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Myers: Where's your head, Roger? Staubach quip is no joke

Cowboys great Roger Staubach is the last guy you would expect to make concussion jokes.Dan Farrell/New York Daily News

Cowboys great Roger Staubach is the last guy you would expect to make concussion jokes.

Roger Staubach, known during his playing days as Captain America, is the last true clean-cut, universally loved, American superstar sports hero.

The only slightly controversial comment he ever made was when he told Phyllis George in a 1975 interview for “The NFL Today” that he enjoyed sex as much as Joe Namath, he just did it with one girl — his wife.

That was funny for him and it added a layer of intrigue to his straight-laced personality. What he said the other night at a black-tie affair at the Waldorf Astoria — making a joke about concussions — was not funny at all and was as disappointing as it was out of character. He displayed a much better sense of timing on his Hail Mary to Drew Pearson.

“There’s a lot of no-name players going through difficult times. I would hope a guy like him would be an advocate to speak out and tell the truth,” former Jets wide receiver Wesley Walker said Thursday. “Roger Staubach would be a perfect fit. He is so well-respected.”

Staubach served his five-year Navy commitment before joining the Cowboys in 1969 at the age of 27. He started four Super Bowls and won two. But his career ended after the 1979 season due to his second concussion of the season, and by his own count, he once told me, either the 10th or 12th of his career. He quit, fearing he would injure his brain.

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So, Roger the Dodger, who has been even more successful in the commercial real estate business than he was on the football field, is the last person ever expected to make concussion jokes. His comments Tuesday night at the National Football Foundation dinner at the Waldorf prove even smart people say dumb things.

Roger Goodell’s uncomfortable laugh at Staubach’s weak attempt at humor indicated the commissioner wished he could crawl under the table and find an escape route out to Park Ave. and up to the street and back to his office.

“I had a chance to sit next to the commissioner of football. Pete Rozelle,” Staubach said with a straight face to a large crowd.

In awkward moment for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (l.), Roger Staubach, who suffered numerous concussions during storied career, treats head injuries as punch line at recent event.Julie Jacobson/AP

In awkward moment for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (l.), Roger Staubach, who suffered numerous concussions during storied career, treats head injuries as punch line at recent event.

Then someone walked up the podium and whispered in his ear to correct him. “Oh, excuse me, Roger Goodell,” Staubach said. “I apologize. I had six concussions in the NFL.”

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Concussions, of course, are the biggest issue in the NFL. The league has come to the realization that CTE is more important than PATs. Players such as Junior Seau and Dave Duerson have committed suicide and were later diagnosed with the brain disease after playing such a violent sport. How many current and former players live in fear of what the future holds because of too many shots to the head?

Staubach has been one of the game’s great ambassadors. He has taken care of former teammates by giving them jobs. He’s one of the best people I’ve ever met in nearly 40 years covering the NFL. But he’s clearly not a comedian. He’s also not insensitive. He’s also not perfect.

His assistant in Dallas told me Staubach was travelling Thursday and wasn’t available. A few years ago, I was talking to Staubach about the end of his career. He had suffered a concussion in a 1979 playoff loss to the Rams when linebacker Jack Reynolds grabbed him and Staubach hit his head on the Texas Stadium turf after he released a 2-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Jay Saldi.

“It wasn’t like my normal bad concussion, but it definitely screwed me up,” he said. “I wasn’t myself. So afterwards, I was really thinking about retiring.”

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His normal concussion would knock him out. This one didn’t.

Roger StaubachMichael Loccisano/Getty Images

Roger Staubach

One doctor told him to retire. Another told him he didn’t have any brain damage but was worried about what the next concussion would bring. “Usually the next day I would have a little headache and I would feel fine again,” Staubach said. “Things get bounced around there, they can affect you in different ways.”

A couple of months following the playoff concussion, Staubach went into Tom Landry’s office and told him he was retiring. Landry was prepared for the future with Danny White and didn’t try to talk Staubach into staying. Then he went and told Cowboys president Tex Schramm that he wasn’t going to take any more chances with his health. Schramm tried to entice Staubach back onto the field by offering him a two-year contract for $ 750,000 a year, matching Archie Manning’s as the biggest in the league.

Staubach turned him down and never looked back.

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When I spoke to Staubach a few years ago, he was sharp mentally and there’s no indication that, at the age of 73, anything has changed. But making light of the biggest problem facing the NFL made him look bad, and even with his uncomfortable laugh, it made Goodell look bad.

Walker was never diagnosed with a concussion because the standards were so much different when he played. He’s had memory loss, gotten himself lost driving on familiar highways and has all kinds of physical ailments. “I’m just a shell of myself,” he said Thursday.

So you can understand why Walker didn’t find Staubach’s joke even a little bit funny.

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roger goodell ,
sports concussions ,
nfl

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