Our Ron Lippock spoke with former Steelers quarterback and two-time Super Bowl champion Cliff Stoudt, a Youngstown State alum that threw for 4,506 yards in 11 NFL seasons and another 6,479 yards in two years in the USFL.
First, can you let us know what you did after football?
Well, I’ve been involved in sales for a while. And I do speaking engagements. I’m just enjoying life, honestly.
I’m enjoying my kids. My daughter played basketball for UNC Wilmington and my oldest son played football at Louisville and Old Miss. My youngest played at Clemson.
Was the post-NFL adjustment difficult for you?
I got to be a child until I was 38 years old. When people ask me if I miss football, I tell them every morning when I wake up. I was fortunate to play longer than 99% of most NFL players. Nothing will match up to playing in the NFL. So it was a tough adjustment.
Stepping back to where it started, were you surprised to be drafted by the Steelers?
I spent four days in Green Bay before the draft. I thought I was going to Green Bay. I had no idea the Steelers were that interested. Bart Starr was the head coach then and he paid for my flight him the day before the draft to be with my parents. When Pittsburgh drafted me first, it was a shock. I grew up in Cleveland. I was asking, why Pittsburgh? Of all the teams in the NFL.
But I got over it real quick. I got to be a part of the glory days of the Steelers. The shock turned out to be pretty good.
Did anyone take you under their wing as a rookie and show you the ropes – on and off the field?
You can’t compare it to today. The superstars then were the guys that set the tempo. They took the young guys aside and told them how they did it in Pittsburgh. (Terry) Bradshaw, Franco (Harris), Rocky (Bleier), Lynn (Swann), (John) Stallworth, they showed you how you did it in Pittsburgh.
That was very impressive to me. I remember in May in minicamp, I watched Franco take a handoff and run 80 yards downfield into the endzone on his own. He was spinning and pretending to jump over guys. We asked him what he was doing and he told us he expected to score on every play. So the next day all the rookies started doing the same thing — just in warmups.
Swann, Stallworth – they went out of their way to make great catches. They never took a day off. The same with Bradshaw. Today, it seems the top players are the guys taking the days off, not setting the tempo. They never took days off when I played.
How hard was it having to back up a Hall of Fame quarterback like Bradshaw and not being able to get reps?
It wasn’t easy. Terry, he was kind of an extreme competitor. The first four years, once camp was over I never took a snap on our offense. I just took snaps running the other teams’ offense.
It was frustrating having to go through that. The first six years I didn’t get to do much except to run other teams’ offenses.
But you finally get some opportunities. How did that feel?
It was pretty cool. My very first start was in Cleveland where I grew up. To be a part of that, with Franco, Rocky, Stallworth and Swann there, it was overwhelming. I just wish I had more of an opportunity to get the reps earlier.
You got a lot of heat from fans for some of those early struggles. Did that lack of reps contribute to those struggles, and how upsetting was it for you?
Going years with no snaps in practice, I think that was obviously a negative in my career. On the other hand, when you play for guys like Chuck Noll, you have to prepare mentally. Without reps that’s all you can do anyway.
It was difficult. Backup quarterbacks are always the most popular guys on the team. When I finally got a chance, we won our division and lost in the playoffs to the Raiders, who won the Super Bowl.
I had been popular. But I wasn’t Terry Bradshaw. And we were without a lot of the weapons we had. Swann was gone and Stallworth played one game. Jim Smith was gone and Rocky and Franco were in their last years. It was difficult to handle on a personal level. But that’s the game.
You left after the 1983 season for the USFL. How hard was that decision for you, and what drove it?
It was difficult, and it wasn’t. There was no free agency then. I started the 1983 season, but we all thought Terry Bradshaw was coming back in 1984.
Rollie Dotsch was the head coach at Birmingham then and he had been the offensive line coach for the Steelers for five years. There were a lot of Steelers on that Birmingham team. In fact, we counted 19 guys that passed through Pittsburgh at one point.
So, it was hard to leave. But I thought I had no choice. I thought Terry was coming back. It was a great experience. I have no regrets. But Bradshaw never came back. I could have stayed and kept my job!
Any memories that stand out to you from your time in Pittsburgh?
When I was at Youngstown State, Jimmy “The Flea” Ferranti, who later played in Pittsburgh for a couple of seasons as well, never left the field as a freshman. He started at safety and wide receiver and played on special teams.
One week we played Phil Simms’ team – Morehead State. We had a bet with our offensive coordinator that if we scored 50 points he’d have to shave his head and one eyebrow. Well, we got to 48 points – it was 48-7. Now, Jimmy was the holder for extra points. We told him if he places that ball on the tee instead of trying to go for two points, he would never be accepted here again!
So, he got a perfect snap and put the ball on the tee – then pulled it back up at the last second and tried to run for two points and was tackled at the half-yard line. Just short. Coach (Bill) Narduzzi was irate, yelling at him that he’d never play again! We had to give him credit for having the guts to try it.
It’s funny. When the Steelers scouted me, we had to practice for them on the Liberty Elementary soccer field. Noll and five other coaches came to watch. We ran Jimmy to death that day. He was the only receiver available He must have caught 90 passes. So I guess it worked well for me and for Jimmy too!
Any other fun memories?
One other thing stands out. When we played Dallas in Super Bowl XIII, Noll wasn’t known for giving pregame speeches. After warmups we went into the locker room and Chuck asked us if he could say a few words. We were like “Yeah!” We were waiting for that wisdom.
He told us he wanted us to know one thing. That Dallas knew that head-to-head, they couldn’t beat us playing smash mouth football. That they may dominate early, but at some point they would reach into their bag of tricks because they knew they couldn’t beat us. And when they did that, the game was over.
Well, Dallas started on their own 20 and after four-to-five runs, they went right through us and got to our 40. They went right through us. But then they ran that double-reverse pass play, and it was a disaster. Hill missed Staubach on the lateral and we recovered the ball 20 yards in the backfield.
We all looked at each other and wondered, how the heck did Chuck know? We scored on the first play after that. I just remember us all looking at Chuck and each other, understanding how Chuck was a genius.
It’s like the Patriots today. We all trusted Chuck so much. He was ahead of the game, like the Patriots are today.
What do you think of the way the game has changed?
Players are incredible today. There are a ton of great players. On the other hand, there’s not much that has changed. It still comes down to coaching and good gameplans.
I hate to see guys like Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell do what they did in Pittsburgh. Where do they think they are going to go to find that same success like they had in Pittsburgh? Free agency is a good thing, but it can be a negative for the league when teams can’t hang on to star players. It’s a good and bad thing. Players deserve every penny they make but it’s difficult when teams win Super Bowls and lose star players.