And, "Yes, I shower with the team. But I don't know if they wash my uniform." After all, it never was dirtied.
Stoudt parlayed his newfound celebrity into $30,000 on the off-season banquet circuit telling jokes about not playing.
Like all NFL players, Stoudt qualified for his pension in the third game of his fourth season, 1980. The following week he finally got his chance, entering a rout of the Bears and leading an 80-yard drive that ended with a nine-yard touchdown pass to Franco Harris. In the next 2� years he threw only one more TD pass and seven interceptions. But of the 11 games he played in, he started just one.
Stoudt fumbled a chance to start in 1981 when he took out his frustrations on a barroom punching bag in Seattle. He threw a right hook and broke the ulna of his throwing arm. He was out for the season. A month later, Bradshaw broke a bone in his throwing hand, and Mark Malone, the third-stringer, became the quarterback for the rest of the year.
The flutterball wisecracks that Stoudt tossed off masked his melancholy. "At times I loved the attention," he says. "But then the jokes started getting old. Many nights I'd lay awake thinking about what I could've done if I'd come into the league without Brad around."
Last season, with Bradshaw out with an elbow injury, it looked as if Stoudt's patience had finally paid off. The Steelers had a green receiving unit and a patchwork offensive line, but still won nine of their first 11 games, scoring just enough to get by. Stoudt's chip-shot attack was cautious and methodical; he didn't blow games open as Bradshaw did with exciting bombs.
Then the Steelers turned to rust, dropping five of their last six, including a 38-10 thrashing by the Raiders in the playoffs. "The more we lost, the deeper and deeper the pass patterns got," says Stoudt. "That's not my game, it's Terry's." Stoudt had a 40.9% completion rate during that stretch, and the Steelers wound up with the second-worst passing offense in the league.
Stoudt maintained his dignity even when he was trotted through a gauntlet of cruel embarrassments. With the Steelers losing big in their final home game, Bradshaw, who was in uniform but unable to play, began tossing 20-yard spirals on the sidelines. The crowd began chanting " Bradshaw! Bradshaw! Bradshaw!" Stoudt was upset and bewildered. He says it was as if a long, thin nail was being hammered into his coffin. "Very long," he says, "and very thin."
One morning Stoudt's wife Laura turned on the radio to hear: "The bad news is that Cliff Stoudt got hit by a truck today." Stunned, she called the stadium, missing the commentator's punch line: "The good news for the Steelers is that he only broke his right arm."
The final indignation came when Noll refused to name his starting quarterback for the playoffs until the morning of the Raiders' game. Stoudt's competition was a still-injured Bradshaw and Malone, who hadn't started all year. "Cliff took it pretty hard," says Laura. "He didn't want to go out in public at all. He stopped joking and just stayed home watching Pat Benatar videos on MTV."