A rogue like Joe Namath never would have fit in, a rogue like Don Meredith often didn't and Roger Staubach, the game's all-time leading passer and straight arrow, passed on his metallic blue crown 2 1/2 seasons ago. It takes certain qualities to become America's Quarterback, and Danny White is this decade's model.
White is an observant Mormon who doesn't smoke, drink or cuss. He gives 10 percent of his income to his church and works hard for the March of Dimes and the Boy Scouts of America. He was selected 1982 Dallas father of the year.
"Religion-wise, ERA-wise, on all the political issues coming up today, I'm almost ultraconservative," said White, who'll lead his team against the Redskins in Washington Sunday. "My entire psyche is conservative. It lessens the pressure on me. I'm like Roger in that way . . . Meredith was more of a nonconformist than I am. I try to conform to what Coach (Tom) Landry sets out. Meredith was constantly testing those boundaries."
After coming to the Dallas Cowboys in 1976 following two seasons with the World Football League's Memphis Southmen, White learned patience and, within the bounds of decency, a sense of humor.
"When Roger was here I used to call him 'America's Quarterback' so he used to call me 'America's Punter,' " White said today, as he filed a two-inch-thick folder of computer print-outs in his locker. "When he would make a bad pass I'd tell him, 'You see, the arm is the first thing that goes.' Finally he said to me, 'Danny, when you win the Heisman Trophy you can pop off.' "
After Staubach's retirement following the 1979 season, White proved that he had learned more from him than the proper way to wear a pair of head phones.
In only two full seasons, White has ranked with the best quarterbacks in the league, completing 58 percent of his passes and leading the team to two 12-4 seasons and two NFC championship games. Coach Tom Landry said today that while Staubach had a stronger arm and White was a superior "touch passer," the only significant difference between the two is that "Roger was a very intense competitor . . . while Danny is a competitor but not quite with that same intensity."
A few Cowboys who have played with both quarterbacks saw other differences between the two.
Robert Newhouse: "Roger had the ability to adjust under pressure. He made things happen even if they were breaking down. Danny still hesitates a little."
Ed (Too Tall) Jones: "Danny is a basic pocket passer who reads secondaries very well, while Roger is a razzle-dazzle type."
Tony Dorsett: "They are two winners, but one is a legend. Danny will always be compared to Roger. They are two guys of a similar mode, but as the years go by and Danny gets more experience, he could even surpass Roger."
Staubach, for his part, happily admits the possibility that his protege may one day, "somewhere down the road," be his equal. "I honestly think he's already surpassed everything I ever imagined he would do," said Staubach. "He's on the road to becoming the finest in the league."
Probably the first time Dallas fans had any indication that White would one day become the new Landry-ordered, Neiman Marcus-manufactured successor to the Staubach legend was in the Cowboys' 1978 playoff against the Atlanta Falcons. Trailing, 20-13, White started the second half after the Falcons front line had knocked Staubach blurry-eyed. Showing poise and a passing arm almost as strong as Staubach's, White led the Cowboys to a 27-20 victory.
But there was more to prove. The one quality that Cowboy -- and Redskin -- fans associate with Staubach was his uncanny ability to win in the last two minutes.
Last year, in four consecutive weeks, White proved himself capable of game-ending heroics. Against Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia and Buffalo, White turned each game around with consistent passing and ball control. White came into this season with the Super Bowl on his mind. Which may be part of the reason why he became one of the most vocal critics of the players strike.
Several days before the settlement, White met with Cowboys' President Tex Schramm and then flew to New York with the intention of explaining management's position to the players union, a gesture that did not please his fellow strikers.
"I wasn't antiunion or antiplayer," White said. "I was opposed to some of the hard-line revolutionary attitudes that were getting aired. I wanted a more cooperative atmosphere. After talking with management, I realized they only had so much to give. The wage scale the union was asking for was way out of line. It would have guaranteed that every team lose money."
White said that some of his teammates disagreed with him, but the issue has caused no discord among them. "My teammates and I have talked enough to know that I am conservative and old-fashioned in my philosophies. I admit that. I don't like the revolutionary approach. As for it affecting what happens against other teams, a quarterback in this league is a marked man anyway. Any time you get over that center you might as well be wearing a Darth Vadar costume."
America's Quarterback, the successor to the pristine Roger Staubach legacy, was not cut out to be a revolutionary. Then again, Che Guevara never could throw the short pass.