So long, Roger, we gave you a bum deal, kid. For openers, we never picked you All-Pro. That's we, the writers, the pickers, the guys who vote on the AP and Pro Football Writers ballots. Now that's a bad call right away, because all you did was end up as the NFL's top-rated passer—in history, the whole 59 years. Higher than Unitas, than Tarkenton or Jurgensen, than Tittle or Baugh. And you quarterbacked the Cowboys in four of their five Super Bowls, winning twice. And brought the team from behind to victory 14 times in the last two minutes or in overtime, 23 times in the fourth quarter. Hey, what does a guy have to do?
Oh, you made the all-division team a few times. But never the big one, the starting 11, AFC and NFC combined. "You look back on it and it seems amazing, doesn't it?" says one selector. "But it just worked out that when he had his greatest years, someone had a slightly better one. And then you felt that Roger would always be around, and he'd be great for the next 10 years or so, and his time would come. So you went with the hot hand...and Staubach got stiffed."
And now he's gone. Staubach made it official last week at a press conference in the Texas Stadium Club room. There were 200 witnesses, some from as far away as New Jersey, 42 of them with microphones. With the metronomic click-click-click of the cameras in the background, Staubach spoke for 18 minutes.
He wore an open-neck shirt and a dark blue sweater. He looked a very youthful 38. A few gray hairs, a few lines in the face, but not the image of the old pro saying farewell. He looked youthful until you saw film clips of him in his rookie year of '69. Flattop haircut, baby face—a child, really. And the guy was 27 with a year of Vietnam behind him.
The book on Staubach was always that his four years of naval service didn't count when you figured his NFL age, that being in Nam doesn't age you as quickly as ducking forearms. It's an argument that probably would have been projected into his 50th year: "He's not really a 50-year-old quarterback, you see; his actual NFL age is only 46."
But last week Staubach put an end to it, joining a very small fraternity of NFL stars who quit when they could still command a big salary—Jimmy Brown, Fran Tarkenton, Whizzer White if you want to go way back. His announcement overshadowed two other major Cowboy retirements, each of which could have commanded a major press conference of its own. Offensive Tackle Rayfield Wright, 34, and Free Safety Cliff Harris, 31, with nine years of combined All-Pro behind them, each called it a career. With Wright it was a forced decision. Tom Landry decided that 13 seasons was enough. But Harris, the definitive safetyman of the '70s and an almost certain Hall of Famer, caught the Cowboys by surprise when he told them he had a good opportunity with a young and energetic oil company, and there comes a time in every man's life....
Gone, too, is Hollywood Henderson, the strongside linebacker. No, his reinstatement is not being considered, nor will it be. That holds true whatever happens to his replacement, Mike Hegman, who is facing possible prosecution on a charge of theft for allegedly forging a friend's name on $10,534 worth of checks.
So all of a sudden there are holes all over the Cowboys' depth chart as well as in the roof of their stadium. It is hoped that Too Tall Jones will return from his one-year boxing career. Underline hope; so far he hasn't said anything about it. Charlie Waters, the All-Pro strong safety, is coming back from major knee surgery. And the Cowboys won't be drafting until the third round, Nos. 1 and 2 having gone to the Colts for Defensive End John Dutton.
So last week Landry, who hasn't experienced such a severe case of the shorts since the early expansion years in Dallas, watched his quarterback say good-by, and he was wondering where he'd find another one like him.
"He hadn't indicated anything during the season," he said later. "He'd had such a good year, one of his best ever. But things weren't encouraging during the off-season. Right after the playoffs, he told me he was considering the possibility of retiring. He said he wanted to tell me early, so I could get ready for it."