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McInally fancies himself the outsider, brashly proving his mettle to one inner circle after another. And that clearly motivates him. Harvard, he insists, was "embarrassed" by his athletic success. When he dated Radcliffe girls, tongues would wag: What does she see in him? "Jocks were really looked down on. I had to prove myself academically."
As an NFL rookie, McInally faced a different challenge. He was mocked by Bengal veterans for his Ivy League roots, tagged "Candlelight"—"One blow and he's out"—when he was disabled by injuries. Once he was healthy, though, McInally proved himself to the tough guys. Coach Gregg remembers a crucial game against the Browns, when McInally was knocked unconscious and carried off the field on a stretcher. "He really got dinged," says Gregg, "but he came back in the second half and caught a 59-yard touchdown pass. He gives you a lot of malarkey, but that young man has character."
From 1975 to 1983, McInally caught 57 passes for 808 yards and five touchdowns, but he has played sparingly at wide receiver this season. "If someone gets hurt, I'll play," he says. He has, however, thrown the ball. In the third quarter of the season opener in Denver, he faked a punt and completed a 34-yard pass to Stanford Jennings for a first down. Three weeks later he and Jennings teamed up again—a 43-yard completion against the Los Angeles Rams. "My rating is 118 as a quarterback," he jokes. "I think I'm leading the league. Dan Marino and I." Again: the Plimptonesque joy of it.
"There are two things that I can't do," McInally says. "Pitch and sing." Oh, his surgical techniques are a little rusty, he concedes, and he doesn't speak a bit of Swahili, but McInally is only counting things he wants to do. For instance, he recently wrote a profile of teammate Ken Anderson for the NFL's Pro magazine. For instance, he has signed a contract to write a new twice-a-week sports column for The Cincinnati Enquirer. For instance, he is sizing up the lecture circuit. Says McInally, "I think my ultimate desire is to write movies. I think up these plots...."
Punting, however, remains the "No. 1 priority" for the McInallys. "First of all, it's our living," says Leslie. "It's our main source of income." It is also, apparently, the way the McInallys commune with each other and with nature—a lovers' ritual, which, if it ever appears in a McInally movie script, will call for slow-motion action and soft-focus shots. "It's addictive," Leslie says. "I don't want it to sound druggy, but it's a high. It's like watching a bird soar. Pat does it so well, it really is a thing of beauty."
McInally's column on Wissel, who is still immobilized but was able to go home for Thanksgiving, concluded with this thought: "Don't allow yourself to get hung up on averages or championships to the point that you lose track of the place sports should hold in your life. When you leave a game, get ready for the next one and be thankful that you'll be healthy enough to have another opportunity. Be appreciative of your talents and grateful for every chance to display them. When you're really down, go out and run a lap. Feel the strength in your legs, shake your arms, wipe the sweat off your face and, when you finish, remember John Wissel.
"And feel lucky."
Neither can Pat McInally.