The halls of Pro Football History are lined with the number 12. Countless legends have worn it: Terry Bradshaw, Bob Griese, Joe Namath, Jim Kelly, John Brodie, Randall Cunningham, Ken Stabler, and active players like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers… the number 12 has become synonymous with great quarterbacks.
With 12 days until what fans hope will be a memorable season for the Dallas Cowboys begins, we are continuing our Countdown To Kickoff with perhaps the greatest one of all.
The Following Players Have All Worn 12 For The Dallas Cowboys:
- John Roach, QB
- Roger Staubach^, QB
- Ron Widby, P
^Pro Football Hall of Famer
There is a man, an icon, a legend, a universally treasured Dallas Cowboy that also slipped the number 12 over his shoulders during his football playing days. He is much more than an amazing football player; he is an amazing person in every conceivable way.
Not only does this #12 transcend all of the players that have worn it for the Dallas Cowboys, but he he transcends the entire history of the Dallas Cowboys franchise. We are talking about a player who is, across multiple generations, regarded as the best.
Every day since June 6th we have used our Countdown To Kickoff series to highlight the Greatest Cowboys to wear each individual jersey number. While we are certainly continuing that tradition today, this Cowboy carries a badge of honor that only one can tout.
It is my absolute privilege to present to you:
The Greatest Dallas Cowboy Of All-Time: Roger Staubach
In 1963 the United States Naval Academy boasted one of the finest football players all across the land. He was an improvisational type of quarterback, one who opposing defenses seemed incapable of containing with his quick feet and iconic escapability.
Roger Thomas Staubach – hailing from Cincinnati, Ohio – was the talk of the country as he quarterbacked the Midshipmen. His offensive linemen raved about how it was such an adventure to block for him because one second he’d be on the left side of the field and then dash his way to the right – you never knew where he’d be!
Where he was happened to be smack dab in the middle of the college football universe. Roger was widely regarded as the best player in the game in 1963. This popular opinion turned stone cold fact when Roger Staubach won the Heisman Trophy in 1963, making him the second person out of the Navy to win the award (and most recent).
1964 NFL Draft
During the early days of the NFL there were such things as “future picks.” These allowed NFL clubs to draft players and obtain their rights while said players still had college eligibility that they fulfilled. It was like calling dibs on that last slice of pizza while it’s still dough.
The Dallas Cowboys brain trust had heard whispers of that kid out of the Navy that won the Heisman. He was supposed to be pretty good, right? They deemed Staubach worthy of their 10th round pick, 129th overall, and were ready to roll. All they had to do was wait for him to fulfill that college eligibility, right?
One year later in 1965, another Cowboys “future pick” from the year before joined the team. His name was Bob Hayes. Where was his fellow draftee Roger Staubach?
The Navy And Vietnam
Part of the reason that Roger Staubach slipped all the way to the 10th round in that 1964 Draft revolved around much more than his remaining year of college eligibility. While, yes, Staubach returned for one more year to play football for the Navy… he still owed them four years of Naval service after that.
Beginning in 1965, while his Dallas Cowboy teammates were training for football, Staubach was fulfilling his commitment to the United States Navy. During this time he’d work on his throwing mechanics as much as he could, receiving footballs from Gil Brandt to toss around wherever he was.
In the middle of his Naval service Staubach volunteered for a one-year tour of duty in Vietnam. The former Heisman Trophy Winner, who belonged to the Dallas Cowboys, was as far away from the game of football as he had ever been.
How incredible is it that Roger Staubach, over the course of four years, served his country and managed to maintain his football skills at the same time? Think about it for a second. Imagine if the reigning Heisman Trophy Winner, so in this case Marcus Mariota, was drafted and unable to play for four years. The speculation about his return, if even possible, would be never-ending.
Roger Staubach fully planned on playing professional football after he completed his time in the Navy. Could someone actually win the Heisman Trophy, take four years “off” (in the Navy no less), and return to compete at a legitimate level? We were about to find out.
1969: The Return Of Roger
When on leave, and while the other Navy members were fulfilling their own commitments or getting some much needed rest and relaxation, Roger Staubach spent his time training with the Dallas Cowboys.
His dreams and aspirations of being an NFL quarterback were alive and well, and when he returned in 1969 as a 27-year-old rookie he was ready to prove it.
Those first two seasons in Dallas belonged primarily to quarterback Craig Morton, who was drafted in the same year that Roger’s Naval duties began. He was a fine quarterback, and he even took the Cowboys to the Super Bowl in the first season of NFL-AFL merger in 1970… just barely losing to the Baltimore Colts.
Entering the 1971 contest Roger Staubach knew that he had the goods to play quarterback in the National Football League. He also knew that at 29 years old he needed to begin his career before it was too late. He petitioned to Head Coach Tom Landry to either start or be traded.
Tom Landry is arguably the finest mind to ever grace the sidelines of a football field. He designed a system for how his football team was to work, including the offensive mechanics, that he believed needed to be followed at all times.
With two capable quarterbacks in Morton and Staubach, Coach Landry didn’t know what to do. He decided to start Morton in the first week, but then started Staubach, then he started Morton, what was going on?
Things reached a breaking point on Halloween in a loss against the Chicago Bears when Coach Landry literally swapped Morton and Staubach out every series. This had to stop. The team needed one quarterback. They needed one leader. The Dallas Cowboys needed Roger Staubach.
Craig Morton recounts Tom Landry calling him over following the loss in Chicago and telling him that he was going with Staubach. “He said he had a feeling,” Morton said.
What. A. Feeling.
On November 7th, 1971 Roger Staubach took the reins of the Dallas Cowboys. He was now the leader of America’s Team; Roger Staubach was Captain America.
He tore through the remainder of the 1971 season throwing for 1,249 yards, 10 touchdowns, and a lone interception in the regular season finale as the Cowboys made their way to the playoffs in hopes of avenging the previous year’s Super Bowl loss.
The Cowboys started their playoff run with a win on Christmas Day in Minnesota and punched their ticket to Super Bowl VI against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.
Roger Staubach put the exclamation point on a spectacular season (he was voted to the Pro Bowl and led the NFL in Passer Rating with 104.8) with a victory in the biggest game there is.
His 119 yards and 2 touchdowns (Staubach threw for 321 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions in the entire 1971 postseason) cemented him as the game’s Most Valuable Player… making Roger Staubach the first person ever to win both the Heisman Trophy and Super Bowl MVP Award.
Roger The Dodger
While he lost most of the 1972 season to a shoulder injury, Roger Staubach assumed his starting role for good in 1973. His play style became widely known throughout the NFL as defenders one and all were left wondering how to stop him.
Just when they thought they had him, he was gone. Right when they thought they’d trapped him, he danced his way out of trouble. When they collapsed the pocket and gave him no way out – Roger shook them all off.
Staubach electrified fans with his dazzling moves in the backfield. His uncanny ability to keep plays alive was his secret weapon, but it went against Tom Landry’s coveted system.
The Greatest 41 in Dallas Cowboys History, Charlie Waters, recalls that Coach Landry’s “No, Roger, no!” shouts would suddenly, after a trademark Staubach escape, turn into “Go, Roger, go!”.
Roger’s ability to evade would-be tacklers and make something happen out of what seemed like nothing made him and the Dallas Cowboys one of the more premiere offenses of the time. Opponents absolutely could not contain him. He had a will to win unlike anyone had ever seen.
Compete, Compete, Compete
It shouldn’t be surprising that NFL players are highly competitive, but there are none who have ever wanted to win more than Roger Staubach. Everything was about winning, every single thing.
Bob Lilly has told tales about practices where Roger would tell Bob Hayes (owner of an Olympic Gold Medal in sprinting, mind you) that he could beat him in a 20-yard dash.
“Roger told Bob Hayes one day, he said, ‘I’m gonna beat you in a 20-yard dash.’ They ran one and Bob beat him. And they ran two and Bob beat him. They ran five and Bob beat him. And they ran ten and Bob beat him! …And after about the thirtieth one – he beat Bob. And that was the end.”
Staubach’s competitiveness wasn’t just seen in races against Pro Football Hall of Famer Bob Hayes. He pushed his teammates to greater heights than even they thought possible. Roger was able to draw more out of a player than that player could have drawn out of himself – the mark of a true leader.
Roger’s teammates idolized him. He was bigger than life to them. They felt that with him, anything was possible. They gave him their absolute all because they knew that if they did he would deliver for them and the Dallas Cowboys.
The ability to deliver victory when all hope was lost had become the signature move of Roger Staubach in the mid-70s. He could be counted on in extremely clutch situations and exemplified a will win, regardless of the circumstances.
As a deep man of faith, Roger never hid his religious beliefs or conservative lifestyle. He was a married man who praised God and was one of the greatest quarterbacks in the world. His religious life and football life merged as one on December 28th, 1975.
Minnesota is a cold place in December. It’s even colder when you’re trailing 14-10 in the playoffs with very little time remaining. Toss in the Purple People Eaters chasing you on every play and it’s hard to imagine anything more frigid.
Captain Comeback to the rescue! With the season on the line Roger Staubach launched a 50-yard bomb in the direction of Drew Pearson. As fate, or divine intervention, would have it… the ball landed safely in the arms of Pearson as he ran in for the game-winning score. When asked by reporters what happened on the all-important play, Staubach gave birth to an iconic term that is, still to this day, used all across football.
“So we win 17-14. And after the game they just said to me, ‘Roger, what were you thinking about when you threw the ball?’ I just said, ‘Well I closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary. I’m a Catholic kid from Cincinnati.’”
Of all the comebacks that Roger Staubach engineered, this one stands out the most. The “Hail Mary” was born out of Staubach’s never-give-up mentality, and it is etched forever in NFL History.
The Legend Of Roger Staubach
The thrilling victory over the Vikings in 1975 was met with the disappointment of losing Super Bowl X to the Pittsburgh Steelers. No worries, Roger Staubach would rescue the Cowboys once again.
In 1976 the Dallas Cowboys drafted what seemed to be the heir apparent at quarterback in Danny White. He was good and Roger was, well, Roger Staubach. This left another backup quarterback by the name of Clint Longley feeling a little on edge.
One day Clint and Roger were arguing in the locker room. Before you know it a scuffle breaks out! Fists flying, legs up in the air, these were quarterbacks… brawling! The next day Longley, seeking revenge, cold-cocked Staubach when his guard was down and scampered away.
Gil Brandt wasn’t going to tolerate someone sucker punching his starting quarterback and leader of the team, so he traded Longley away to the San Diego Chargers for draft picks. This was the first domino that fell in a line that led to the Cowboys drafting Pro Football Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett with the second overall pick in 1977.
With another Heisman Trophy Winner to hand the ball off to, Roger had a myriad of weapons on the Dallas Cowboys offense. Staubach and the Cowboys stormed through the 1977 season, going 12-2, and found themselves in Super Bowl XII (the first Super Bowl in the Louisiana Superdome, fun fact). Their opponents? The Denver Broncos… quarterbacked by none other than Craig Morton.
The famed Doomsday Defense, knowing everything about him, took care of Morton while Staubach and the offense lit up the Superdome scoreboard. Roger threw one of the most beautiful touchdown passes in Super Bowl History to Butch Johnson as the Cowboys marched to a 27-10 victory, and America’s Team was once again on top of the world.
End Of An Era
Even though two Super Bowl rings weighed down his hand at this point, Roger Staubach had his finest statistical seasons in 1978 and 1979.
He crossed 3,000 yards in both seasons, something that he had never done up until that point. He also threw for at least 25 touchdowns in both seasons, which was another new accomplishment – although he did lead the league with 23 touchdowns in 1973. Staubach also led the league in quarterback rating both years with 84.9 and 92.3, respectively.
The Cowboys reached the Super Bowl for the second straight season in 1978 and played in what I believe to be the greatest game ever played, Super Bowl XIII.
A combined 15 Pro Football Hall of Famers participated in the shootout. This was, at the time, the highest scoring Super Bowl in NFL History… and the Steelers unfortunately outlasted the Cowboys, 35-31.
Staubach would return for one more year in 1979, leading the Cowboys to an 11-5 record and yet another playoff appearance; however, the Cowboys were denied a third straight Super Bowl appearance by the Los Angeles Rams at Texas Stadium, and the end of an era was upon the Dallas Cowboys.
With concussion injuries a concern, and heeding some professional medical advice, Roger Staubach retired from football… after giving the game everything that he had, making it all the more greater while doing so.
Staubach gave one of the most memorable retirement speeches in Dallas Cowboys History. He cited the “system” that Coach Landry had instilled and, showing emotion, spoke of the influence of the iconic coach and his fedora.
“The system was successful before me, and it’ll be successful without me. Of course the nuts and bolts of the Dallas Cowboys is… a man who wears a funny hat on the sidelines.”
#12: Roger Staubach
It’s hard to comprehend just how much Roger Staubach accomplished during his time in the NFL. It’s especially hard to wrap your mind around it when you consider that he did it after four years being away from the game while in the Navy. His career resume includes:
- 1963 Heisman Trophy Winner
- 6-Time Pro Bowl Selection (1971, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979)
- Led NFL in Passer Rating 4 Times (1971, 1973, 1978, 1979)
- 85 Career Wins (2nd in Dallas Cowboys History)
- 153 Career Touchdown Passes (4th in Dallas Cowboys History)
- 22,700 Career Passing Yards (3rd in Dallas Cowboys History)
- 2-Time Super Bowl Champion (VI, XII)
- Super Bowl VI MVP
- Member of NFL’s 1970s All-Decade Team
- Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor, Class of 1983
- Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1985
In 1977 Roger Staubach started a commercial real estate business called The Staubach Company. After his football career was over he ventured deeper into this new world.
He applied the same level of focus, intensity, and classic Staubach touch to his new playing field and experienced immense success. In 2007 he sold his company to Jones Lang LaSalle, where he currently serves as Executive Chairman.
As much as people believe in Roger Staubach, an amount that knows no end, he believes in people more. Throughout his entire life Roger Staubach has shown the same ferocity that he displayed on the football field through his unconditional love towards others.
The likes of Drew Pearson, Charlie Waters, Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson, and many others have all spoken of Staubach’s endless generosity. When someone is in need, anyone, Roger Staubach dials up one of his trademark plays and finds a way to help them cross the goal line for a touchdown.
So often in sports we idolize those who are capable of superhuman acts that seem impossible to us. The way football players dodge defenders, run through tackles, and leap through the air to catch touchdowns are all things that we just do not have the ability to do.
Throughout his entire life Roger Staubach has done the impossible. The greatest defenders in NFL History were all left empty-handed when they chased him down. There is no doubt that he is one of the most legendary figures to ever play the game of football.
What makes Roger Staubach truly admirable though, is he has always done the impossible and the possible. So many public figures, and especially athletes, lose sight of what’s important in life… not Roger Staubach.
Everything about him is world class both in and out of the game of football. He is devout in his faith, a wonderful husband, a loving father and grandfather, and he gives his all in every facet of his life.
If you have ever experienced the joy of watching Roger Staubach play football then you know what I’m talking about.
Roger Staubach is so much more than the Greatest 12 in Dallas Cowboys History. He serves as an inspiration to us all that real-life heroes do exist. He is anything and everything that you would want him to be, both on and off the field. He is a man of faith, an American hero, an NFL legend, and a Star in everything that he’s ever done…
Roger Staubach is, and will forever be, the Greatest Dallas Cowboy of All-Time.
Check back tomorrow to find out who the Greatest 11 in Dallas Cowboys History is!