Stoudt 'healed,' happy son is Pitt-bound
As the phone rings, you wonder if the man at the other end might curse, clam up or simply hang up when he learns a Pittsburgh sportswriter is calling.
Not that anyone could blame Cliff Stoudt if he was bitter.
Stoudt had been booed as lustily as any quarterback in Steelers history when he stepped out of Terry Bradshaw's impossibly large shadow nearly a quarter-century ago -- and that was nothing compared to what happened when he returned to Pittsburgh in a different uniform.
Stoudt left the Steelers after the 1983 season and joined the Birmingham Stallions of the USFL. To his great misfortune, the Stallions' second game of the 1984 season was against the Pittsburgh Maulers at snowy Three Rivers Stadium.
The game sold out mostly on account of so-called fans wanting to harass Stoudt. They spent the afternoon pelting him with boos and snowballs, creating a scene that must have been as shameful as any in this town's sporting history.
"Fortunately, not many of them had good aim," Stoudt recalls, laughing.
Stoudt, 52, obviously didn't hang up when the sportswriter called. He was happy to recount his past and thrilled to talk about his oldest son, Zack, who has verbally committed to play quarterback at Pitt.
Zack Stoudt stands 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, just like his old man, who was a record-setting quarterback at Youngstown State.
"It's kind of scary sometimes," Cliff said. "He's built almost identically, and we have a similar throwing motion. When my dad (82-year-old George) came down and saw him play, he started crying. He said, 'My gosh, it's the same.' "
Zack passed for 3,545 yards and 34 touchdowns this past season at Dublin (Ohio) Coffman High School, the same school that produced Brady Quinn. He didn't start a game until his senior year, so schools such as Alabama, Tennessee and Louisville became interested late. Toledo and others offered scholarships, but Zack liked Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt, offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh and secondary coach Chris Ball, who recruited him.
Zach said watching Pitt beat West Virginia in the Backyard Brawl clinched his decision.
"They're going to be very good," he said, "and I want to be a part of it."
Cliff Stoudt has no reservations about his son coming to Pittsburgh. He calls his time with the Steelers "the best seven years of my life" but admits the bad times hurt. The most action he saw was in 1983, when stepped in for an injured Bradshaw and completed 51.7 percent of his passes for 2,553 yards, 12 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. He also ran for 479 yards. But he had a rough outing in a 38-10 first-round playoff loss to the Los Angeles Raiders.
Stoudt says he bolted for Birmingham because he assumed Bradshaw would return in 1984. Bradshaw retired instead.
"Sure, I was bitter when I left, but I've healed," Stoudt said. "If I had any regrets, it's that I may have listened to too much of it. But it's been 24 years now. Time has a way of healing things."
Still, if it hadn't been for a positive experience three years ago before a Steelers game at Heinz Field against the Philadelphia Eagles, Stoudt might have encouraged his son to steer clear of Pittsburgh.
The 1979 Super Bowl championship team was honored that day. Stoudt hadn't appeared before a Steelers crowd since his playing days.
"I guess that was the test for me," said Stoudt, now a financial broker. "And when I ran out on the field, everybody cheered. That was very, very nice."
It'd be even nicer to return to Heinz Field someday and watch Zack run Pitt's offense. He'll face plenty of competition once he arrives, as Wannstedt has been stocking up on quarterbacks.
Zack has seen "highlights" of his father's infamous USFL game at Three Rivers but says the two have spoken mostly of the good times here.
"Hopefully, any hard times or grudges, they're over it," Zack said. "He really loved it there."
Cliff Stoudt has maintained close ties with several former Steelers teammates. He says coach Chuck Noll's teachings remain ingrained to the point where he'll be talking to his wife, Laura, and will realize he just uttered another Noll-ism.
"His influence has filtered down through my family," Cliff said.
Don't look now, but another quarterbacking Stoudt is on the way - and he's said to be the best yet. That would be Cole, a freshman at Dublin Coffman who is so good he might inherit his brother's job next season.
To hear Zack tell it, their father hardly is an overbearing sports parent. Cliff Stoudt offers his sons guidance only when they seek it. And he told them early on that the life of a quarterback isn't easy.
"They say half the people will love you and half the people will hate you," Cliff Stoudt said. "And I tell them, 'You'll be lucky if half the people like you.' "
Luckier still if the other half isn't armed with snowballs.