Dallas Cowboys Legend, successful businessman, former Ursuline father, and current Ursuline grandfather. That description fits only one man: Roger Staubach. He can now add Presidential Medal of Freedom Winner to the list.
Staubach is no stranger to receiving prestigious awards like his Heisman trophy and Super Bowl VI Most Valuable Player Award, but most of these have come from football achievements. This award felt different. It encompassed his time serving in the Navy, his successful football career, and the real estate firm he built.
“The medal is not just what I achieved. It’s a combination of my life as far as my hard work and the people that supported me during the different parts of my life. What I learned from sports had a lot to do with the Presidential Medal—it taught me the hard work, the perseverance, the teamwork that is just as important in business as it is in football. I have the medal hanging here in my office right next to the Heisman trophy. It really represents my business life, my athletic life, and also my military life,” Staubach said.
On November 16th, Staubach’s wife Marianne, their five children, and 15 grandchildren, including three current Ursuline students, accompanied Staubach to the White House to watch President Trump award the Hall of Fame quarterback with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Two weeks after his family’s exciting trip, Staubach took time to fill in the details of his exemplary life.
As a high schooler in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the early sixties, Staubach played baseball and football, but he did not play his signature position until his senior year when his coach decided to take a chance on him. Without that coach’s influence, Staubach’s life may have gone in a completely different direction.
“Our coach in high school thought that the other guys [on the team] listened to me and that I had a good arm from playing baseball. Through being a quarterback, I found my place and I really enjoyed being a leader and having a big role in the offense. I don’t think we would be talking right now if I had stayed as a wide receiver,” Staubach said.
After playing quarterback in high school, Staubach was recruited by the Naval Academy. He soon became the star of the Navy’s football team, breaking Navy records and winning the Heisman Trophy his junior year.
During Staubach’s time in college, former president and former Navy Lieutenant John F. Kennedy was in office. Present at the Army-Navy game in 1962, Kennedy did the coin toss and visited the Navy locker room after the game to meet Staubach and the other players.
President Kennedy was set to do the coin toss for the Army-Navy game the following year, but tragedy struck the Friday before the game, and the president was assassinated in Dallas. The game was almost called off.
“It was really one of the most memorable games I’ve ever played in because the game was played on behalf of the Kennedy family. We really had a good year that year, and we ended up in a tough game against Army. We won 21 to 15,” Staubach said.
As star Navy quarterback, Staubach appeared on the cover of Time magazine in October of 1963 and was set to appear on the cover of Life magazine as “the Houdini of the backfield” until the magazine pulled his cover at the last minute to print a special issue honoring John F. Kennedy after his death.
To Ursuline students, Staubach seems to have been right in the middle of history, especially since he served in the Vietnam War after graduating from college instead of immediately beginning his pro football career. Staubach served as a logistics supply officer supporting the Marine Corps in the I Corp Area in South Vietnam. At the time, his wife Marianne was not thrilled about him going overseas to war, but Staubach felt he had to serve. He found returning home to be one of the most difficult parts.
“It became a very unpopular war and it wasn’t the troops at fault. They were doing what their country asked them to do. A lot of people protested and took it out on the troops, and I still remember how terrible that was. The good news today is that I think a lot of people learned from that. The men and women that are in the armed services are there to do what their country asks them to do and to protect this country,” Staubach said.
After his time in the Navy, Staubach joined the Dallas Cowboys in 1969 and spent the next eleven years playing for America’s Team. Staubach described the Cowboys when he joined as “a good team that could not win the big games.” Staubach began as the backup quarterback, but eventually became a starter and led his team to its first Super Bowl win in 1972.
“I’ve never seen Coach Landry more excited than after winning that Super Bowl because now nobody could say that he couldn’t win the big games. I was part of a team with players I had watched when I was still in the service like Bob Lilly and Lee Roy Jordan.”
Throughout Staubach’s football career, the Cowboys never had a losing season, went to the playoffs ten out of eleven years, played in the Super Bowl five times, and won twice. One of Staubach’s most memorable plays was against the Minnesota Vikings in the conference championship game in ’72. With less than a minute left, Staubach threw a 50-yard touchdown pass that came to be known as the “Hail Mary” pass.
“We went to the Super Bowl that year and the reason was that at the Minnesota game we were behind 14-10 in the fourth quarter. That’s when I passed to Drew Pearson, and he made a heck of a catch, and we won the game. After the game, the reporters asked me what I was thinking, and I said I closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary,” Staubach said.
Alan Page, another recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, played football, and like Staubach, went on to great success as a federal judge after his athletic career. Page played on the Minnesota Vikings as a member of the Purple People Eaters defensive line against Staubach in the “Hail Mary” pass game. He sat next to Staubach at the awards ceremony, and the two former players reminisced about the old days. Page complained about the legendary “Hail Mary” pass that won the game almost 50 years ago.
Staubach achieved great success in business after his football career. While still Dallas’s quarterback in 1977, Staubach started his eponymous real estate firm. He did not have to worry as much about football nostalgia since running a business required similar energy and determination.
“I was building a real estate firm and my adrenaline was pumping all the time there, too, in order to build a company, open offices, and try to win business. It had some similarities with football because you are always on edge in football and getting ready for the next game. In business, [the game] kind of keeps going on and on and on. If I didn’t have the excitement of building a business, I think I would have missed football even more.”
Staubach also devotes his time to charitable organizations like United Way of America, the Children’s Scholarship Fund, and Allies in Service. His Catholic faith has remained central to his life, and he can often be spotted attending mass at St. Rita Catholic Church down the road.
Family has always played a major role in Staubach’s life. Staubach and his high school sweetheart Marianne have been married for 53 years. Gracie Grimes ’19, Hailey Mentgen ’20, and Emma Grimes ’21 are Staubach’s current Ursuline grandchildren.
Mentgen describes her grandfather as hard-working, big-hearted, humble, and kind. Although she has great respect for him, she also enjoys his humorous side. She shared how Staubach has a special smirk he gives his grandchildren when he sees them from across the room or at church. Staubach even made his grandchildren laugh at his awards ceremony.
“When he was on stage getting his award, I was in the back row looking right at him and he made this face at me. I love that because even when he was on stage receiving an award, he was still being goofy with his grandkids,” Mentgen said.
Staubach ended the interview with valuable advice to his Ursuline grandchildren and their peers:
“You not only take out of life, but you give back. You’ve got to have that balance. If you live your life with a balance, you work really hard and accomplish a lot and do some good things, but you have to also remember that the things you do affect other people. If you are practicing your faith and believing your faith, you are going to give a darn about someone other than yourself.”