More than four decades after his last-second, 50-yard touchdown pass to Drew Pearson clinched a 1975 NFC playoff win for the Dallas Cowboys and popularized the term “Hail Mary,” Roger Staubach’s arm still has enough juice that the former quarterback let his old college buddy talk him into a repeat performance.
The stakes will be a bit lower when Staubach lets rip Saturday afternoon in Annapolis while on the sideline at a college football game, of course. But the Naval Academy’s most accomplished football player and two-time Super Bowl champion still has some pregame jitters.
“Tom Lynch and I have been talking about it for a few months,” Staubach said of his former Navy teammate, chuckling. “I guess I’m supposed to throw an 80-yard pass down the sideline or something. It might be a bit less than that.”
Staubach and many of his former teammates will be on hand Saturday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium when Navy honors the 55th anniversary of its famed 1963 team. For the Midshipmen, it’s a chance to celebrate the squad that posted a 9-2 record that included wins over Notre Dame, Maryland, West Virginia, Michigan and Army. Those Mids finished the year ranked No. 2 after falling to Texas in the Cotton Bowl, and featured the year’s Heisman Trophy winner in Staubach.
For thirty-five members from that storied team, it’s a happy reunion. The group will gather first for a formal dinner Friday night at which a banquet room in Akerson Tower will be dedicated to the 1963 squad. On Saturday, they’ll be honored between the first and second quarters of Navy’s 3:30 p.m. game against Temple.
“We really had a good team that year, unfortunately we lost one regular season game and then we lost the big one to Texas . . . Tom was the leader of that team and he’s kept us together,” Staubach said of Lynch, who served as Superintendent of the Naval Academy in the 1990s and is one of six players from the 1963 team rise to the rank of admiral.
“Unfortunately, we’ve lost some of our teammates, but we have these get-togethers. There’s a lot of good memories on the ’63 season.”
The bond between Staubach and his teammates is a strong one, in no small part because of what the 1963 team went through together. They, along with their counterparts from the U.S. Military Academy, helped the nation heal in a classic Army-Navy Game that was delayed a week due to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
On Saturday, the team will sport the gold jerseys with “Beat Army” on the back they wore during that game.
Many of the members of that team also served in the Vietnam War after graduation, including Staubach, who spent a year as a logistics supply officer supporting the Marine Corps before embarking on his 11-year career with the Cowboys.
“There's a camaraderie that's stayed with us,” Staubach, who still resides in Dallas, said. “Some of the guys I see quite a bit. We’ve also had a few tough situations, I was in Vietnam when our guard Tommy Holden was shot — we lost a few guys in Vietnam. So we have a history of staying together and bonding together and of course Tom Lynch will keep that going forever. We all appreciate it.
“We honor everybody, including the ones we’ve lost, including coaches … It’s a big part of my life to be able to thank my teammates. And they say, ‘Well, there is your Heisman?’ I say, oh I got it mounted on the hood of my car. I’ve also told them I’m going to cut it in pieces and give them a piece, so they keep asking for that. One of these days I’ll do that.”