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."