Under the Radar

Navy QB Roger Staubach Shares His Unique NFL Draft Experience

Roger Staubach, Tom Landry
FILE - This is a Jan. 17, 1979, file photo showing Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach with coach Tom Landry. All these years later, Roger Staubach remembers quite clearly what his initial reaction was when Landry approached him about making the shotgun formation a recurring feature of their offense. "I thought he was crazy or something," the former quarterback said with a snicker during a telephone interview this week (AP Photo/File) -- The Associated Press

It's draft day in the NFL and this year the spectacle takes over Arlington, TX's massive AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys. Hall-of-Fame Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach is joining USAA for the festivities and he took some time yesterday to talk about his own draft day experiences back in 1964.

Things were very different then and Roger's impending military service made a team's decision to draft him a far more complicated choice than modern fans would expect.

Staubach got drafted after his 1963 Heisman Trophy campaign, which also happened to be his junior year. He played one more season for Navy and then served four years in the Navy before joining the Cowboys for a spectacular pro career. 

The NFL draft's first round airs at 8pm Thursday night on the NFL Network and FOX. Rounds two and three will follow Friday at 7pm, again on the NFL Network and FOX. Rounds 4-7 will air on the NFL Network on Saturday starting at noon.

I grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana in the early 70’s and played YMCA ball. All the teams fought to be either the Cowboys or the Steelers because Terry Bradshaw had gone to high school in our neighborhood.

I was just with Bradshaw at a luncheon here in Dallas the other day.  Boy, he's a lot of fun.  He's a character.  He gave me a hard time, in a good way.  He was being nice to me, actually.  And I said, "Yeah, Bradshaw, it’s because you beat us.  You know it’s easy to be nice to me." 

What are you doing with USAA for the NFL draft this week?

Well, I've had the privilege for quite a while to be involved with USAA at the Army/Navy game and the Super Bowl.  Now we get a chance at the draft and they're the NFL’s official military appreciation sponsor.  At the draft, we have a big program tomorrow afternoon for a lot of veterans that they're bringing to the draft.  

I'm amazed.  I guess I shouldn’t be after last year in Philadelphia, but the draft has become a big event.  They're just playing it up here in Dallas.  It’s going to really be quite an affair.  So I'm going to get a chance to speak to the veterans tomorrow. It’s a privilege for me to be involved with USAA.

People throw the word “unique” around a lot, but you actually have probably the most unique draft experience of any NFL player. 

I was a junior at Navy.  It was called our second-class year.  A year before I went to Navy, I went to junior college at New Mexico Military Institute, so I was eligible for the draft as a junior. Gil Brandt from the Cowboys told me some teams didn’t even know I was eligible.  

Back then there were two leagues, and I was drafted by Dallas and the Kansas City Chiefs.  It was just late rounds.  The Cowboys was the tenth round and Kansas City was about the fifteenth or something.  There was a little article in the Washington Post the day after the draft that said, "Hey, Roger Staubach was drafted by Dallas and Kansas City."  But I had another year to go at Navy and four years in the service, so it wasn’t a big deal.  

After I graduated, though, both teams wanted me to sign a contract that said if I ever played again, I'd play for them. Kansas City brought it up first. Lamar Hunt made a proposal and Dallas matched it, really. I made a decision that if I ever played again, I'd play for the Dallas Cowboys. 

I took leave after I graduated and played in a college all-star game against the Cleveland Browns. I had a real good training camp and all the scouts were there and watched me get ready for the game. I guess that enticed Lamar Hunt to call me. He came to visit with me and he made an offer that if I played for Kansas City they would pay me so and so.  

I checked with the Navy to see if that be okay.  And they said, "Yeah, that’d be fine," but asked if Dallas had done the same thing. I hadn't talked to Dallas.  

Captain Paul Borden, the Navy Legal Officer at the Naval Academy, went up and talked to the Cowboys in Philadelphia, where they were playing the Eagles. Gil Brandt and Tex Schramm met with him and made a similar offer. So Capt. Borden became my agent, I guess.  

It was really kind of ironic. I had just graduated and all the scouts saw that, this guy could play again if he ever decides to play. I figured four years is a long time, but they felt that they wanted me to sign and make a commitment to either one of the teams.  So I knew when I was in the service that I would play for the Cowboys if I ever played again.  

That kind of gap between college and pro ball is unusual, especially for someone who was as high-profile as you were. Did you ever think you'd play in the NFL when you signed the contract?

Well, four years seemed like an eternity back then.  When I graduated, I really didn’t think I'd play professional football again.  During my first year I was doing different things and I was in school for a while.  And then I served in Vietnam for a year at Da Nang and Chu Lai.  

I stayed in shape all that time just because I liked working out. After Vietnam, I was transferred to Pensacola Naval Air Station and we had a base football team there.  I had a full-time job, but we had a lot of pilots that played college football. We assembled every day about 5 o’clock and practiced for an hour. We played some small colleges and that really kind of got me going again.  

Then I took two week’s leave the next summer and went to Cowboy training camp.  It was about a year before I could get out of the service and I decided that I definitely wanted to play again.  

I really enjoyed the service, but I thought I could play football again.  After that training camp, Coach Landry also felt I could play again.  He said, "We hope you join us next year."  And so the following year, when I left the service, I went right from Pensacola to the Cowboy training camp in Thousand Oaks. 

That turned out pretty well for you.

Yeah, it did. Don Meredith just retired that year, which was really ironic.  You know he was 31 and Craig Morton was there, so I would have been at least the third string quarterback.  The way it turned out, I was the backup quarterback to Craig.  At least I was able to hang in there to get a chance to start two years later.

Let’s go back to draft day in ’64.  Did you realize you were draft eligible that year?

Someone mentioned that some of the teams really didn’t know that I was eligible because I had that extra year in junior college. I really didn’t think I was gonna get drafted because I had another year to go in college and then four years in the service.  

But because I was eligible, Dallas and Kansas City took the risk.

Now you see on television these kids all over the country having these huge draft day parties.  Some of them even come to the draft location. In 1964, did players anticipate the draft the way they do now?

News about the players who were getting drafted got out.When I played in that college all-star game, I was with Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers and Bob Hayes and Lance Rentzel.   

You had the two leagues then, so you were drafted by both leagues and you could leverage that. The money was a little bit better because of that and it was beginning to be a bigger deal. Not quite like it is today, the event that we’re having out at AT&T Stadium is unbelievable. It’s almost like a Super Bowl that’s going on out there or something.  

The AFL was really starting to make an impact when you were drafted. Did players think it was a viable choice or did most of them just want to follow the dream and play in the NFL?

In the early years, it was a bigger deal to sign with the AFL. Was this AFL thing for real?  Obviously, Lamar Hunt was a great man that really was instrumental in making it all happen.  

It got stronger and stronger.  In my years it was kind of the beginning, so the money could have been better in the AFL. Players wanted to go to the NFL, so the AFL made some better offers, like with Namath going with the Jets.  

I was an NFL follower of the Cleveland Browns because I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio.  For some reason, I watched the Cowboys and wanted to play for the Cowboys.  It was a difference for me, it wasn’t about the money or anything, it was just about playing in the NFL.  

While I was in the service was when the league really grew. The Cowboys lost to the Green Bay Packers in the Ice Bowl and I watched those games. The Cowboys got better and then Don Meredith retired my rookie year. That gave me a chance to play for the Cowboys, which turned out to be a good move. 

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November is Military Family Appreciation Month