After one year at New Mexico Military Institute, Staubach played quarterback for the Navy Midshipmen. As a third-class midshipman (sophomore), he got his first opportunity to play in the third game of the season, against the University of Minnesota on October 6, 1962. Staubach relieved starter Ron Klemick as the Minnesota defense, led by Bobby Bell and Carl Eller, was stifling in its 21–0 victory. Staubach was 0–2 passing and was sacked twice for -24 yards.
A week later, against Cornell, with the offense misfiring, Hall of Fame Coach Wayne Hardin decided to put Staubach into the game to see if he could spark the team's offense. Staubach went on to lead Navy to six touchdowns, throwing for 99 yards and two touchdowns while running for 88 yards and another score as Navy won 41–0.
A few weeks later, Staubach started again in the famed Army–Navy game, which featured president John F. Kennedy (himself a former Naval officer), who just 37 days earlier had negotiated the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis, performing the coin toss. Staubach led the team to a 34-14 upset over Army, throwing for two touchdowns and running for another.
In his three seasons at Navy, he completed 292 of 463 passes with 18 touchdowns and 19 interceptions, while gaining a school record 4,253 yards of total offense. Staubach is the last player from a military academy to win the Heisman Trophy.
The Naval Academy retired Staubach's jersey number (#12) during his graduation ceremony after his senior season. In 1981, Staubach was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame. In 2007, Staubach was ranked #9 on ESPN's Top 25 Players In College Football History list.
During his junior year at the Naval Academy, Staubach's color-blindness was detected. He was permitted to become the Naval Academy's first graduate to be commissioned directly into the Supply Corps, which did not necessitate being able to tell the difference between red (port) and green (starboard) lights or to discern the color differences in electrical circuitry.
After graduating from the Naval Academy, Staubach could have requested an assignment in the States, but he chose to volunteer for a one-year tour of duty in Vietnam. He served as a Supply Corps officer for the Navy at the Chu Lai base/port (a secondary air base providing relief for Da Nang Air Base approximately 50 miles to the northwest) until 1967. Staubach commanded 41 enlisted men.
He spent the rest of his Naval career in the United States, playing football on various Naval service teams to prepare for his future career in the National Football League.
Staubach was a 10th-round future draft pick in the 1964 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys. The National Football League allowed the Cowboys to draft him one year before his college eligibility was over, although due to his military commitment, he would not begin playing professionally until 1969 as a 27-year-old rookie. He was also drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the 16th round (122nd pick overall) of the 1964 American Football League Draft, also with a future selection.
In 1969, Staubach resigned his naval commission just in time to join the Cowboys training camp.
In 1971, Craig Morton began the season as the starter, but after a loss to the New Orleans Saints, Staubach assumed the role. However, in a game against the Chicago Bears in the seventh week of that season, coach Tom Landry alternated Staubach and Morton on each play, sending in the quarterbacks with the play call from the sideline. Dallas gained almost 500 yards of offense but committed seven turnovers that led to a 23-19 loss to a mediocre Bears squad that dropped the Cowboys to 4-3 on the season, two games behind the Washington Redskins in the NFC East race.
Staubach assumed the full-time quarterbacking duties in a week eight victory over the St. Louis Cardinals and led the Cowboys to 10 consecutive victories, including their first Super Bowl victory, 24-3 over the Miami Dolphins. He was named MVP of Super Bowl VI on January 16, 1972, completing 12 out of 19 passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 18 yards.
In 1972, he missed most of the season with a separated shoulder, but he relieved Morton in a divisional playoff against the San Francisco 49ers and threw two touchdown passes in the last 90 seconds to win the game 30–28. With that performance, he won back his regular job and did not relinquish it again during his career.
Staubach led the Cowboys to a second Super Bowl win in the 1977 season. He threw for 183 yards and a touchdown, with no interceptions, in Dallas' 27-10 victory in Super Bowl XII over the Denver Broncos. Staubach also led the Cowboys to Super Bowl appearances in Super Bowl X and Super Bowl XIII, where they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers both times by a total of eight points.
In his final NFL season of 1979, Staubach set career highs in completions (267), passing yards (3,586) and touchdown passes (27), with just 11 interceptions.
Staubach retired at the conclusion of the 1979 season, as he declined the Cowboys' offer for two more seasons in order to protect his long-term health. He suffered 20 concussions in his playing career, including six in which he said he was "knocked out." After suffering two concussions in 1979, a doctor at Cornell told Staubach that while his brain tests were fine at the moment, another concussion could have life-altering consequences. He was succeeded as the Cowboys starting quarterback by Danny White.
Overall, Staubach finished his 11 NFL seasons with 1,685 completions for 22,700 yards and 153 touchdowns, with 109 interceptions. He also gained 2,264 rushing yards and scored 21 touchdowns on 410 carries. For regular-season games, he had a .750 winning percentage. Staubach recorded the highest passer rating in the NFL in four seasons (1971, 1973, 1978, 1979) and led the league with 23 touchdown passes in 1973. He was an All-NFC choice five times and selected to play in six Pro Bowls (1971, 1975–1979).
Staubach retired from football in March 1980 as the second-highest-rated passer of all time at 83.4 (behind Otto Graham at 86.6), and was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985. In 1999, he was ranked #29 on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Football Players, the second-ranked Cowboy behind Bob Lilly.
Staubach was one of the most exciting NFL players of the 1970s. Known as "Roger The Dodger" for his scrambling abilities, "Captain America" as quarterback of America's Team, and also as "Captain Comeback" for his fourth quarter game-winning heroics, Staubach had a penchant for leading scoring drives which led the Cowboys to improbable victories. He led the Cowboys to 23 game-winning drives (15 comebacks) in the fourth quarter, with 17 of those in the final two minutes or in overtime.
Perhaps Staubach's most famous moment was the "Hail Mary pass" in the 1975 playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings. With seconds on the clock and the Cowboys trailing 14-10, Staubach launched a 50-yard bomb to wide receiver Drew Pearson, who caught the pass and strode into the end zone for a 17-14 victory. After the game, Staubach said he threw up a prayer now named the "Hail Mary" . Since then, any last-minute pass play to the end zone in a desperate attempt to score a game-winning touchdown is referred to as a "Hail Mary pass" in reference to Staubach's famous play.
Staubach was named The Walter Camp "Man of the Year" in 1983, and was awarded the Davey O'Brien Legends Award in 2001.
In 1996, the U.S.Navy Memorial Foundation awarded Staubach its Lone Sailor Award for his naval service.
On January 25, 2007, Staubach was named chairman of the North Texas Super Bowl XLV Bid Committee, whose goal was to have the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex host the Super Bowl in 2011. On May 23, 2007, the NFL chose Dallas as the host city of Super Bowl XLV.
In 2010, Staubach was named the #1 Dallas Cowboy of all-time according to a poll conducted by the Dallas Morning News.
In 1977, he started a commercial real estate business, The Staubach Company, in partnership with Robert Holloway Jr., an associate of Henry S. Miller. He had prepared by working in the off-seasons from 1970 until 1977 for the Henry S. Miller Company. Staubach got into real estate because "I couldn’t have retired at my age and just played golf. First of all, they didn’t pay quarterbacks what they do today. And I was 27 with three kids. I kept thinking about [what would happen] if some linebacker takes off my head and I can’t play anymore.” He said “Henry Miller Jr. was a lot like [legendary Cowboys Coach Tom Landry. They both had similar haircuts ... they both had phenomenal integrity, great work ethic, and they could transfer their strengths to other people.”
The Staubach Company has been his primary endeavor since retirement from football. The company first developed several office buildings; Holloway handled the construction side while Staubach found tenants. In 1982, Staubach bought out Holloway and shifted the company's focus from commercial development to focus on representing corporate clients seeking to lease or buy space. This proved fortuitous as a boom in Dallas office construction followed by a recession in the Texas oil industry left the city with excess office space, so companies representing tenants wielded greater influence. The company has worked with blue-chip firms including A.T.&T., McDonald's Corporation, Hospital Corporation of America and K Mart Corporation. The company was also involved in residential development, with ownership stakes in 27 apartments and other real estate projects in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Some of these were in partnership with Cowboys teammate Bob Breunig through S.B.C. Development Corporation, then a subsidiary of the Staubach Company. Others were collaborations with local developers and investors, including Ross Perot. He served as its chairman and CEO until June 20, 2007, when he announced he would step down as CEO of the multi-billion dollar real estate company he started 30 years earlier.
On July 11, 2008, The Staubach Company was sold to Jones Lang LaSalle for $613 million. Staubach and his children's trust would gross over $100 million from the sale by 2013. The sale provided an initial payment of $9.27 per Staubach share with additional payments due over the following five years for a total of approximately $29/share. Staubach took half of his first payment in Jones Lang LaSalle stock which was then trading at approximately $59.50/share. Staubach currently serves as executive chairman of Jones Lang LaSalle.
During the 1970s and early 1980s he was a spokesperson for the men's clothing retailer Anderson Little, appearing in both print and TV ads. Later he did television spots for Rolaids.
In the early 1980s, Staubach worked for a short time as a color commentator for CBS Sports' NFL telecasts. On November 9, 1980, during an intense game between the New York Giants and his old team, Staubach made a nostalgic slip on the air by exclaiming he would like to be "right down there in the middle of it." The Cowboys lost 38-35.
On September 25, 2007 a fundraising email was sent out from the presidential campaign of Senator John McCain (R-AZ) with a letter from Roger Staubach asking recipients to make a contribution before the Federal Election Commission third-quarter reporting date of September 30, 2007.
Staubach is a conservative Republican who was often mentioned as a possible candidate for political office and had once been asked to run for a U.S. Senate seat. He received a single vote for Vice Presidential nomination at the 1976 Republican National Convention. In 2013, Staubach's daughter, Jennifer Staubach Gates, won a city council seat from North Dallas' 13th District.