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December 23, 2012

Loran Smith: Staubach a solid citizen

Roger Staubach has fond memories of Athens, where he was stationed at the Navy Supply Corps School following graduation at the Naval Academy in 1965.

While in Athens, he began a workout routine at the University of Georgia practice fields that he would doggedly maintain throughout his Navy career. He played pickup basketball games at old Stegeman Hall with coach Mike Castronis.

Pat Hodgson, a Bulldogs receiver and later an NFL coach, often played catch with Roger, who remembers zipping a pass to Hodgson that slipped through his fingers and bloodied his nose.

“I can tell you,” Hodgson said, “he threw harder than any quarterback I ever saw. After a workout with him, my wrists ached. He sprained my wrists, he threw so hard.”

Staubach practiced with due diligence every afternoon in the spring of 1966, focusing on drills recommended by the Dallas Cowboys, who had drafted him.

From Athens, Staubach went on to training in Pensacola, Fla., and later to Vietnam, where he willingly served as a supply officer. In the back of his mind, he was convinced that playing in the NFL was not out of the question. Who, other than a Roger Staubach, could give up four years in the prime of life and maintain the coordination and muscle suppleness to later flourish in pro football?

To Staubach, it was elementary. You have to maintain discipline in everything from diet to a demanding workout regimen to having the desire to compete with the best.

There were no shortcuts.

Furthermore, he was not interested in such. He chose the Naval Academy with deep commitment and pride and was eager to spend four years on active duty for a prestigious degree in return. In the 1960s, every military man faced a tour of duty in Vietnam. Staubach never tried to pull any strings, and while he didn’t wind up on missions to the rice paddies, if you are in a war zone, you are in harm’s way.

And if you are an athlete, your career becomes vulnerable.

Staubach is ever the patriot without taking to the stump. In fact, when the Cowboys drafted him, Gil Brandt, the team’s vice president for player personnel, hinted to Staubach’s mother that somebody somewhere in Washington might be able to relieve him of his active duty requirement.

“She almost threw him out of the house,” Staubach said with a laugh.  

He was the All-American boy from grade school through his NFL career. The model citizen — with modesty and selflessness as visible as tattoos on an NFL linebacker today — success was linked to his presence every step along the way. All-American at Navy, Heisman Trophy winner in 1963, he eventually led the Cowboys to their first Super Bowl victory in 1973 as they defeated the Dolphins 24-3.

Prior to that, the Cowboys had trouble wining the big prize. Staubach led them to the title again by beating the Broncos in 1978.

Following NFL retirement, Roger started a real estate company that became a national brand he sold to Jones Lang LaSalle for $613 million. He still works with the firm today while enjoying his grandchildren.

Spend time with him and you conclude that every rookie who enters the league each year should be required to spend a day with Roger Staubach. He not only could tell them how to make it in the NFL, he could tell them about the importance of faith, family and citizenship.

I’m not sure how many millions Roger Staubach is worth today, but he has incredible credibility in a community where he is the most popular of citizens. All cities have pride, and Staubach, as a Cowboy quarterback, gave Dallas reason to puff out its chest.

He has always given back to his adopted hometown — a model citizen and model athlete. A model NFL alumnus, too. Many he played with and competed against are divorced, broke and down and out.

With all the sad stories we hear about ex-players, it is gratifying when you review the career and after life of someone like Roger Staubach. He gives football’s image the gloss it needs.

Loran Smith is a contributing columnist for The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at loransmith@sports.uga.edu.

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