By Kent Demaret
November 17, 1980 12:00 PM

Danny White was the sorcerer’s apprentice. The sorcerer, of course, was Roger Staubach, the premier quarterback in the National Football League and a wizard at pulling out last-minute victories for the Dallas Cowboys. As his understudy from 1976 to 1979, White could only suit up, pace the sidelines and look longingly toward the future.

For Wilford Daniel White, 28, the future is here. Staubach retired at 38 last March, and White took the helm. “I had been stagnant,” he says. “Now things are going my way.” With a 7-2 record a little more than halfway through the season, the Cowboys are almost certain to reach the playoffs for the 14th time in 15 years. Ranked the NFL’s third best quarterback (after L.A.’s Vince Ferragamo and Philadelphia’s Ron Jaworski), White is having a better year than Staubach did in 1979.

White seldom complained when he was a sub. “I’m like a turkey in the oven, waiting for the chef to say I’m done,” he would joke. But by the end of last season he was adding, “Coach [Tom] Landry must like his turkey well-done. I’m smoking a bit now.” He remembers “times when I was desperate to contribute. I would go into the locker room after a game and see everyone celebrating, and I couldn’t feel anything. I was empty, miserable.”

No longer. “My confidence is growing every week,” the poised White asserts. “I know I can play in this league.” Dallas general manager Tex Schramm agrees: “Danny is in the toughest position in football, trying to fill the shoes of a legend. So far he has handled it well.”

No one is more of a booster than Staubach, now a Dallas businessman. “Danny’s biggest asset is that he believes he’ll get the job done,” says the 11-year veteran. They were friends—and rivals. “We were competing constantly,” White acknowledges, “even if it was just at Ping-Pong.” One day Staubach returned from the showers to find a note taped to his locker. “Roger,” it read, “Danny needs your locker for next year. Please sign in your equipment as soon as possible—Coach Landry.” Of course, White was responsible for the gag. Another time he sent Staubach an anonymous gift, a T-shirt stamped “Old quarterbacks never die; they just pass away.”

Sports were a way of life in White’s boyhood home in Mesa, Ariz. His father, Wilford “Whizzer” White (no relation to the Supreme Court justice), was an All-America halfback for Arizona State and went on to play for the Chicago Bears. He now runs a private investigating and security firm in Phoenix and recalls how he and Danny would stand in the front yard “and throw the football at a lamp post 40 feet across the street for hours.”

In high school Danny was all-state in baseball, basketball and track but not nearly as interested in football, in which he played several positions. He went to Arizona State on a baseball scholarship but, turning out for football, he switched to quarterback and was soon starting for the Sun Devils. He set seven NCAA records in three years and led ASU to a 33-3 record. After college White was drafted by several baseball teams (as a utility infielder) and by the Cowboys. When the Memphis Southmen of the fledgling World Football League offered him twice as much money as the Cowboys, he signed and played until the league folded in 1975. White became the full-time punter for Dallas, but as backup quarterback played only six quarters until Staubach quit.

Now White seems at peace. A devout Mormon, he married his high school sweetheart, JoLynn Metheny, and they have three children. He does not smoke, drink or swear. But the Whites avoid prudishness. Hearing that Danny was rated one of the 10 sexiest men in pro football, JoLynn responded, “I couldn’t agree more.”

White is a partner in a small oil and gas business. An avid hunter, fisherman and piano player, he confides, “My secret ambition is to be able to write, play and sing like Paul Simon.” His public goal is to be the Cowboys’ starting quarterback for a long time. “Now that I’m in control of my destiny,” Danny says, “the only person who can blow it is me.”