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."