DALLAS -- Roger Staubach played with considerable toughness in 1976 when he played the entire season with a broken pinkie on his throwing hand. Troy Aikman displayed toughness when he kept going under center in a mid-September game against the Philadelphia Eagles where they sacked him 11 times. But to these Hall-of-Famers with more personal Super Bowl wins than some franchises, words like "courage" and "toughness" are more apt for kids enduring cancer.
"This is an opportunity for us to really celebrate these kids and give them their moment tonight to be celebrated for what they're going through and what they've been through and what is ahead of them," Aikman, an honorary co-chair along with Staubach, said. "There's some really great stories with some of these kids. And there's some tough stories."
While childhood cancer survival rates have jumped from 50 percent in 1986 to now 80 percent in 2016, the prospect of life being cut short at any percentage is unacceptable to Aikman, Staubach, and their teammates at the Children's Cancer Fund. According to Aikman, just four percent of the federal grant money earmarked for cancer research in the United States goes towards childhood cancer. Therefore, it makes fundraising outlets such as the Children's Cancer Fund and their efforts all the more significant.
"It's been a privilege because through the years, the research dollars have made a difference in children's lives and Children's Medical Center," Staubach said. "So, I'm proud to be able to contribute personally and also be involved in the event."
Since 1989, Children's Cancer Fund's signature event had always been a luncheon. However, the foundation elected to throw a gala for its 28th annual event.
Said Staubach: "It's a matter of trying to raise more money for research. So, a gala is more attractive to getting couples out. We had phenomenal support from women. We needed more guys there. So, they feel the dinner, it's a venue that will hopefully attract more people, raise more money for research."
Captain Comeback's opinion was as accurate as his passes. Switching the event from its traditional luncheon to a gala is what allowed Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, who attended a few of the luncheons in the 1990's when he was a player for Dallas, the opportunity to accompany his wife, Brill, to the event and walk the runway.
"Troy and Roger have done a great job through the years being honorary co-chairs," Garrett said. "And because it's a night event, I'm able to come to it this year. I'm able to be a part of it again. It's one of the great events. They do such a good job. The cause is such an important one. They raise money. They make a difference in a lot of people's lives."
"It's been a luncheon for the past 27 years," Aikman added. "Now, we've moved it to prime time, which I think is fitting. These kids deserve that."
Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr, who had been a part of the luncheon format in prior years, enjoyed the gala format.
"It's good," said Carr. "I like the fact that I can bring my daughter this time and let her experience what I go through on a daily basis, just seeing the kids, just giving back. The gala is pretty nice. Everybody looks dapper."
Accompanying Carr were teammates cornerback Morris Claiborne, receiver Terrance Williams, and defensive back Byron Jones. Jones, who was a rookie in 2015, was also a first-timer at the Children's Cancer Fund event. Jones was impressed by the involvement of his teammates and his head coach.
"It just shows guys care," Jones said. "Guys care about these kids who are going through at tough time. Cancer is an awful illness. It's not going to take the smile off their face. And I think we did a great job of bringing those smiles out tonight."
One cancer survivor, a kid named Trip, warmed the green room before the survivors and their escorts walked the runway. According to Carr, Trip even got Coach Garrett to dab.
"Trip was an excellent young man. He had a sense of humor. His personality was out of this world. He warmed the whole room back there."
For Aikman, moments like that are what make the entire event worthwhile.
Said Aikman: "These kids come down the runway and the cheers and the smiles on their faces, it's great. So, for that moment in time, they get the chance to just take a step away from what they've been battling and what their world has been and be celebrated and have the time of their life."
"It's a lot of fun just coming out and putting smiles on the kid's faces," Claiborne said. "Just seeing them smile, it makes it all worth it."
Garrett called his players' involvement in the event a real "privilege" for them and the Cowboys organization.
"It's really just fantastic for those guys to understand the importance of an event like this. And it's a fun night. Everybody is going to have fun and enjoy themselves tonight. But it's for a great cause. So, to have those guys, they're really special young men, and to have them involved is really a privilege for them and a privilege for our organization."
Though Aikman has been co-chairing the event since 1997, every year that the Cowboys are a part of the Children's Cancer Fund is still very special.
"It's great that all of them come out and help support this event that's been going on for a long time, my 20th year," said Aikman.
Of course, Staubach makes no bones about it. He knows that Garrett came out to support Aikman.
"I think he came out because he loves Troy Aikman!"
One group they all love are the kids battling childhood cancer, not only in Dallas-Fort Worth, but throughout the world. For more information on Children's Cancer Fund, visit www.childrenscancerfund.com.