“During his career, Mr. Staubach had six major concussions, but he says he hasn’t felt any lasting effects. While other former players have claimed problems like dementia and depression after their careers were over, he doesn’t fault the NFL for any issues…
…”I just don’t believe our doctors knew that my concussion could cause dementia someday,” he says. “The game itself is a brutal game, with big guys hitting each other, so if you play the game, you take the risk.”, Alexandra Wolfe, “Roger Staubach, America’s Quarterback”, Wall Street Journal, August 30, 2014
Roger Staubach, America’s Quarterback
The former quarterback on the Cowboys, his famed pass and his success in the real-estate game
By Alexandra Wolfe
Roger Staubach Justin Clemons for The Wall Street Journal; Grooming by Shelly Cervantes
“This year is our year,” says former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach. The legendary football player turned real-estate mogul is sitting far from the field in a glass-enclosed conference room overlooking the Dallas skyline. He’s a few feet from his corner office at real-estate company Jones Lang LaSalle, where he is executive chairman of the Americas region. Although he’s hopeful about the Cowboys’ prospects, he adds, “I said that last year.”
Whether they win or lose, to Mr. Staubach, the Cowboys will always be “America’s Team.” And at age 72, he says he sometimes still gets called “America’s Quarterback.” The Cowboys earned their nickname in 1978, when the National Football League released a film of the same name about the team. The previous year, the Cowboys had earned the highest television ratings and sold the most merchandise of any team in the NFL. Mr. Staubach, who played from 1969 to 1979, still remembers a Philadelphia Eagles player knocking the wind out of him and saying, “Take that, America’s quarterback!”
During Mr. Staubach’s tenure, the team reached the Super Bowl five times, winning twice. But the Cowboys haven’t made it to a Super Bowl since 1996 after the 1995 season. “We had a great ’90s with the Troy Aikman phenomenon, but since then, we’re struggling,” he says. “Now we’re getting Tony [Romo], but Tony needs a defense.” Last year, the team’s defense was ranked last in the league.
The sport has changed dramatically since his days on the field, Mr. Staubach says. For one, a lot more money is in the game. “TV was not what it is today, and that’s driven up revenues more than anything,” he explains. Now, the NFL takes in about $5 billion a year from TV and media deals. Through a collective bargaining agreement with the league’s owners, players get a certain percentage of that revenue.
Players also pass the ball more than they used to. “Now you really have to get someone out of college who can throw,” says Mr. Staubach. “You have to run in the NFL, but they throw the ball probably 30% more than we did.”
He is no stranger to passes, of course: The term “Hail Mary pass” became popular after he threw a 50-yard winning touchdown to wide receiver Drew Pearson in the final minute of a 1975 playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings. A reporter later asked what he was thinking, and he replied, “I just closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary.” The next day, headlines read, “Hail Mary Pass Wins Game.” Mr. Staubach takes out his key chain and points to a figurine hanging off it. “I’ve got the Blessed Virgin here,” he says. “We’re good buddies.”
During his career, Mr. Staubach had six major concussions, but he says he hasn’t felt any lasting effects. While other former players have claimed problems like dementia and depression after their careers were over, he doesn’t fault the NFL for any issues. “I just don’t believe our doctors knew that my concussion could cause dementia someday,” he says. “The game itself is a brutal game, with big guys hitting each other, so if you play the game, you take the risk.”
Still, Mr. Staubach says he was concerned when his son—one of five children with his wife of almost 40 years—played football in grade school. His son later switched to baseball. Now one of his 15 grandchildren is starting to get into the game. He remembers his mother watching him play, holding a rosary in her hand. “She squeezed it so tight that she had marks all over her hands,” he says. “She just hated me playing football.”
Growing up in Cincinnati, Mr. Staubach first played quarterback his senior year in high school, then continued in college at the U.S. Naval Academy. Despite being pursued by a handful of schools that were part of the Big Ten Conference, he decided to go Navy because “it was kind of romantic.” He says he doesn’t want to talk about his former team’s 12-year winning streak in the annual Army vs. Navy football game because he feels bad about it. “We should have lost two years ago, since they outplayed us, but we came back in the second half, had a drive at the end of the game and they had an unfortunate fumble.” What accounts for Navy’s success? “We’ve got some secrets I can’t talk about,” he says with a laugh.
Mr. Staubach attributes some of his success in business to the skills he learned at the Naval Academy and on the field. He started working in real estate in the off-season while he was a rookie player. He didn’t know how long his sports career would last, so he took a job at a real-estate company to make sure he could support his children.
In 1977, he started his own real-estate firm, which primarily helped corporations locate facilities. Because it was a service company and not a development company, Mr. Staubach says he was able to weather the housing bust in Dallas better than many developers because his clients still needed services—if only to move to smaller offices amid downsizing.
In 2008, Mr. Staubach sold his company to Jones Lang LaSalle for $613 million. By that time, he had expanded his firm to 68 offices and 1,800 people around the country.
Now, as executive chairman, Mr. Staubach doesn’t have an operational role, but he helps bring in new business and makes appearances at company events. He has no plans to retire soon. He is also a frequent sports announcer on TV and wakes up early to exercise six days a week. “I actually am a little fanatic about keeping track of it,” he says. “My goal is to exercise just over six hours a week, and that includes 4½ hours of cardio on the machines.” He used to run regularly, but to preserve his knees, he now uses the elliptical machine and recumbent bike.
Every now and then, he even plays a little football. His family has an annual Thanksgiving flag football game, and last year he played against former player and coach Doug Williams for a charity event at the Naval Academy.
“It’s still fun not to embarrass myself when I play flag football,” he says. “I can still throw decently for an old guy.”