Football legend Roger Staubach’s connection to Navy is a well-documented fact, maybe even more so than his link to a local pro team.
The hundreds of guests at the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl luncheon Friday also learned that Navy’s 1963 Heisman Trophy winner has a distant association to Middle Tennessee State. Navy (8-4) plays Middle Tennessee (8-4) on Monday in the Armed Forces Bowl at Amon G. Carter Stadium.
Staubach the Navy officer was stationed in Pensacola, Fla., after his tour of duty as a supply officer in Da Nang, South Vietnam. The Pensacola base’s football team played small college teams throughout the Southeast. Staubach had fond memories of a 12-7 win in 1968 at Middle Tennessee’s home field in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
“They did beat us the year before, though, and we don’t want to talk about that game,” Staubach said. “We were the Pensacola Goshawks.”
The T-45 Goshawk is a jet flight trainer still in use by the Navy.
“I was stationed at Pensacola in 1967 and ’68, and Pensacola played schools such as Southwestern Louisiana [now Louisiana-Lafayette], Southeastern Louisiana and Middle Tennessee,” Staubach said.
The audience at the Omni Fort Worth Hotel was even treated to to video highlights of that 12-7 game, copied from a grainy black-and-white film. Staubach scrambled from possible sacks and threw a pair of touchdown passes to wide receiver Tom McCracken, who attended Friday’s banquet. McCracken is a decorated Navy pilot who also served in Vietnam.
“Number 12 is me,” said Staubach, getting a laugh. “And that’s what you call a touchdown. [Getting a cheer.] Here’s another of me scrambling. The Blue Raiders are trying to catch me here, but I believe I threw another touchdown.
“We had a lot of fun, and the Navy base football teams ended in the 1970s probably because of the Vietnam War and other reasons. We had a lot of fun and played on a team with a bunch of Navy pilots and Vietnam veterans.”
Success of the Midshipmen teams during Staubach’s years quickly gave way to mediocrity, while Roger the Dodger went on to a Hall of Fame NFL career with the Dallas Cowboys. Navy fielded just four bowl teams from the 1970s through the 90s.
Navy’s football fortunes have improved dramatically since the 2000s, with 10 bowl appearances since 2003. Head coach Ken Niumatalolo has led Navy to five bowl games in his six years there.
At the luncheon, Niumatalolo, who was born in Hawaii, professed his admiration for Staubach and the Cowboys. As a kid, he said the Los Angeles Lakers and the Cowboys were the only teams on television.
“I grew to love the Dallas Cowboys,” he said. “I was a Cowboys fan and Roger Staubach was my hero. So it’s kind of weird for me when he sends me an email congratulating me. You’re Roger Staubach, you’re not supposed to do that!
“I’ll always be thankful for who he is and what he has been able to do for our country and the Naval Academy.”