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Memory Lane: Roger Staubach goes on first ballot into Pro Football Hall of Fame

On August 2, 1985, Dallas Cowboys legendary quarterback Roger Staubach was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a first ballot selection
Credit: AP
The five enshrines into the Pro Football Hall of Fame pose with their bronze busts in front of the shrine after induction ceremonies Saturday, Aug. 3, 1985 in Canton, Ohio. They are, left to right, Frank Gatski, Joe Namath, Pete Rozelle, O.J. Simpson and Roger Staubach. (AP Photo) (AP Photo/Ernie Mastroianni)

No one embodied the excellence and sportsmanship of the 1970s Dallas Cowboys more than Roger Staubach. When he was eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985, his first year of eligibility, it was a no-brainer to induct the two-time Super Bowl champion.

Staubach was inducted on Aug. 2, in a five-man class that also included O.J. Simpson, Frank Gatski, Joe Namath, and Pete Rozelle. 

The former Heisman Trophy winner's 15 fourth-quarter comebacks and 23 game-winning drives over his 11-year career earned him the cognomen "Captain Comeback." As long as Staubach was under center, the Cowboys always had a chance to overcome any deficit and pull out the improbable victory.

Dallas drafted Staubach in Round 10 of the 1964 NFL Draft from the U.S. Naval Academy. The 6-3, 197-pound signal-caller was unavailable to the Cowboys as he served in the Navy, which included a tour of duty in Vietnam from 1965-67. Staubach threw footballs and kept his arm in shape while overseas, and returned to the States in 1967 to finish out his commitment.

Don Meredith, who retired from the Cowboys after playing quarterback from 1960-68, joked with Craig Morton, Meredith's heir apparent, that Staubach was going to take his job. Though Staubach started in four games in his first two seasons with Dallas from 1969-70, he wouldn't wrest control of the starting job until after Week 7 when Dallas dropped a road game 23-19 to the Chicago Bears. 

Coach Tom Landry had seen enough from Morton, and his innovation of splitting reps in-game between Staubach and Morton wasn't working out. Landry gave Staubach the reins, and the Cowboys won their last seven games en route to their first Super Bowl win.

Throughout the Cowboys' run to Super Bowl VI, Staubach was efficient. He only had one fumble; he protected the football. In the Big Game versus the Miami Dolphins, Staubach went 12-of-19 for 119 yards and two touchdowns. The Super Bowl MVP did his job and enabled the defense to do theirs as they crushed Miami 24-3.

Staubach would go on to lead Dallas to another Super Bowl win after the 1977 season. The six-time Pro Bowler would face the man whose job he took, Morton, in Super Bowl XII against the Denver Broncos. Similar to the club's first Super Bowl win, the Doomsday Defense rattled the opposing quarterback while Staubach completed 17-of-25 for 183 yards and a touchdown.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were the one AFC adversary Staubach and the Cowboys couldn't overcome in the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh bested Dallas 21-17 in Super Bowl X to join the Green Bay Packers and Dolphins as the only teams to repeat as Super Bowl champions. 

When it was the Cowboys' chance in Super Bowl XIII, the Steelers prevented it with a 35-31 win. In both games, the Steelers had to worry the entire fourth quarter that they were going to fall victim to Staubach's late game heroics.

There was no better example of how catalyzing Staubach was to the Cowboys' comebacks than the 1975 NFC divisional playoffs at the Minnesota Vikings. Down 14-10 with 1:51 left, Stabauch had to mount an 85-yard drive to win the game; Dallas couldn't settle for a field goal. 

The Cowboys faced a fourth-and-16, and Staubach connected with receiver Drew Pearson for a 25-yard catch to convert. Two plays later, Staubach threw a 50-yard bomb to Pearson that scored a touchdown and won the game.

The "Hail Mary," as it was named due to Staubach, a devout Catholic, saying he just heaved the pass deep and said a Hail Mary, is an irrevocable part of football lore. Not only did the play demonstrate that Staubach and the Cowboys were never out of it, but the drive indicated how much of Staubach's will to win rubbed off on his teammates. 

Pearson had not caught a pass until that drive, and he finished as the game's leading receiver with four catches for 91 yards and a touchdown. Staubach kept faith that his go-to target would be there when he needed him, and Pearson similarly couldn't let Staubach down.

It was quite fitting Staubach, Namath, and Rozelle were all inducted together. Rozelle was the NFL commissioner who oversaw the creation of the Super Bowl and the AFL-NFL merger. Namath was the New York Jets quarterback who "guaranteed" the AFL champions would beat the NFL's best in the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. Staubach was the face of the blended pro football league who led Dallas to seven NFC Championship Games, four Super Bowls, and executed two Super Bowl wins. No one was more recognizable in the 1970s than Staubach.

The legacy of Staubach's career is felt even to this day. No one's bust is visited more in Canton than Staubach's. His impact on the sport, let alone fans of America's Team, is still being felt over 40 years since his last game.

What is your favorite Roger Staubach moment with the Dallas Cowboys? Share your memories with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.