The path Danny White took from Arizona State to becoming the starting quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys made San Francisco’s Lombard Street look like a drag strip.
Selected in the third round of the 1974 NFL draft, the odds White would see much playing time under center as a rookie were lessened due to the presence of veteran quarterbacks Roger Staubach and Craig Morton.
If anyone ever needed a Plan B …
“It was just pretty obvious that I wasn’t going to be playing anytime soon. And then it kind of came down to money,” said White. “John Bassett, who was one of the founders of the World Football League and the owner of the Memphis team, called and basically offered twice what the Cowboys had offered. So between the money and the opportunity to play it just seemed like the best thing to do.”
After two seasons, the WFL closed shop, and White discovered he was still in Dallas’ plans as well as its Rolodex.
“The Cowboys immediately called after the league folded and basically doubled their offer,” White said. “I had the experience and Craig Morton had just been traded, so everything just kind of fit. It was almost like it was kind of meant to be.”
Eventually. After signing with Dallas in 1976, White took over the punting duties and watched Staubach from the sideline. Did he find it tough to be in No. 12’s shadow?
“By the time I had been backing him up for four years, it was getting difficult,” said White. “I had a meeting with Coach Landry and told him that I was to the point where I felt like I needed to play. I was six years out of college and if I wasn’t going to be playing there soon I wanted him to consider trading me.
“I loved being with the Cowboys, so I had mixed feelings about it. But I knew that my time was running out. I needed to start competing. Roger always made it seem like I was competing with him. To his credit, he’d always say things like, ‘I can’t let you get in a game or I’ll never get back in.’
“And he would compete. It wasn’t like he was just there and it was his job. He never took on that kind of an attitude. He treated me like a competitor, like an equal. He was a great mentor for me in that respect.”
Playing with the Cowboys for 13 seasons, White passed for 21,959 yards, 155 touchdowns and 132 interceptions, and was chosen for the Pro Bowl in 1982. He led Dallas to three consecutive NFC Championship Games [1980-82] and to the playoffs on two other occasions before retiring in 1989.
“My favorite memories were things that happened as a result of being a Dallas Cowboy with my teammates,” said White.
“As far as games go, that first season (as a starter in 1980) was a dream season for me. I inherited a great team and all the pieces were there. I remember thinking, ‘This is easy. It is like shooting fish in a barrel.’ Of course, that would change by the end of my career, but at least those first few years were.
“The Atlanta playoff game [1980: 30-27 win] was a great game. The 49ers game with ‘The Catch’ was a great game, too [1981: 28-27 loss]. It was just great being part of that. I wish we would have come back and won that. We should have, but it was still a great experience.
“I would have to say the highlight of my career was being a Dallas Cowboy. Being a part of that era and playing for Tom Landry. Things like that you don’t appreciate until many years later. I look back on that now and realize how lucky I was to play for that team and that coach at that time.”
Following a successful career as a head coach, general manager and team president in the Arena Football League, White is set to begin his third season as the radio analyst for Dallas’ games on Compass Media Networks.
“They approached me and I kind of thought twice about it and said, ‘You know what? I haven’t been real close with the Cowboys mostly because I live in Phoenix and here’s a chance to kind of get back in the fold,’” White said. “I loved what Jerry Jones had done with the new stadium and everything that had happened, so why not? Let’s do it for a year and see what happens.
“And so I did and I just loved it. I love being back in the Cowboy family. I love working with [play-by-play announcer] Kevin Burkhardt and the Compass people, Michelle Salvatore, who is our producer. Everything just kind of clicked.”
Having played in 166 regular-season games with the Cowboys, White has an on-the-job advantage in the broadcast booth. It’s that he’s done the job on the field.
“Knowing what’s going on in a quarterback’s head can be a huge, huge advantage,” said White. “Everyone is so quick to say, ‘Well, the guy was open and the ball was thrown over his head.’ Just knowing, you say, ‘Wait a minute. Maybe there’s a reason that the ball was thrown over his head.’ And you go back and look and sure enough there was a defensive lineman right in his face as he throws the ball. He can’t follow through. There’s always more to the story.
“Everybody’s so quick to judge the quarterback. The quarterback isn’t good one day and bad the next day. There are reasons for it and I think more than anything else that one single advantage of having played quarterback just gives you a whole different perspective on the game. You can counter some of those lazy critics that just want to say, ‘The ball was overthrown,’ or whatever the obvious is on the field.”
White and his wife, Jo Lynn, make their home in the Phoenix suburb of Gilbert, Ari. They have four children, Ryan, Geoff, Heather and Reed, and 13 grandchildren.