Staubach might have decided already. After the 21-19 loss to the Rams in the playoffs, he was driving home with his wife, Marianne, and he told her he'd had it. "That's it," he said. "Can you believe that the last pass I completed in the NFL was to Herbert Scott?"
Every official in Texas Stadium reached for his flag on that play. Guards aren't eligible receivers in the NFL. Staubach had been trying to throw the ball away, throw it into the ground, but he'd gotten too much on it, and it hit Scott in the belly and he reflexively grabbed it. Staubach had been zapped earlier in the game when Jack Reynolds bounced his head off the Tartan Turf, giving Roger his fifth concussion of the season.
He was tired and his head hurt and his team had just been eliminated from the playoffs. December talk, his wife figured. She'd heard it before. But Lord knows, it wouldn't be such a bad idea. Five concussions, two of them serious. He'd experienced some numbness after the Pittsburgh game.
Twenty concussions, total, including high school. A few weeks after the Rams game, a New York neurologist told Staubach that, yes, there was some cumulative damage, a slight slowing of some of the reflexes.
He had paid his dues. His left shoulder was dislocated 17 times before he underwent surgery to have the ligaments tightened. When Staubach tries to move his left arm backward, the motion is markedly limited. The little finger on his throwing hand doesn't look like a finger at all. It's a perfect Z, discounting a big round knot in the middle. The index finger is swollen and off-line.
"I was hoping he meant it that day in the car, that he'd really retire," his wife says. "If he'd have played again this year and he'd have been knocked out again, my heart would have stopped. But I wasn't going to tell him that. The decision had to be his. Usually I could see his enthusiasm coming back in the off-season. This year I didn't."
The idea of his retiring had taken hold, although in Dallas Staubach had become an institution. His secretary, Roz Cole, was sending out 10,000 pictures a season. He would write a personal message on 300 a week; he'd answer 3,000 letters a year. His life had become an inspiration to the country, but it had its price. He'd get requests for 70 to 80 speaking engagements a week. Church groups, prisons, hospitals. It's not in Staubach's nature to stiff anybody. You've never heard any stories about him brushing off a kid with an autograph book. Sonny Jurgensen used to duck out on the writers, through a back door, after his games; Joe Namath had one set of writers he'd talk to and another he wouldn't, but no journalist ever said Staubach had given him a hard time.
What could he do? He had a life to live. He has five children at home. "They need quality time from me," he concluded. "Not just time, but quality time. I'd be watching films and my daughter would come in to tell me about something that happened in school, and I'd say, 'Not now, can't you see I'm busy?' and she'd go away. And then an hour later I'd think, 'What the heck have I done?' and I'd go and find her up in her bedroom and try to tell her how sorry I was."
He added up the pluses and minuses of life in the NFL. And outside: he is president of a real-estate company, Holloway-Staubach, that is branching out. In that league he was known as a "young executive." The decision became clear to Staubach. It was time.
A press conference was announced. The next day Gil Brandt, the Cowboys' Vice-President for Personnel Development, was stopped by a patrolman for making an improper turn on the North Central Expressway in Dallas. He had left his wallet and driver's license in the office.