Many American Dreams have been built around the pursuit of becoming successful in business, tasting fame as a professional athlete, or experiencing glory in battle. To accomplish one sometimes takes a lifetime of devotion—but to accomplish all three? That’s reserved for legends like Roger Staubach.
Whenever duty called, Staubach was there to answer the bell. Whether that was on the football field, the battlefield or as a businessman. Success didn’t come immediately for Staubach, but his patience and perseverance resulted in a legacy that has stood the test of time.
The man known as “Captain America,” “Captain Comeback” and “Roger the Dodger” turned 79 last week, giving us a chance to look back on his journey and career that was commemorated by several cards that symbolize that man who reminded us that “there are no traffic jams along the extra mile.”
Athletic Career at Navy
Staubach began his legacy as a member of the Naval Academy in 1961, earning a third-class Midshipman ranking as a sophomore and serving as a quarterback for the football team.
It wasn’t until 1962 that Staubach saw any game action. Facing a staunch Minnesota defense, starting quarterback Ron Klemick was benched by Navy in favor of Staubach with the offense being shut out in the first half. It was ripe for a Cinderella script, as the Midshipmen trailed big with Staubach entering the game. Just another walk in the park for the man they would one day call “Captain Comeback.” Right?
Not quite. Staubach was swarmed by the Minnesota defense and failed to complete a single pass. In relief, Staubach finished 0-for-2 while being sacked twice, netting him -24 yards rushing for the contest.
Had Staubach been judged on that game alone, history may have produced a different script, one that didn’t cast Staubach as a future Heisman Trophy winner and Pro Football Hall of Famer.
When the Navy offense stalled yet again one week later vs. Cornell with Klemick at the helm, Staubach once again got his chance. This time things clicked—Staubach led the Midshipmen to a 41-0 victory, throwing for two touchdowns and running for another. “Roger the Dodger” began to take form.
An upset win vs. rival Army a few weeks later with former naval officer and current President John F. Kennedy in attendance didn’t hurt Staubach’s stock as the starter. It was the springboard Staubach needed and set the stage for his memorable 1963 season one year later, as he once again displayed the dual-threat abilities that made Staubach so unique for a quarterback of his time.
While 1962 started slow for Staubach, 1963 put him on the fast-track to stardom. In his first year as Navy’s starter, Staubach went 9-1 en route to winning a Heisman Trophy, Walter Camp Memorial Trophy, Maxwell Award and earning Navy a No. 2 national ranking. Staubach’s Heisman is still the last for a quarterback from a service academy.
But just as quickly as 1963 had blossomed for Staubach, 1964 brought the polar opposite—injury, defeat and adversity. After injuring his heel in the opening game, Staubach would miss the next four and never fully regain his momentum from the previous year. After graduation, Staubach would volunteer for a tour in South Vietnam.
While in Vietnam, Staubach oversaw a group of more than 40 enlisted men as a supply corps officer. He would eventually earn the rank of Lieutenant, returning to the United States to fulfill his military commitment.
It was back in Florida where Staubach reunited with football, quarterbacking a team called the “Goshawks” who would play college teams looking for a game to prep for the season. It was also there that Staubach was granted early access to the Dallas Cowboys playbook.
But this wasn’t a publicity stunt—someone in the Cowboys’ organization had an eye on Staubach, even if it meant deploying him as a 27-year-old rookie.
Pro Football Career
The Cowboys held true and selected Staubach in the 10th round of the 1964 NFL Draft as a “future selection” due to his remaining service time. It wasn’t until 1968 that Staubach would be able to practice with the team, and wasn’t able to officially join the team for training camp until 1969. In 1970, Staubach watched from the bench as the Cowboys lost Super Bowl V to the Baltimore Colts.
It wasn’t until 1971 when the 29-year-old quarterback who was drafted in a round that doesn’t exist anymore finally got his chance in pro football. Having served as a backup in 1969 and 1970 with minimal success, Staubach took over full-time in ’71 and never looked back. Ten straight victories later, the Cowboys were Super Bowl VI champions and Staubach was the game’s MVP.
It was the first of two rings for Staubach and the 1970s Cowboys, a decade the saw “Captain America” lead America’s Team to new heights. During his short but sweet career with the Cowboys (1969-1979), Staubach was named to six Pro Bowls, led the league in passing touchdowns (1973), and four times had the best passer rating in the league. His various nicknames personified his diverse skill set, one that was fitting for a man who served and later would go on to form a real-estate empire.
Concerned one bad hit could cost him his career and livelihood, Staubach created the Staubach Company in 1977 at the age of 37. Once his playing career ended, Staubach attacked his new pursuit with the same vigor that made him a standout on the field. In 2008, Staubach would sell the business for $613 million.
Here’s a look back at a handful of Staubach football cards that you won’t need a trust fund to own, but still capture the man Staubach was on and off the field.
1972 Topps “In Action” #122
While Staubach’s most iconic and expensive rookie card is his 1972 Topps #200, the “In Action” card shows Staubach in rare form—actually in the pocket—a place he only frequented when necessary. It’s a card that will only run you a few bucks ungraded if you’re looking for a cheaper alternative.
Staubach put himself on the radar in 1971, finishing with the best passer rating in the league, while throwing 15 touchdowns and only four interceptions.
The 1972 Topps Football set also featured the rookie card of one of Staubach’s staunchest defenders—Rayfield Wright—who protected “Captain America” for more than a decade as an offensive tackle for the Cowboys. You can also find a Steve Spurrier rookie card in the set, but the list of Hall of Famer rookie cards from the set is not a long one.
1974 Nabisco “Sugar Daddy” #1
Bumps in the road often deter dreams, but Staubach just saw them as an opportunity to flatten them. After a separated shoulder in 1972 resulted in Staubach missing most of the season, he returned in 1973 to lead the entire NFL in touchdown passes with 23. It also marked the second time that Staubach had led the league in passer rating.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Nabisco started adding cards to their packs of “Sugar Daddy” candies, which was basically a rendition of caramel on a stick. These can be tough to find in good shape, as many disregarded the cards in favor of the sweets, or stuck them to the posters designed for the cards, but still a few are floating around online.
With a T-206 feel to them, these miniature cards featured some of the biggest stars from the major sports. The 1974 Nabisco Sugar Daddy run featured 10 players from the NFL, which included Jim Plunkett, Bob Lilly, Staubach and other gridiron standouts.
1978 Topps #290
1977 was a good year for Roger Staubach. The Cowboys went 12-2 in the regular season before adding three more wins in the playoffs, eventually overtaking the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. The 15-2 overall mark is still the best winning percentage in franchise history. Staubach threw 18 touchdowns that season, with only nine interceptions, while completing over 58 percent of his passes.
It was also the year Staubach he started his commercial real estate business, The Roger Staubach Company, which would prove to line his pockets far more than his service time or feats on the football field.
His 1978 Topps card is still a cheap option ungraded, but higher end copies still won’t break the bank either. It’s a classic portrait of the Hall of Famer with blue skies as a backdrop. The back of the card notes that “Roger is associated with a tire company,” still unaware of the real estate giant Staubach built that was still in its infancy.
1979 Topps “NFL League Leaders” #1
In 1978, at the age of 36, Staubach threw more touchdowns (25) than he ever had in any season in his career up until that point. In 1979, the 37-year-old outdid himself and threw 27. He was aging better than a fine wine, but had other endeavors he wanted to pursue, plus his long-term health to consider.
His 1979 Topps card reminds us how well Staubach played at an age when most quarterbacks are holding clipboards. It also features another Hall of Famer, Terry Bradshaw, who led the AFC in passing that season. As the #1 card in the set, super nice copies can be a little tough to find but other than the ultra-high-grade examples, it’s typically within easy reach for most collectors.
Having suffered at least 20 concussions throughout his career, Staubach hung up his cleats after the 1979 season and transitioned into the real estate industry. He’d also lead the NFC in passing that year as well, adding a whole new meaning to going out on top.