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Original Issue


After 11 seasons of hard, unsurpassed play, and a whole lot of hard knocks, Roger Staubach retires from a team in transition

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."

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.

"I'll tell you what," the cop said. "You tell me what Roger's gonna do and I'll let you go."

"Buddy, I just wish I knew," Brandt said. The cop let him go anyway.

On Monday morning Staubach drove to the practice field to say goodby to his teammates. He wanted to keep it light.

"I felt it was only fitting that Herb Scott caught my last pass," he said. "He's worked hard during his career, and he never got to catch one. And he did such a good job getting open on the play."

It was nice and loose—for a while. One more oversight in Staubach's career is that he never got the recognition he deserved as a comic. He's got a genuine zany streak, and he should have been born looking like Woody Allen, but when you're president of the student body in high school and prom king and a star in three sports—well, those credentials don't break 'em up.

A few days before the press conference the Cowboys' receptionist got a call from a cactus-voiced fan who told her, "If Roger's leaving, you can just cancel my season tickets right now." She hung up. Then came another call, nastier than the first. Then another. Then Staubach called. "I want to find out how many fans have canceled their season tickets," he said.

"Dammit, Roger," she said. "They were all you!"

When it came time for Staubach to thank his teammates for the 11 years, things got a little heavy. You don't just snappy-patter out of a career. But the toughest time came in the press conference when Staubach had to speak of Landry. "Of course the nuts and bolts of the Dallas Cowboys." he said, and there was a pause of 10 seconds or so while he got himself together, "was the man who wears the funny hat on the sidelines."

"I don't know why, but I just couldn't say his name," Staubach said later. "I didn't want to get too emotional, but when I came to his name—well, I knew if I said it I'd probably lose control."

The press conference over, Staubach drove home with Marianne. Danny White and Glenn Carano, who will line up for the quarterback job next season, dropped by, along with Middle Linebacker Bob Breunig, and they played some two-on-two half-court basketball in the backyard. Staubach and White took two of three games.

When sundown came, Staubach and his family went to a friend's house for a first night of Passover seder. "I wore a yarmulke," he said. "The kids got a tremendous kick out of the hiding of the matzo and then ransoming it; the food was terrific. It was a good way to end a very tough day."

For the Cowboys the tough days are only beginning. Landry will spend more time coaching the defense this season, and former Cowboy Halfback Danny Reeves will have more responsibility for the offense. It's not hard to figure out why Landry is so interested in his defense. The Cowboys gave up 313 points last year, the most since 1963, when Don Meredith and Eddie LeBaron were battling to quarterback a 4-10 team. The rushing defense was 11th in the league, and the Cowboys had the fewest interceptions (13) in the NFL. Staubach pulled out four games in the last two minutes. "He was the difference between a good year and an average year," Landry says. And now there's no Staubach to carry the Cowboys anymore.

Everyone says White has the potential to produce points, but what about the defense? "It's the kind of challenge that Landry handles best," Harris says. "Somehow I get the feeling he'll find exactly the right pieces to fit into the puzzle. I think his genius will really come out next season."

Landry still isn't convinced Harris will stay retired. "He's impulsive," the coach says. "He does things the way he plays. He gives so much, just like Roger, that he needs the spark, and if he doesn't think it's there...well, then he just doesn't feel he can give what's needed. I think he might get the spark back."

Harris likes to talk about the oil firm he works for, U.S. Companies Inc., which acquires property, makes tests, then drills. He gets excited when he tells you about the chances of hitting a big one. Staubach has already become an investor in U.S. Companies. Harris doesn't sound as if he really wants to drill receivers anymore.

"Listen to this," he says. "One of the guys who called me when I retired was Lynn Swann. Can you imagine? Swann, of all people. Such a bitter rival, for so long. He said, I don't mind your leaving. It'll extend my career.' "

Harris was one of four players, along with Staubach, Breunig and Tony Dorsett, who came up with $2,000 apiece to help Hegman cover those checks. Hegman himself covered the rest, and the bank. Republic National of Dallas, is supposedly satisfied, but the Dallas DA's office has not yet decided what to do about the case.

Henderson is gone. "Landry has had it up to here with him, and so have a lot of us," one player says. "The guy would always pick defensive day to come up with a sore back or something. When he pulled that sideline stunt in the Washington game [Henderson was fooling with a bandanna for a TV camera] it was the last straw. We were getting blown out, and he wasn't making any tackles—that's the wrong time to clown."

"The offers we've had on a trade for him are embarrassing," says Brandt. "Nothing as high as a first- or second-round draft, which we need. I don't know, Butch Johnson [a backup wide receiver] keeps talking about wanting to be traded. Maybe we can put together a package with him and Thomas."

Pat Thomas, L.A.'s left cornerback, is mad at the Rams and wants to play for Dallas. He's visited the Cowboys' office, which is only a short trip from his home in Piano. But not many people seriously expect the Rams to trade their best defensive back to a traditional playoff rival.

Then there's talk about Patriot Cornerback Mike Haynes, who has played out his option and wouldn't mind wearing silver and blue. But if the Cowboys pick him up, it would cost them two years' worth of first-round picks, based on Haynes' salary, which would mean going in hock until 1982. It's a risky way to travel, and it's never been their style.

The reality is that Staubach is gone and so is Harris, and the defense shows patches. For the first time in years, the Cowboys are going into a season shorthanded. Landry has been there before. He didn't lose all that hair for nothing.


The scene was happening too often: Staubach is hit hard, leaves the Held woozily and remains on the bench, suffering another concussion.


This is "quality" time with 5-year-old Jeffrey.


The hat may be funny; that challenge is not.


Harris would rather hit oil than receivers.


Hollywood gets calls, but not from Dallas.