"Not bad. You?"
"They gave me a shot." Then the running back moves toward the door and shouts at the ceiling: "Goddam it! I don't care anymore!"
The following day Malone's thumb has swollen to almost twice its normal size. Nonetheless, he insists he'll be ready for Cincinnati the following Monday night. "They say there's no fracture," he says. "I'll soak it a lot and try to take my mind off it."
Week No. 6, Oct. 13
Pittsburgh (1-4) at Cincinnati (3-2)
Brister will start. Malone is bitterly disappointed. "I believe I deserved to start even though I didn't take all the snaps during the week," he says. "I busted my ass to show Chuck I could play. The decision disturbed and confused me. I had been praised considerably by Chuck after the Cleveland game." Malone is also upset with how he was told—at the 5 p.m. pregame meeting by offensive coordinator Tom Moore.
Playing in a driving rain, Brister completes only three of 14 passes in the first half. He has a respectable second half, but the Bengals hang on to win 24-22. Afterward, Malone is asked, "When will it be reasonable for the coaches to make the decision about next week's starter?"
"I don't know," he answers. "Coaches are rarely reasonable." He feels betrayed and sounds vaguely paranoid: "There are circles on the outside and circles on the inside, too. People try to drive a wedge and maybe the inner circle is influenced." The suggestion is that someone who likes Brister has Noll's ear. Malone's luck isn't all bad, though. At the National Wild Turkey Federation Banquet he wins a raffle. His prize: a $400 Browning shotgun.
Week No. 7, Oct. 19
New England (3-3) at Pittsburgh (1-5)
The announcement comes to the press box just before noon. Brister. For Malone, whose thumb is slightly improved, the line between injury and demotion has blurred in a week. Brister forces passes, doesn't look off defenders and doesn't pick up secondary receivers. The Steelers endure their worst defeat ever at Three Rivers, 34-0. But what really galls Noll is that Brister didn't always match the play with the appropriate formation and motion. Pittsburgh backs were running into each other.
Privately, Malone doesn't believe Brister hit the books hard enough in training camp and during the early weeks of the season. Publicly, Malone is kinder: "You can't blame Bubby for what happened. He's young and has a lot to learn. This just isn't the game you play in college." Whatever deficiencies Malone may have, lack of football intelligence and preparation are not among them.