Before the game WPXI-TV ran another telephone popularity poll and Brister was the overwhelming favorite. "I ran into Sam Nover at the studio," says Malone, "and he fell all over himself saying he didn't know anything about it. How could that be? He's the sports director."
Malone would like to get closer to Noll but thinks it is unlikely after all these years. "He sat down with me last Thursday to find out how the thumb felt," says Malone. "He led me to believe that I wouldn't start but said he wouldn't decide until just before the game. He has trouble relating to people one-on-one. It's a shame, but that's just the way Chuck is."
On Monday, Mark and Mary Ellen go out to the Millvale Sportsmen's Club for some trapshooting. Preston Gothard, the tight end, and Weegie Thompson join them, but after the hard game and a night of trying to forget it, their hearts aren't in it. " Jack Lambert got me interested in trapshooting," says Malone. "I had more time back when he was with the team. Now that I'm playing more, I have to study and can't find much time during the season." Malone hits 95 of 100 targets.
Week No. 8, Oct. 26
Cincinnati (5-2) at Pittsburgh (1-6)
Malone is restored to his starting role and, playing with his throwing hand heavily taped, finally makes the pass he has been hoping for all season. In the second quarter, with the ball on the Bengals' 10, Erenberg slices up the middle of the end zone. Coverage is good. Malone sidesteps a rusher and throws high for the back line. No interception is possible; the ball will be Erenberg's or no one's. This time it's Erenberg's. Pittsburgh wins 30-9, and Malone calls it "a victory for good old execution. When you're calling the right plays, running down the field and putting the points up, this is a delightful game."
Bradshaw isn't a Malone fan. "Oh, Mark's got good enough skills," he says, "but he can't carry a football team. Let's just say that he's not my kind of quarterback. And the fans here don't like his style. I get letters."
A quarterback defending himself against a Bradshaw criticism in Pittsburgh doesn't have much chance, but Malone tries: "Terry was one of the best quarterbacks ever to play this game. But he had tremendous players around him, and they were as responsible for the success as he was. Even now, I believe we're only four or five players away from being a Super Bowl contender."
Week No. 9, Nov. 2
Green Bay (1-7) at Pittsburgh (2-6)
The talk all week on local sports shows and in the press has been of great comebacks in NFL history. They're talking playoffs for the Steelers. Yes, the schedule looks a little softer for the next few weeks—but playoffs?
The Steelers win 27-3 and Malone, who throws three touchdown passes, feels like a man who has risen from the dead. Sitting in front of his cubicle afterward he says, "We're playing better football now, for whatever reason I don't know. The playoffs? Hmmmm."