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Posted on Nov 4, 2010 in War College

Roger Staubach: An Interview with the Super Bowl XLV Chairman

By John Ingoldsby

Staubach during his time as quarterback at the U.S. Naval Academy. (Courtesy, U.S. Naval Academy)

The January 2010 issue of Armchair General featured an interview titled “10 Questions: Roger Staubach.” This is the uncut version of that interview, presented as an online extra for Armchair General readers—and fans of Roger Staubach!

How does it feel to be the Chairman of Super Bowl XLV, the biggest sporting event in the world?

STAUBACH:  Well, it was a bit of a surprise. Jerry Jones called and asked me to come by his house a few years ago and we were sitting there, and he said that we are going to be bidding on the Super Bowl, and we’ve never been able to do that; of course, until the new stadium. The stadium at that time was being planned and they were going to do a retractable roof, and he said we are going to be able to bid on the Super Bowl XLV, and we want you to be the face of the bid committee. They had done a lot of work at that time, which was in December, and then we made a presentation in May to the owners in Nashville, and it was a lot of fun getting ready for that. We really wanted XLV because it worked into the scheme of the stadium being open a year and all the events that would take place, so it would be a great year for us. So we were really happy to get it, and the Jones family and everybody was excited about it. Then I continued to be the Chairman of the Host Committee.

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We have a full-time staff, our CEO is Bill Lively, who is fantastic and kind of a legend here in Dallas. He has been very instrumental in the Performing Arts Center here on raising the money and putting that together, and had been with the Cowboys many years ago and SMU (Southern Methodist University).  He heads up the staff, and I am the Chairman, and we have a lot of cooperation. It is a North Texas event, it’s not Dallas, Arlington, or Fort Worth—it’s North Texas. We got a lot of volunteers, a lot of activity, and we have a Mayor’s Council, a Legislative Group, and we are trying to get everybody as a team into this, and right now everybody is excited about it. We have raised quite a bit of money, even during this kind of recession. We could have any kind of weather here, but usually we’ll have decent weather at that time of year. We do not want bad weather, since we definitely want to get into the Super Bowl city rotation as well; that is our goal. I believe we can, too, because we are going to do a great job on this thing and the stadium is phenomenal. Our goal is to not just be a one-time event.

That leads right into my next question, which is that knowing everything is bigger in Texas, do you expect this to be the biggest Super Bowl ever, particularly since it will likely be in front of the largest crowd in Super Bowl history in the new stadium?

STAUBACH:  People are going to realize that North Texas is one heck of a place to be, with lots of people, and easy to get too logistically. North Texas is football country, and I believe the owners are going to feel great about the event here, and we also have the stadium, which is phenomenal and those that have seen it have said this stadium is the premier people-friendly facility. Our goal is to put on the finest Super Bowl the NFL has ever had. They are going to have a warm welcome based on everything that we have done so far, and I think the closer we get, it is even going to get better.

What leadership lessons learned at Annapolis and/or in the Navy are most useful to you in this role as Chairman of the Super Bowl Committee?

STAUBACH:  As an athlete and being in the Military, I think there are many similarities. And even in business, which I got started in many years ago. The first thing is that you have to work hard in life to achieve anything. The old saying is it takes a lot of spectacular preparation to get spectacular results. So I started from the very beginning in the real estate industry back at the Henry Miller Company with a desk and a phone. I learned that in the Military too. At the Naval Academy, we were educated well, but also had a lot of responsibility.

In Vietnam, I was the logistics and supply officer, which was interesting since I actually was partially color-blind. The teamwork is not people falling into step, but is rather people truly caring about someone other than themselves, In the military, you are watching the back of your brethren all the time, whether it is in combat—and I was not out there in combat. I was in Vietnam, and supported the Marine Corps and the South Vietnamese troops, which was in northern South Vietnam. They were unbelievable.

I have been involved with a lot of the Special Forces. In fact, I just got back from the Navy Seal Warrior dinner in New York. This is life- or death-type teamwork.  But in the military, and I also mean at the Naval Academy, you learn about the importance of someone other than yourself, to get that balance in life, not only to take out of life but to give back is something that we have—all of us should be working on it every day because you cannot do it by yourself. When you start saying ‘it’s all about me’ and it’s only about you and you are only trying to satisfy yourself, you have a problem. In the military, it is just the opposite. You are there to make sure you understand the importance of someone else and what they mean to you. Whether it’s your life or whatever it is.

In business, it’s the same way.  You want people that can get that balance of taking and giving, not just always taking. That is teamwork, and that is what team players are. There are people that truly get what it means to care about someone other than themselves. In business, you need to get the trust internally in your company to transfer it to a customer. And trust is part of teamwork, and the people you can trust do have that balance in their life.  They do not take out of life, they give back. The people you cannot trust are those that only take out of life. I learned that, and the military just reinforced all that to me.

When I was a 27-year-old rookie, Don Meredith had retired and so I am now the backup quarterback as a rookie. And Coach (Tom) Landry was not crazy about rookies. Craig Morton was in his fourth year, so now he was going to be the starter. So here I am, and because of being in the Military and having that experience, Coach did not trade for a veteran quarterback.  So, as a rookie, I was a backup quarterback and the reason was that he was a military guy himself.

February 2010. Staubach holds a copy of the May 2009 issue of Armchair General at a ceremony during last year's Super Bowl Week in South Florida. (John Ingoldsby)

I learned a lot in the military, supporting those Marines in Vietnam, and those guys were unbelievable. They were out there fighting the fight. And I was in the rear, and they used to give me a hard time like, ‘Hey Staubach, what are you doing?’ They would be out on combat missions, but they were great. I lived at Camp Tinshaw with a bunch of Navy Seals for a while, and they used to go out on a mission and they would come back and say, ‘Hey Staubach, where were you? Did you go to the O(fficers) Club tonight?’ So my respect is limitless for our Special Forces, especially the Marines, who I saw in action in Vietnam.

I was just out at the Wounded Warrior Games out in Colorado Springs, where I did the tours for the Olympics. They had 200 wounded shoulders out there, men and women, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. We gave a talk that night, and I told them I was not a warrior, but I was one of them as far as being in the Military. The other part you learn is perseverance, where you cannot quit. You get knocked down, you pick yourself back up, and resiliency is critical as far as anything you do, especially the military. You are going to go through tough times, and you just cannot quit. There are many days, even at the Naval Academy, when I said, ‘What am I doing here?’ When you look at it, trust, perseverance, resiliency, teamwork, and hard work are things the military taught me and have been important to me in my business and as an athlete.

Taking that one step further, what lessons have you learned as a successful real estate executive that you apply in this job as Chairman of the Super Bowl?

STAUBACH: First of all, you have to make sure you have the right people in the right places doing the right things, and miracles can happen. In business, if you have the right people in the right places doing the right things, you are going to build a great business.  In business, you have got to capitalize your business and make sure financially you are able to run your business properly. But you also have to get your priorities in line, and our business is a service business, and we are still in business because internally we have people committed to the customers. First, you have got to win the business, then to do it right, and the rewards follow. A lot of people want to get the rewards right away. You have to get everybody’s priorities in line. And if you do that, it is amazing what you can get accomplished when you get a lot of people truly caring about each other and also that their main priority is the customer.

Through the years, we did a lot of things with technology to share information that made us thinking about someone other than ourselves.  We preached that we were trying to be a service company and, therefore, we talked about teamwork, but we had technology to show what we were doing. I also was very involved with our people helping them win business and do things right, and I didn’t participate in their commissions or do anything that would jeopardize me preaching teamwork. You have to preach a message, but then they have to see it practiced in how we did business. And John, you always have a few terrorists in your company, no question about it. You cannot allow them to have any kind of leadership or major role in your business. They are going to be there since human beings are complicated creatures, but you cannot have them in leadership roles. Through 31 years, the things that we had to do were few and far between where we did not have the right people, but we did not at times, and we made those decisions and if it was not working and they were not listening to how we were going to do business, it was a big problem for us. We did something about it, but they were by far in the minority of the company.  But, they are going to be there, and you just cannot let them gain control. It’s like a football team: you cannot let the bad apples ruin the football team.

Speaking of a football team, what is your fondest memory of the 1963 Navy team, the year you won the Heisman trophy?

STAUBACH:  Well, it was a special year for us. We ended up the previous year by almost upsetting Southern California. It was a heck of a game, and we actually outplayed them. Then we went into the Army-Navy game with the ‘Chinese Bandits’ and Paul Dietzel, and we were underdogs, but we had a great game. That created this atmosphere, even though we had the seniors graduate, and we had a fantastic leader in Tom Lynch. Tom was the catalyst of that team, and he got us started the next year and we just really had something special going, but lost on a Friday night to SMU 32- 28, which is a real tough game. But we played well the whole year. And the Army-Navy game that year was extra-special because, obviously President Kennedy was assassinated, and the game was called off, and then it was rescheduled.

It turned out to be a heck of a football game. In fact, we were ahead 21 – 7 in the second half, and never got the ball back. Army went on a long drive and scored with this running offense that ran the clock, and they also got the two points, so it was 21 to 15. Then they got the onside kick and we were on the sideline going over things to do if they go down and score again. So now they’re driving again.  And I was talking to Coach Wayne Hardin, and said, ‘Hey, Coach, we’re not going to get the ball back.’ But they had used up their timeouts and ended up on the two-yard line. So the season had that highlight as far as winning that game and beating Notre Dame. But, we had the big disappointment of losing to Texas. We lost some momentum through the holidays, even though we gave up some leave, which at the time is really not a big deal, we just lost a little momentum. We had one heck of a team, but to lose to Texas in the Cotton Bowl was a rough loss.

We were still the number two team in the country at that time so it was a year that built on itself, and as far as the relationships we have had since then, we get together and see each other; and have a reunion about every five years. Tom Lynch was and has remained the heart and soul of that team. It is one of the most fun years that I have ever had, but if we would have beat Texas, it would have been an even better year. Also, they announced that I won the Heisman earlier in the week that Kennedy was assassinated. We were in the locker room and Coach Hardin told us about the Heisman. But a few days later, it was a Friday afternoon, I was going to Thermo Dynamics class, and then coming back, when we got there, they said he had died, although we already knew he was shot. So we went to the locker room again, after having been there for me receiving the Heisman a few days earlier.

We usually did not have meetings in the locker room, so when coach called us all in there, that was unusual, and he is telling that we are not going to practice, and we are waiting to find out what’s going to happen with the game, and hearing the word that it might not be played. So they announced that the game would be pushed back another week, but it would be played on behalf of the Kennedy family, and the atmosphere around the Academy was no pep rallies and nothing related to what normally takes place for an Army-Navy game. The game itself was electric because everybody just let it all hang out, and it was one of the most exciting games I have ever played in because of the atmosphere of Kennedy and that he was there the year before as Commander in Chief. We were both good teams so it was a good game, and fortunately we stopped them on the 2-yard line. The game was also the first time TV ever used instant replay. CBS tried to work it into the game, but they could not, despite trying a couple of times, but it did not work until the fourth quarter and it had actually become the first replay.

I assume you have been back to many Army-Navy games since then, so what is your typical weekend like for an Army/Navy game, typically in Philadelphia?

STAUBACH:  My feeling about the Naval Academy and the military in my four years is that it is a tremendous feeling that I have and that I was very proud of, but I also talk about those military guys that are the real heroes. And when I ran on the field, with Roger Staubach, Navy, I was really proud of being in the Military. I did not retire in the military, but to be associated with the military has always been one of the best things in my life because of the relationships of my closest friends from the Naval Academy. So going back to the Army-Navy game and just being part of it is great. It is a pretty neat deal, and they have respected the life that I have had outside of Navy, but I have respected them a lot more for what they have done and what their commitment was. I might have stayed in the Navy full-time, but again, I had a chance to play football, but when you graduate, your goal is to retire in the Navy.

That leads right into my next question, which is that when you graduated from Annapolis, it is my understanding that you had the opportunity to play with the Dallas Cowboys but yet you chose to fulfill your military obligation and go to Vietnam. How did that all play out?

STAUBACH:  After my junior year, when I had a really good year, I was drafted because I was at New Mexico in prep school for one year, and I could have figured out a way to get out of the Academy after my junior year. In fact, Gil Brandt, who was with the Cowboys, came to see my mother in Cincinnati and said, ‘Hey, I know your Roger is dating a woman,’ and actually I married her when I graduated, and he was insinuating to my mother that I should get out of the Navy and have a big contract with the Cowboys. And she threw him out of the house—not physically though.  He always likes to tell that story.

Staubach spent 11 seasons as quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, winning two Super Bowls. (Courtesy, Dallas Cowboys)

I was an only child so, and we had high principals, so it was not even a thought and I would not have even considered doing something like that. But that would have been the time to do it. I did not even consult with anybody, and it was not even something that was in my thinking. But other people talked about it, and I just knew what I had to do.  I finished my senior year and had four years. But both Dallas and the Kansas City Chiefs came to talk to me about playing because I was also drafted by Kansas City in the AFL.  Lamar Hunt came to our house.

So I went to this Navy Legal Officer training, where I was stationed for my first six months. It was a Naval Academy program, then six months in school, and then to Vietnam, and then to Pensacola. So Kansas City offered me a $10,000 bonus and $500 a month. So I want to this Navy Legal Officer, Captain Paul Borden, and said, ‘Can I do this since they are offering this money, which was a lot at the time. He checked it out and said, ‘Yeah, Roger, you do not have to leave the Service.  If you stay in, it is all your money after four years.’  Then he said, ‘But you should talk to Dallas.’  So he met with Dallas, and went up to Philadelphia where the Cowboys were playing the Eagles. He called me on the phone and said, ‘Dallas has offered you the same deal,’ and I said, ‘Oh, that is great since I get $500 a month.’ That’s more than I was getting – my pay was over four grand when you looked at my base pay and housing assistance. So I had another 500 bucks plus ten thousand dollars.’ So we gave two thousand to each of our families, and I had six thousand bucks in the bank. I actually was committed that if I ever played football again, I would play for Dallas, and that was my obligation.

What are your strongest memories from your services as a logistics officer in Vietnam?

STAUBACH: The strongest memories were just the courage of the Marines that I was supporting there. They were fighting in the northern sector of South Vietnam, and I was in the back for four months, and then I want down to Chi-Li and was in charge of all the shipping and receiving where all the ammunition supplies came in, and we would get it off to the Marine bases. We would get these big forklifts to go in and offload these LST’s, and then we would send all the ammunition supplies out to the Marine bases, which were right there. We were all together on the South China Sea, and we had a number of air bases there too.

I got along with everybody, so here comes the supply officer to these military guys, and they are saying, ‘Look, this guy is an athlete.’ Between our tiny huts on the South China Sea, where the Marines were, we put this little field up and one day I woke up, and they had put this sign on the field that said, ‘Staubach Stadium.’ I worked hard, and we had a big responsibility, but there really was not any danger, even though we had these bunkers that we would get into. But my admiration for the Marines that I supported was phenomenal, since we had a hospital right there and these guys that were killed would be brought back.

In fact, when I was in Da Nang, I got a radio call from my teammate, Tommy Holton, and he wanted to come and visit with me and gave me a hard time, saying ‘I am sure you are having a good time there in Da Nang, but I want to see you when I get in. The he was shot and killed. So those kinds of episodes were there around me, and we had some classmates that were lost over there. It was a rough war, John, and as you can see is being brought out today, even when I got out, the Vietnam Veteran was not looked at favorably. We were part of the war and people were not happy with the war, and it was all protesting instead of supporting the troops who were doing what the country wanted them to do. It became pretty negative.

Even when I was with the Cowboys, I would be in battles with my teammates, kidding them in the locker room, and they would be giving me a hard time. I was telling them, ‘Hey, you cannot take it out on our Military; they are doing their job.’ The good news today is that the negative sentiment with Iraq of Afghanistan is not as bad as Vietnam, and the concern for the troops is at a very high level. This Navy Seal Warrior Games dinner in New York the other day was just packed, and it is critical since veterans have mental issues and physical issues, and if you do not have people supporting you when you get back, it just compounds the problem. But we still have to do more, and the VA is trying to do more, but there is a lot the private sector is helping with, especially the Wounded Warrior and the respect for the Military, which we did not see with Vietnam.

The Vietnam veterans today are out there supporting the troops. I was down at a hospital recently and this guy received a silver star, and he asked me to go into the auditorium when he was receiving it, and there was a ton of Vietnam veterans there supporting him. It is probably better today for the Vietnam veteran than it was when he was actually coming back to the U.S. The Vietnam War was just too much politics. We went into Iraq, and the surge was 3 ½ years later, and the Joint Chiefs said we needed more troops to securitize the country to protect our own. We went in there with the idea that we were going to be welcomed, but were not ready for these IEDs. There has got to be a balance between listening to the Military and having a civilian decision-making process.

You have said that your heroes are Military, so who are those heroes?

STAUBACH: They are Tommy Holden, my classmate who was killed in Vietnam; and other classmates of mine that gave their lives. They are also famous people that I read about. I was at a World War II Museum recently in Fredericksburg, Texas, and I am a big World War II buff particularly on the Navy, but what took place in Europe is mind- boggling when you think about that war. Twenty-four hours a day we were concerned about the war, and we were all pitching in and building new equipment and doing the necessary things, but today we are at war and there are troops in harm’s way, and our politicians and leaders should be involved in this thing everyday if we are in harm’s way.

I was in the Academy, and those that really devoted their time and most of their livelihood to the military are heroes of mine. I am at the Warrior Games reception, and these wounded warriors were coming up and I would take a picture and sign things. And, I am saying, ‘You know, I am just a football player,’ so it is amazing that they feel that way about you. When I was in The Stars and Stripes newspaper in Vietnam, I said I feel guilty that I am not doing enough in Vietnam, and I got hammered by an Admiral over there. He actually called me in and said, ‘Roger, you are doing your job over here, and there are a lot of people like you doing your job.’ He really chewed me out for that.

What was the process of you ending up at Annapolis after growing up Cincinnati?

STAUBACH: I was at Tom Lynch’s wife’s funeral this year, and a few of us had dinner the night before at Harry Brown’s in Annapolis, and in walks Rick Forzano and his wife, and they joined us for dinner. Rick came to my high school in 1960 because he was interested in talking to our center, Jerry Mopper, who was interested in the Naval Academy. Rick was watching some film, and some of my coaches told him he needed to talk to the quarterback, so he called me out of class. I went down and talked to him, and then Jerry and I went up to visit the Naval Academy, and I’m the one that decided that I really liked this. I just took a liking to the Academy, and I was not sure what I wanted to do. I only played quarterback my senior in high school, so I was not sure where I was going, but I knew I wanted to play college football.

I also wanted to play baseball, and wanted to get a good education. I liked the atmosphere of the Naval Academy and it just clicked. But Rick and a guy named Rick Kleinfeld, who was the scouting birddog in Cincinnati, took my parents and me up there. I just stayed with it and it was one of those things in life where you just make the decision, because I signed a letter of intent to go to a Big Ten school — Purdue. Also, Ohio State really went after me because I was a running quarterback, and Woody Hayes personally was after me, but I signed to go to Purdue because they had a passing game. I was getting ready to go to Purdue, so I could not go to another Big Ten school, and that is when I decided at the last minute to go into the Navy.

I really only played quarterback in my senior year in high school, since in my junior year I played all defense. So Navy came to me because I was still ready to go to Purdue that June, and then the Navy talked to me about going to New Mexico, where they were sending a bunch of guys, almost like a prep year. Coach Ackerman came to see me in Cincinnati and told me the head coach is Bob Shaw, and we can have this wide-open offense. I still was not sure what I wanted, so I chose to go to Roswell and then I would go directly to Navy the next year. So I had that one year, and we had a great junior college team. We were 9 and 1, one of the best junior colleges in the country, and we had about 10 to 12 Naval Academy guys, a few West Pointers and a few Air Force guys. That actually was one of the best things I ever did.  I went out there, was homesick, and said, ‘What am I doing out here?’  But it turned out to be a really good year football-wise, since I learned more about quarterbacking. So that is what really led me into the Naval Academy, and I stayed in touch with Rick through all that.

Is it true that you basically coined the phrase ‘Hail Mary, Pass’ after your famous pass to Drew Pearson?

STAUBACH:  Yes, it was 1975, the score was 14 to 10, and we had played a good game.  We were big underdogs as the wild card team in the playoffs against Minnesota. We had the last drive though, and Drew caught a couple of passes, one on 4th and 17 that got us the chance to throw the Hail Mary. I basically told everybody to block, and then Drew – a really great athlete, was against Nate Wright. So I pumped weak safety Paul Krause to the left, and when I threw it back the ball was a little under-thrown, and hit him around his head. But Drew caught it and he was man-to-man on Nate Wright, who slipped. He goes into the end zone, and I got hit, so I did not even see him catch the ball.

After the game, a reporter asked, ‘What were you thinking about when you threw the ball?’  I said, ‘I closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary.’ I was a Catholic kid and could have said, ‘I closed my eyes and said a prayer,’ but I used the term Hail Mary. That was the first time it was ever used in the NFL. Doug Flutie threw a Hail Mary pass eight years later, but it wasn’t THE Hail Mary pass. Now the NFL has recognized it, and it is a trivia deal with NFL stuff saying that was the first-time Hail Mary. Before that, it was the Alley Oop, The Bomb or whatever.

John Ingoldsby, a leading writer on the intersection of sports and the military, is president of IIR Sports & Entertainment, Inc. (IIRsports.com) in Boston, a public relations and writing firm.

1 Comment

  1. Roger,
    I just ran across this article and noticed your mention of Captain Paul Borden. We lived next door to the Borden’s and remember how excited my mother would get when you went to their home for a visit. Captain Borden was one classiest men I’ve ever met and a dear man who was gone too soon. I’m not surprised that he steered you so well. Congrats on all your success

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