He’s best known as a quarterback but Walter “Bubby” Brister was good enough to attract the attention of Major League Baseball scouts as a Louisiana high schooler more than 40 years ago. He was drafted by the Detroit Tigers and played in the minors for a short time before focusing on football.
The hard nosed Brister wound up being selected by the same franchise that took another Louisiana quarterback, Terry Bradshaw. Brister’s best statistical years came as he led the Steelers squads of the late 80’s and early 90’s. His Super Bowl titles came as a more than serviceable backup to John Elway in Denver late in his career.
In our latest Card Back Q&A, we flip over a few of Bubby’s old cards and discuss picking football over baseball, the Bradshaw comparisons, learning his tough as nails demeanor from his football coach/father and more.
Tony Reid-The back of your 1989 Starting Lineup card said ‘A decision by Bubby Brister in 1981 to give up professional baseball in favor of football has turned out to be a wise move for the Steelers versatile Quarterback.’ Can you talk about what went into making that decision?
Bubby Brister-I sure can. You are going to trip out about it. It has to do with Jim Leyland. I played for the Tigers and I went to winter league. I got drafted to pitch. I could hit, run and throw. I was a good athlete in high school but guess what? So were most people. I could throw 93 or 94 miles per hour. I was young and skinny. I was a quarterback. I was a thrower. They wouldn’t let me pitch. They made me play as an every day player. I was swinging wooden bats and not aluminum bats anymore. I was batting my body weight. I wasn’t doing very well. I wasn’t very happy. I asked Jim Leyland if I could pitch. I told him I could pitch. We lost like 9-8 one game. I told him if they score that many runs on me I would give him his money back and I would quit.
“Damn it, Brister, you’re not going to pitch!” It kept on and on and eventually I told him I was quitting and going back to college. Bro, 40 years later I walked into his office and said ‘I can play quarterback for Chuck Noll but I can’t pitch for you?’ He started laughing. ‘Bubby Damn Brister!’
That is probably one of the best deals off the back of a card. That’s why I went back to college and played pro football because they would not let me pitch.
TR-The back of your 1990 Pro Set states ‘Tall, strong armed athlete who has given Steelers the most promising quarterback play since Terry Bradshaw.’ Were you hearing and feeling those comparisons?
BB– Yes I did I could scramble some and I had a strong arm. We both had that southern drawl. I heard some comparisons. Nobody is going to beat Terry Bradshaw and those Super Bowl winning teams from back then. Nobody will hardly ever match that gain. My little saying was if I could be half as good as Terry Bradshaw we will win two Super Bowls. Well, we didn’t and I wasn’t. Terry was a pretty special quarterback. The teams and coaches they had back then were phenomenal. I am proud to be a part of the organization and wear the black and gold.
TR–The back of your 1995 Pinnacle Club Collection card said “Bubby or The Bubster as he was known to Steelers fans earned fans and teammates respect for the way he played hard and fought through injuries. That would have sidelined lesser quarterbacks.” A number of your cards mentioned the next level of toughness you displayed and the type of a leader you were. Was that something that was God-given or something that was created along the way?
BB-My dad was a football coach and he sent me across town to play for somebody else. I actually ended up playing sports against my dad, which was hard to do. My dad used to always say I had a lot of talent and I was gifted but I had to be tough. I tell people that these days. Back in the day, you had to be tough before you could be good. They were going to beat the heck out of you and to show you were good you had to stay on the field. That was part of my deal, making sure you get up. If they didn’t break your leg get up and get off the field.
The 1985 Chicago Bears won the Super Bowl and we played them in either 1986 or 1987. I got sacked seven or eight times that game. I kept getting up and I kept getting up. After the game my told me it was the best game he ever saw me play. I said ‘Dad, I threw two picks, I got sacked seven times and we lost.’ He said ‘Yeah but no other quarterback would have gotten up.’ That was the mindset. You have to be tough.
I wish we played these days. You can’t even touch a quarterback. They would knock the heck out of us. There was a two-step rule where you could still hit the quarterback. You could pile on. You could clothesline. There was a whole list of things you could do back then. Granted, do I think they needed to change some of the rules? I do. Some of it was a little inhumane and the concussion deal is real. They have done a good job. You have to have a little bit of toughness in the game though.
TR–The back of your 1999 Donruss Preferred National Treasures card says ‘Bubby Brister’s wealth of experience paid huge dividends as he filled in for John Elway and helped the Broncos win consecutive Super Bowls.’ What was it like stepping into a backup role but earning playing time and eventually helping your team secure a playoff berth and eventual Super Bowl championships?
BB-It would be like backing up Terry Bradshaw. There is only one John Elway. You get there and you understand that. Could I still play and maybe start for some other teams? Probably. You check your ego at the door and do whatever you can to help the team. I was ready in case John went down and he did go down. I studied more then and was more prepared than ever. I would wake up in the middle of the night at the hotel and slip through my playbook. I did not want to be the weak link on the team and let John Elway down. I will play my ass off and see if we could get these wins and then give him time to heal and be ready for the playoffs. It worked out. He was 100% healthy and we won all the playoff games. He was getting older and beat up. He didn’t miss many games at all and he was getting the heck beat out of him. It was a great run there and I treasure my time in Denver. Being a part of the Super Bowls was another dream come true. You don’t know if you will ever be on a team with a chance to win a Super Bowl. I was blessed to be at the right place at the right time with a great group of guys. John was phenomenal.