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Open Season in Pittsburgh
Sam Toperoff
September 09, 1987
Steeler quarterback Mark Malone took his share of shots—and more—in a grim 1986 campaign
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September 09, 1987

Open Season In Pittsburgh

Steeler quarterback Mark Malone took his share of shots—and more—in a grim 1986 campaign

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After the game Malone unstraps his pads, pulls off his pants, releases his knee and elbow braces and tears the tape off his hand. He takes full responsibility for the indifferently played second half. "We fumbled on the first play," he says. "That set the tone. A couple of times I made some bad throws. I need to get better."

Week No. 12, Nov. 23
Pittsburgh (4-7) at Cleveland (7-4)

The playoff-elimination throw is a Bernie Kosar sidearm special under good defensive pressure at 6:37 of overtime. Webster Slaughter makes a fine catch behind the coverage and runs it in to give the Browns a 37-31 victory. Malone silently tips the clubhouse man $5 and makes his way through screaming girls to the team bus.

Although he's drinking beer and revealing his childhood scars on the bus back to Pittsburgh. Malone is a tougher dude than his laid-back demeanor suggests. He has struggled through this season with dignity. But he had been severely tested in the football kiln of coach Frank Kush at Arizona Slate. "The physical beating was tough at ASU," says Malone. "But the mental brutality was worse. I was at the airport with my bags packed once, but I went back." The NFL won't break Malone.

Later he talks about the impressive Mike Tyson KO of Trevor Berbick. "The thing that really got to me was what Tyson was saying about the difference between the hero and the coward." says Malone. "They both feel the same things, but the hero overcomes his fear and even masters it. Man, I understand that. For me, the great fear isn't playing poorly. It's being injured badly. Every football player feels that fear and overcomes it."

Week No. 13, Nov. 30
Pittsburgh (4-8) at Chicago (10-2)

Compress Malone's season into one play. Late third quarter. Steelers ahead 10-3. First-and-goal at the Bears' 10. Malone must come away with at least three points, forcing Chicago to generate two fourth-quarter drives to win. Without quarterback Jim McMahon that is unlikely. Malone's protection holds up well. Webster has held off William Perry, who slides indifferently along the line with his arms upstretched. Focused on Sweeney, who has broken free over the middle, Malone never sees the sliding Fridge. The tipped ball goes to linebacker Mike Singletary. Malone rails at the fates as he runs off the field. Later he'll say. "The fat——quit after he was blocked at the line—he's not the player he was last year—and still he gets the tip."

Using Walter Payton almost exclusively, the Bears drive 96 yards to tie the score and then win in overtime with a field goal. Earlier in the game, Chicago linebacker Otis Wilson gave Lipps a concussion with a forearm shiver. The league will suspend Wilson for one game. Malone says. "I can't understand why a team that good resorts to cheap shots and running their mouths the way they do."

Week No. 14, Dec. 7
Detroit (5-8) at Pittsburgh (4-9)

Even though he has greatly reduced the number of his interceptions—he has thrown only four in the six games since his return—Malone tosses his worst one in two months with the Steelers driving to break a 10-10 tie late in the first half. When the Lions score a touchdown early in the third quarter, a gruff voice in the press box mockingly says. "Do not despair, boys, Malone will lead us back." If Malone is finally going to self-destruct, here's the perfect situation. But his longest completion of the season, 48 yards to Lipps, sets up the tying touchdown. A 39-yard pass to Lipps puts the Steelers in front 24-17. They win 27-17. The occasion may not have been particularly meaningful, but at least Malone has risen to it.

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