When Cliff Stoudt replaced Terry Bradshaw at quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers last season, he was greeted with all the enthusiasm Ed McMahon would get if he subbed for Johnny. Stoudt's problem was a penchant for getting his passes picked off, and though the Steelers won their division, by the end of the year Stoudt was being booed almost every time he took the field. The whole experience made him downright depressed. "I tried to commit suicide," he says. "But the bullet got intercepted."
On Sunday the quipping quarterback, now with the Birmingham Stallions of the USFL, brought his act back to town for a game against the Maulers and found that Pittsburghers' boos are loud in any league. Indeed, heckling Stoudt had become a sort of cottage industry in the Iron City. There were BOO STOUDT buttons, T shirts and pep rallies. A local radio station, WEEP, printed WEEP FOR STOUDT pennants. Three Rivers Stadium had been sold out—a USFL first—two weeks in advance, and most ticket requests were for seats behind the Stallions' bench. "It's the social event of the year," Stoudt exulted. But it wasn't exactly a debutante's ball. "They'll be coming at you like a thousand screaming Uzbeks with dull knives," warned Steve Courson, a former Steeler teammate. Courson was referring, of course, to the Turko-Mongol hordes who blitzed Transoxiana in the 16th century.
As it turned out, the local Uzbeks pelted Stoudt with iceballs, apples, oranges, full beer cans and frozen Oreos. At one point, the game had to be stopped when an official standing near Stoudt got clobbered by a beer bottle. Stoudt himself got hit in the helmet three times. His own aim was considerably less accurate. Of his 16 passes, he completed just one in each half for a total of 29 yards. But he also scrambled for a 10-yard TD and a two-point conversion while engineering the Stallion's 30-18 win.
How had Stoudt prepared for his return to the scene of his humiliation? During practice in Birmingham, Stallions coach Rollie Dotsch had piped crowd noise and anti-Stoudt slurs over the loud-speakers. For stealing Stoudt from the Steelers, Dotsch had received a thank-you note signed by 100 Steeler fans. Clipped to the card was a dollar bill to help defray the cost of Stoudt's three-year, $1.2 million contract.
Stoudt, who will turn 29 on March 27, is extremely good-natured about all this. He's a an easygoing Joe, in the Namath mold. That is, if Namath were 6'4", 215 pounds and owned 20 pairs of boots—ostrich, eel, lizard, antelope and python (no, not Monty). "Namath was my idol," Stoudt says. "People tell me I look like him. The truth is, I have better legs." Perhaps, but nobody yet has asked him to model panty hose.
In five years on the Steelers' bench, Stoudt, a fifth-round draft choice out of Youngstown State in 1977, was a paragon of patience. For his first 3� years, 56 games in all, with Pittsburgh, Stoudt was in a kind of never-never land: He was never sacked and never intercepted, but then, he never played a down, either. As Bradshaw's backstop, he mostly stood on the sidelines compiling defensive charts that Bradshaw never looked at and polishing his comedy routines: "I've heard of bringing guys along slowly, but this is ridiculous."
In Stoudt's company, flippancies fly more fleetly than James Lofton on a post pattern, than a blitzing Lawrence Taylor, than..."a Terry Bradshaw aerial," says Stoudt helpfully. Bradshaw, it happens, is never far from his thoughts.
Stoudt could have played in any number of Steeler blowouts those first 56 games, but his coach, Chuck Noll, never put him in. "It wouldn't have been fair," Noll told him. "Hell," says Stoudt. "I'd have played tight end just to get into a game." He never asked to be traded; he wanted to be a Steeler.
It was at Super Bowl XIV in Los Angeles in 1980 that a hungry horde of media people searching for fresh angles "discovered" Stoudt. He was on the verge of winning his second Super Bowl ring without ever having played a second of pro ball. "I played it for all it was worth," Stoudt says.
He told the press, "I reach my threshold of pain when my toes get cold in the fourth quarter."