,” he said.
As a quarterback, one of those moments occurred in the 1950s at Purcell High School in Cincinnati.
The new head coach approached him about playing quarterback because he saw some good qualities in the youngster – Staubach was a pitcher for the baseball team and could throw and his teammates respected him.
So that spring, Staubach worked at the quarterback position and battled another player for the starting job. By the end of the competition, Staubach had won the job. During his first game, he led his team on the game-winning drive that ended when he threw a touchdown for the victory.
“It was the most important touchdown I ever threw in my life,” he said. “If we didn’t win that game, (the other quarterback) would the starting quarterback, and he’d be speaking to you. I loved being the quarterback. It changed my life. Girls liked me more being the quarterback.”
After high school, Staubach attended the New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell because he needed another year at quarterback. After that, he went to the Naval Academy.
The Dallas Cowboys drafted Staubach in 1964, but he wasn’t going to be able to play for them until he not only completed the academy but served his four-year military obligation. At best, he would join the Cowboys or another professional squad as a 27-year-old rookie.
After his graduation from the academy in 1965, Staubach went on to serve in the Navy, including a tour in Vietnam where he commanded 41 enlisted men. He could have chosen to stay in the states, but instead, volunteered for the one-year tour in Vietnam.
During his time in the Navy, he played on a number of Navy-related football teams to help get him ready for his professional career.
While a student at the academy, he met Lamar Hunt, the owner of the Kansas City Chiefs of the American Football League. At the time, the AFL was still separate from the National Football League. The Chiefs had also drafted the midshipman.
Hunt offered Staubach a contract that included $500 a month while he was at the academy and an additional $10,000 when he joined the Chiefs.
To illustrate how tempting the contract was, even though Staubach wasn’t sure he wanted to play pro ball, he recalled what he and his wife, Marianne, had to do when they married.
“My wife sold the car to pay for our wedding reception,” he said.
Staubach went to his superior officers and told them of his conversation with Hunt and asked if there was a violation with the Navy to sign it. They said no, but they recommended he talk to the Dallas Cowboys, the NFL team that held Staubach’s draft rights. Gil Brandt, who was the Cowboys vice president of personnel, had visited Staubach’s parents about the quarterback joining the team. Elizabeth Staubach, the player’s mother, “threw (Brandt) out of the house.”
But in fairness to the Cowboys, Staubach called Brandt and told him about Hunt’s visit. So three weeks later, when the Cowboys were playing the Eagles, they came to Staubach and offered him the same contract.
Because of the stability of the NFL, Staubach signed with the Cowboys and called Hunt to tell him of his decision.
Hunt, a former Texan, said, “I was starting negotiations. I was willing to pay $600 a month.”
But it was too late. Staubach said he gave $2,000 to his wife’s parents and $2,000 to his own parents from his first player contract.
He went to training camp in 1969 wondering if he could still play after serving his four-year Naval obligation. When he left training camp, he had his answer. That same year, Don Meredith, the Cowboys’ first quarterback retired. Craig Morton took over as the starter and remained there until 1971.
By then, Dallas had the reputation of being unable to “win the big one.”
“So we started losing right away,” Staubach joked.
The Cowboys began that season 4-3, while Washington was 6-1. Head coach Tom Landry had used Morton and Staubach at quarterback during a 23-19 road loss to Chicago by alternating them every play. On the flight back to Dallas, Landry addressed the team. He told the players that coaches wouldn’t be at practice the next day.
“But you better show up and figure out how we’re going to get the season turned around,” Landry said.
Several players, including Bob Lilly, Mel Renfro, and Mike Ditka, talked about teamwork. Later that week, Staubach was told he was the new starting quarterback.
But that team meeting left a lifelong impression on Staubach.
“You get the right people in the right place working together,” he said. “There are no traffic jams on the extra mile of life. We did work harder the rest of that year. Coach Landry was amazed at how hard we practiced.”
The Cowboys didn’t lose another game en route to winning Super Bowl VI, and Staubach was the game’s Most Valuable Player.
Staubach played for the Cowboys from 1969-1979, winning two Super Bowls and earning one Super Bowl MVP.
And it all goes back to that one touchdown completion he made for Purcell High School more than 55 years ago.