Roger Staubach is one of life's winners. The whims of fate gave him the chance to best display a near-unique spirit -- and now rare athletic common sense allows him to gracefully leave a sport he dominated more than even many serious fans realize.
When Staubach announces his retirement Monday -- at age 38 and after 11 seasons and five concussions in his most recent campaign -- the greatest joy, outside his family, will be from Washingtonians, the Redskins and their faithful.
No player in recent memory has inspired more raw emotions here than Staubach, leader of the cursed Cowboy's gentleman and steel-tough competitor whose lifelong specialty has been the last-second miracle.
Happy or sad, Redskin thoughts of Staubach always are vivid. How many times has Washington won principally by somehow finding a way to wrestle Staubach to the ground, as Ken Houston did just before halftime in the game here last season?
How many more times has Staubach, on another day, almost literally bounced back and concocted the most bizarre and frustrating endings for the Redskins? The rematch this season, for example, when he gobbled up acres of yardage in fractions of seconds and spoiled the Redskins' playoff dreams.
Damn you, Roger, why don't you admit the game's lost when you're supposed to and quit trying, like nine out of 10 others would? More than one Redskin has mumbled to himself in such moments, bitterness and respect equally divided.
More than four years ago, Dec. 13, 1975 to be exact, a veteran of Redskin-Cowboy wars analyzed a 31-10 Dallas rout in Texas Stadium by writing:
"Staubach today got revenge for past problems against Washington, for injuries and the taunts from Coach George Allen and Diron Talbert that he needed a course in remedial reading to solve the Redskins' complex defenses.
". . . He gave the Cowboys their lead -- for good it ultimately developed -- with a four-yard run most other quarterbacks could not execute -- or survive.
"On third-and-goal at the four, Staubach retreated to the eight. But he seemed to have run in his mind all along, the center having driven middle linebacker Harold McLinton several yards back.
"Staubach charged straight ahead, past the five and toward the end zone when McLinton charged into his path, ready to demonstrate his one fine quality -- wicked tackling. The two collided perhaps a yard short of the goal but -- incredibly -- Staubach drove McLinton backward and into the end zone.
"And then got up, groggy but anxious to keep fighting."
The Cowboys have determined that Staubach rallied them to victory in the final two minutes or overtime 16 times in his NFL life, with assorted Hail Mary passes, inventive runs or on-target hummers from the pocket.
On the field or off, there is not a hypocritical fiber in Staubach's body. Once during the '75 season, he cannot specifically recall when, former Cowboy right guard Blaine Nye was leading Staubach on an impromptu dash downfield when he heard his quarterback scream: "Run, you son of a gun; run, you son of a gun.
"I remember going up to him on the sideline later," Nye said, "and saying: 'Look, Rog, that's just not the way we talk in the NFL. But that's Staubach."
Staubach became a starter four games into his sophomore year at Navy because a talented senior suddenly became erratic. He later admitted the pros were trying to find any way possible for him to avoid his postacademy Navy obligations.
"They came to see my parents after my junior year (when he won the Heisman Trophy)," he said. "They had all sorts of schemes. But my mother was very honest and sincere, and she made it plain that was out of the question."
Very few players could overcome a four-year absence from the game. Had Craig Morton, a year younger than Staubach, realized his immense potential, Roger the Doger might merely have been another gritty backup quarterback.
And had he not been fortunate enough to be drafted by an excellent team, Staubach might have been an Archie Manning-like quarterback, skillful but highly unappreciated. Instead, he leaves football honored as its most positive symbol.
But where does he rank among the immortals, Sonny and Johnny U.? Where would an unemotional figure filbert put Staubach in the storied history of NFL quarterbacks?
Yes, goody two-cleats also is as efficient as any quarterback who ever faced third and long. Several thinkers spent several years devising and honing a way to measure NFL passers, a system that included attempts and completions, yards gained, touchdown passes and interceptions.
Recently, a computer digested that information and spewed out the conclusion that of all quarterbacks who threw at least 1500 NFL passes, Staubach has the highest rating.
The system is valid, if perhaps imperfect. It takes into account that two legends -- Norm Van Brocklin and Y.A. Title -- threw more interceptions than touchdown passes. It cannot begin to weight the fact that Staubach played on better teams than Sonny Jurgensen.
But Terry Bradshaw's Steeler teams the last several years have been at least as good as Staubach's Cowboys. Bradshaw has yet to crack the top 20. If the system includes passers who also played in the All-American Football Conference, Otto Graham is first and Staubach second.
The image of Staubach as the all-America boy began to become clear as the image of Staubach as the all-America quarterback took shape at Navy.
In 1963, the recent Heisman winner and teammate Tom Lynch were in New York for a dinner and decided to explore the Playboy Club. Staubach thought civilian clothes, as Lynch had remembered to bring, would give him a more sophisticated air, so he borrowed Navy publicist Budd Thalman's suit.
Less than an hour after leaving their hotel, Staubach and Lynch were back. Two of the toughest football players in America could not muster enough collective courage to walk into a hutch of bunnies. They opted for ice cream.
Before an appearance of the Ed Sullivan Show that year, Staubach told America's future leaders at Navy he would say hello over television by sticking his hand under his chin and waving it. He did.
Like Brooks Robinson in baseball and Wes Unseld in basketball, Staubach is that special athlete you would both like to use as the cornerstone of a team and also name your son after. He is sure enough of himself to volunteer that the final completion of his rich career was to a lineman -- guard Herb Scott.
"Against William and Mary his senior year, Roger was hurt," said Thalman, now publicist for the Buffalo Bills. "He was held out, until late in the game when we needed a score to go ahead. He went in -- and in three plays got the touchdown, on a 75-yard pass.
"It was like: 'Go in and work your miracle, Roger, and come out.'"
So there will be no more athletic miracles from Staubach. Or possibly not. Could this be just one more Cowboy trick to lure the Redskins into false security? Can anyone imagine him not dashing to their rescue against Washington?
Jack Pardee is advised that the best defensive measure against Dallas this season will be to make Brad Dusek and Mark Murphy dash into the stands before the game and tie Staubach securely to his seat.