The interview is over and the man in the black suit hands Roger Staubach a small, deflated football. "Roger," he says, "this one is for an unborn baby boy." Staubach dislikes signing autographs, but the man is his host, and the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback grimly scrawls his name across the flattened football.
Roger Staubach is in demand. Retired from professinal football, he is still a scrambler, dodging from real estate to endorsements to television and the expectation is that his next move will take him into politics.Staubach says no -- for now -- but he is not hiding the conservative convictions that make him so appealing whenever he goes in Texas.
In the next room, 600 people are assembling at long rows of tables, having paid $20 each to hear Staubach entertain them with football stories and a Sun Belt trilogy of free enterprise, faith in God and anticommunism. But here in the backroom of the convention center, the honored guests are lining up to see and touch and be photographed with him.
"That answer I just gave you was pretty generalized," he says to them. "There are a lot of specifics we could talk about. You know, it's not simple. It is a tough little deal we've got going right now in this country."
He is talking about President Reagan's economic program and whether Congress will support it. He's also talking about whether the special interests will gut it and whether it does or does not hurt poor people.
"I believe in what the administration is doing, but unfortunately, the press jump on the fact that it's the rich against the poor, and that isn't the bottom line. It isn't trying to punish the poor and reward the rich. The concept is to eventually make sure that we're all working together without Big Brother controlling or funding or giving food stamps or securities to people who don't need them.
"If I really thought it was hurting the poor, I would be so against it, I'd go crazy."
The retired quarterback is not running for anything. Not now. In Washington, a draft Staubach committee has been formed to lure him into a 1982 Senate race against Democratic incumbent Lloyd Bentsen, and everywhere Staubach goes, the question is the same: Are you going to run?
Anne Armstrong, the Texan who was cochairman of the Reagan-Bush committee, calls Staubach a Renaissance man who will leap into the 21st century. Herbert Schmertz, Mobil Oil's media wizard, says he has a great future in politics. Ordinary citizens all over Texas urge him to run for office.
The former star of "America's Team wants it understood that nothing will draw him into that 1982 race, that no group can push him into something he doesn't want to do.
"I am not someone who could ever be manipulated," Staubach says. "I've called my own shots all my life -- other than [Cowboys coach Tom] Landry calling a few days now and then. When it comes to solid decisions, I'm decisive. When I retired, it was decisive. I thought about it. I looked into it, and I made the statement."
"I'm not going to run for anything. In the near future. And the near future is a pretty good length of time. I don't feel my responsibilities right now are in serving the country. They are at home. I've got five children and I want to watch them grow."
He is also making money as president of a Dallas real estate firm, from CBS Sports, endorsements and speeches. He has told friends he has only so many years to capitalize on his fame as a football star and that he intends to spend the next five years or so doing that. He tells a news conference in San Antonio he has no political plans for the next 10 years.
Still, he is a star in this region, with the perfect combination of athletics, religion and conservatism to make him a magnetic figure. Last fall he campaigned for Reagan and just before the election ridiculed President Carter with an answer to a question about the best way to contain the St. Louis Cardinals. "I talked to my daughter Amy," he said, "and she said you have to worry about the bomb." (Staubach was referring to Carter's presidential debate statement that he had asked his daughter Amy about nuclear proliferation.)
As a professional football player, Staubach often kept his political opinions to himself. Today he is not so restrained, and he says he will speak out as a "concerned citizen" even if he does not run for office.
"We have been on a slide, a very dangerous slide towards socialism, " he says. "This is not some alarmist speaking or an ultra-radical conservative. That is fact. Two or three hundred years from now, the Iranian hostage situation may not be in the history books. What's going to be there? What Russia's done since 1917. And it's unbelievable. They're the greatest external threat we have."
He tub thumps for personal growth and the "free opportunity" system, in which everyone has the opportunity "to accomplish whatever we want to accomplish," although he repeatedly mentions that the system has discriminated against minorities.
He can joke about being a "Yankee Catholic" in a land of Baptists -- "I got a few boos in Texas Stadium until I started completing a few passes" -- because his Catholicism sounds like that of any born-again fundamentalist Christian, and while he is not a member of the Moral Majority, he sympathizes with its goals.
Staubach, however, does not confuse convictions with qualifications. "Because I have a name and stand for some things does not qualify me to run for Congress," he says in an interview. "That does not say I could not get qualified, but I'm not now and I don't anticipate doing it quickly."
But, he says, "There are qualifications in my life that make it more of a make-sense situation than say a normal athlete who has name identity but is not interested in politics.
"Many people would be surprised at what I do know about our government and what's going on in foreign policy. I'm very interested in these things. I read every book there was on Watergate. I was intrigued by men in office and how they used that office.
"People look at me as one dimensional. They don't really understand. They overdramatize or overemphasize parts of your life and make you something that you're not. We're all three-dimensional."
At 39, Staubach has made a smooth transition from athlete to businessman, and he is already a natural politician. Elective office can come later, as the title of the book he published last fall suggests. It's called Time Enough to Win.