I love reading old articles, and reading old articles about football history is a particular passion of mine. As much time as I spend working on era-based adjustments, you can’t beat reading about a player in (his) real time. So I’m introducing a new feature at Football Perspective: reviews of historical articles. Today’s content comes from the great Dr. Z in April 1980, and it covers the retirement of Roger Staubach. I recommend you read the whole article first.
So long, Roger, we gave you a bum deal, kid. For openers, we never picked you All-Pro. That’s we, the writers, the pickers, the guys who vote on the AP and Pro Football Writers ballots. Now that’s a bad call right away, because all you did was end up as the NFL’s top-rated passer—in history, the whole 59 years. Higher than Unitas, than Tarkenton or Jurgensen, than Tittle or Baugh. And you quarterbacked the Cowboys in four of their five Super Bowls, winning twice. And brought the team from behind to victory 14 times in the last two minutes or in overtime, 23 times in the fourth quarter. Hey, what does a guy have to do?
All of those facts are true, of course. Let’s go in order.1) Yep, Staubach was never a first-team All-Pro. Brad Oremland talked about this earlier this year, when he mentioned that Staubach actually ranked 1st in four different seasons by his preferred metric. And I talked about this quirky piece of trivia in July: Staubach is the only one of the 29 modern era HOF QBs who was never named a 1st-team All-Pro by a major organization at one point in their career.
2) Staubach did retire as the career leader in passer rating, at least if you exclude Otto Graham’s AAFC production. He still ranks 7th in era-adjusted passer rating (which includes Graham’s AAFC days).
3) The 23 times refers to his game-winning drives total, which is tied for just 39th today. But when he retired, that total ranked 3rd among all players since 1960, behind just Fran Tarkenton (34) and Johnny Unitas (27).
But last week Staubach put an end to it, joining a very small fraternity of NFL stars who quit when they could still command a big salary—Jimmy Brown, Fran Tarkenton, Whizzer White if you want to go way back. His announcement overshadowed two other major Cowboy retirements, each of which could have commanded a major press conference of its own. Offensive Tackle Rayfield Wright, 34, and Free Safety Cliff Harris, 31, with nine years of combined All-Pro behind them, each called it a career. With Wright it was a forced decision. Tom Landry decided that 13 seasons was enough. But Harris, the definitive safetyman of the ’70s and an almost certain Hall of Famer, caught the Cowboys by surprise when he told them he had a good opportunity with a young and energetic oil company, and there comes a time in every man’s life…
Staubach has a heckuva case for having the best final season of a quarterback’s career, at least based on passing statistics. And he had one of the greatest final seasons among players at all positions. Staubach, who was an obvious first ballot Hall of Famer, still had the 4th best era-adjusted passer rating of his career in his final season, and had just finished leading the NFL in ANY/A for the third year in a row.
But what about Cliff Harris? These are the sorts of gems I love about reading old articles. Here, Dr. Z — arguably the foremost authority of his time — called Harris an almost certain Hall of Famer. The PFRA inducted him into their Hall of Very Good in 2011, and was a finalist in ’04 but has not yet been inducted. Harris was a Hall of Fame caliber safety and the best player at his position from ’76 to ’78. And for trivia buffs out there: Harris and Charlie Waters remain the last pair of safety teammates1 to be named first-team All-Pros in the same season by a major organization.
He was tired and his head hurt and his team had just been eliminated from the playoffs. December talk, his wife figured. She’d heard it before. But Lord knows, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Five concussions, two of them serious. He’d experienced some numbness after the Pittsburgh game.
Twenty concussions, total, including high school. A few weeks after the Rams game, a New York neurologist told Staubach that, yes, there was some cumulative damage, a slight slowing of some of the reflexes.
He had paid his dues. His left shoulder was dislocated 17 times before he underwent surgery to have the ligaments tightened. When Staubach tries to move his left arm backward, the motion is markedly limited. The little finger on his throwing hand doesn’t look like a finger at all. It’s a perfect Z, discounting a big round knot in the middle. The index finger is swollen and off-line.
Football is one brutal game. It’s remarkable that he has (at least on the surface) appeared to have aged so well. That’s pretty good for a guy with 20 concussions — and who, you know, served in Vietnam.
When it came time for Staubach to thank his teammates for the 11 years, things got a little heavy. You don’t just snappy-patter out of a career. But the toughest time came in the press conference when Staubach had to speak of Landry. “Of course the nuts and bolts of the Dallas Cowboys.” he said, and there was a pause of 10 seconds or so while he got himself together, “was the man who wears the funny hat on the sidelines.”
“I don’t know why, but I just couldn’t say his name,” Staubach said later. “I didn’t want to get too emotional, but when I came to his name—well, I knew if I said it I’d probably lose control.”
You can view video of that moment of Staubach’s retirement speech here (starting at the 7:00 mark). Landry was an incredible coach: Don Meredith was his quarterback in the Ice Bowl and the loss to the Packers in the NFL Championship Game the prior year. He made the Super Bowl with Craig Morton. He won two Super Bowls with Roger. And immediately after Staubach retired, he made three straight NFC Championship Games with Danny White.
Oh, and because I got down the path of reading articles about Staubach on Sports Illustrated, here’s another article with a helluva finish from Robert F. Jones.
[Staubach speaking] I’m very concerned about public morality and leadership, but I’m sure not going to set myself up as an authority. Entertainers and athletes should certainly have their own opinions of how society ought to be run, about right and wrong, but how can they in good conscience prescribe behavior the way they do on the talk shows? Being in the public eye is no license to suggest how people should live or govern themselves. Renown alone is hardly a credential.
“When you’ve achieved a certain measure of popular fame, you also have the power to exert enormous leverage on impressionable minds. A lot of well-known people don’t realize that in its fullest implication. I feel very comfortable with my religion, and I know I couldn’t be happy without it, but I’m not about to go around telling everyone to believe as I do, to pray as I do. I’ve been able to absorb the changes that grew out of Pope John’s Vatican Councils, and I think they are good changes. The Church should have a social conscience, should take care of people’s spiritual needs regardless of race or politics. I hate the hypocrisy of, say, the pious churchgoer who observes the Sabbath to the letter and then later in the week harangues against ‘n******’ and fosters bigotry. It’s simplistic, maybe, and Phyllis George might not like it, maybe, but I believe in being good. It makes other people feel good, and I feel good when they feel that way.
“But,” and now he grinned wide open, “when I’m on the football field, I like to win.”
And you can read Dr. Z’s full article here. Please leave your thoughts in the comments, and also feel free to email or tweet me any old articles you’d like republished here.