Curfew Incident Reveals That Roger Staubach Is Mortal After All
The mind of a child is an absorbent mechanism, impressionable to the utmost degree. While certainly expanding its store of knowledge at a rapid pace, it can often be naïve in its simplicity. Too often, in a child’s haste to grow and to do, there is little thought for what came before, resulting in an inadequate, over-inflated regard for present surroundings, and a lack of appreciation for past happenings. This is the joy of childhood.
As a youth, my eyes were captivated by a quarterback on television with a rocket arm and a confidence that was as big as Texas. With a football in my hands, I wanted to be just like him, all the while knowing the futility of such an endeavor. To fill the shoes of three-time Super Bowl champion Troy Kenneth Aikman was a dream that a realist dared not entertain, outside the fantasy of his own backyard. Aikman was, simply put, The Best.
I would have placed the unequivocal stamp of The Best Ever upon Aikman had it not been for the insistent antiquated memories of relatives. While my eyes beheld Aikman, my ears were burning with the outrageous, outlandish tales of a Cowboy gunslinger before my time.
And when my Dad brought back a surprise from Barnes & Noble on one gray winter day, I was afforded my first opportunity to read about this legend for myself. From the pages of Greg Garber’s brilliantly illustrated book Great Quarterbacks, I first learned of a Roger named “The Dodger” and his mastery of the two-minute drill. As the years progressed, there were many more more encounters with Roger’s brilliance, from the “Hail Mary” pass against Minnesota in a 1975 playoff game to those wonderfully spirited battles with George Allen, Diron Talbert and the Redskins.
His character traits were even more impeccable. In an era when “uninhibited love” was sweeping across the nation, Staubach’s faithfulness to his wife Marianne was an encouragement for millions of evangelical conservatives in the Bible Belt. The fact that he had served a four-year term with the Navy after winning the Heisman Trophy further enhanced his reputation in the public eye.
Through the pages of dozens of books and hundreds of first-hand accounts from longtime Cowboys fans, I watched Roger Staubach transform from a specter of the celebrated athlete of yesteryear into a living, breathing American hero. No single player, not even the aforementioned Mr. Aikman, has earned more of my respect than has Roger Staubach.
Having said that, you will understand the conflicting emotions I felt when I came across this tale of one of Staubach’s first exploits with the Cowboys, way back in his inaugural NFL season of 1969.
The month was August, the setting two-a-days training camp in Thousand Oaks, Ca. Morale was low. Restrictions were high. Especially if you were a rookie.
Rookies were a distinctive specimen at a Tom Landry-run training camp, receiving additional encouragement from coaches to familiarize themselves with the playbook in the form of a strict nighttime curfew. Those who missed curfew were reprimanded, fined, and (depending on who you were) possibly dismissed from the team altogether.
Accustomed from his Naval Academy days to retiring at a conservative hour, this suited Staubach just fine. Until one night when a group of veterans approached him with a subservient tale that spun cobwebs around Staubach’s brain, smothering what good sense the first-year NFL player had. Due to the fact that Staubach had attended Cowboy practices in past years while on leave at Navy, and practically had gray hair already (he was 27 years old), these veterans insisted that Staubach was not a rookie from Tom Landry’s viewpoint.
Enthralled with the task of deciphering Landry’s 600-page playbook, Staubach took the news in stride, anticipating another evening in the dorm memorizing pass-routes and audibles. The veterans, though, had other ideas. They wanted Staubach to take the duties of a team player upon himself and go pick-up a midnight pizza for a few of the guys. Whether simply from peer pressure or a misguided sense of obligation, Staubach subdued his anxious crowd by agreeing to play the part of the delivery boy for the first time.
This well-intended late-night trip into Thousand Oaks provided the team’s old-timers with some much-needed nourishment, Staubach with a fresh supply of brownie points amongst teammates, and Landry an unexpected report the following morning from the night watchman, who had ticketed the Dallas quarterback for arriving back at team headquarters thirty minutes past the rookie curfew.
Landry was predictably puzzled at the news. Roger did what? The same Roger Staubach who was never even late for formation at Navy?
When the handful of interested veterans learned a few hours later that Staubach would soon be lighter in the wallet by a few bucks, they took it upon themselves to visit Landry’s office, explaining in full detail the events that led to the “mixup”, stressing Staubach’s innocence all the while. Upon hearing the entire story, Landry did what any good father would have done. He frowned, walked away, and never mentioned it again. Everyone was home free.
Having avoided the heat of Landry’s disapproval, and the uncomfortable confines of Landry’s doghouse, a rookie named Staubach was tagged soon after as the Cowboys’ opening day starter versus St. Louis in relief of an injured Craig Morton.
And to think that a pizza, of all things, could have ruined his chance!
There are perhaps more memorable moments of when Roger “The Dodger” could not be caught. But none that left me in such stunned silence. To find that Roger Staubach is a mortal just like the rest of us was a tale that caught me unawares for the simple reason that I had never heard it before.