Terry Bradshaw – Complicated Hero

The Good Guys – Quarterbacks, part 1

No. 3.  Terry Bradshaw

Any Steeler fan who lived through the seventies, watching perhaps the greatest football team ever, has strong feelings about Terry Bradshaw. The opinions of fans, like Bradshaw’s relationship with the Steelers, are complicated.

Bradshaw’s Steelers won four Super Bowls in six years. Twice, he was the Super Bowl MVP. There was nary a yinzer who didn’t love No. 12. (Maybe a few, but very few).

Immediately after he retired in 1984, he was hired by CBS as a color commentator.  After a few years, CBS made him a studio analyst. He moved to Fox in 1994. By the force of his strong, quirky personality, he is the QB of Fox’s stellar studio analysts.

Away from football, Bradshaw has sung professionally and acted in both television shows and movies. He is a much sought-after motivational speaker and continues to have several lucrative advertising endorsements. By his own admission, he lives to work and enjoys making money. His earnings have allowed him him to engage in expensive habits such as quarter horses and auto racing, and to generously support his family.

Admiration

I have a deep appreciation for Terry Bradshaw. First and foremost there are his many accomplishments on the field. He was a gallant quarterback, often a gunslinger who liked the deep throw, often at just the right time.

Bradshaw was the superstar among a team of superstars. He was one of nine Hall of Famers to play for Chuck Noll, a Hall of Famer, as well.

Success in the NFL did not come easy for him. As reported by Myron Cope (full article here), Coach Noll believed that the delay in Terry’s development into a premier QB was due to his fear of doing the wrong thing. Those who who reach for excellence know that fear well. Some find it more difficult than others. But Bradshaw finally conquered it and when he did, he was amazing.

Terry was tough. Old school tough. He played with and through many injuries.  He admits to nine concussions, though likely there were more. In 1976, he miraculously survived one of the most vicious hits ever – being driven into the ground head first by Turkey Joe Jones of the Browns. I remember that play vividly—I truly wondered if Bradshaw would ever play again.

In addition to physical courage, he weathered brutal fan abuse during the first five years of his career. The fans of the 1970s weren’t as spoiled as they are today, but they were no less harsh in criticizing bad play.

Bradshaw was the first player selected in the draft in 1970. He had a brutal start, throwing 6 TDs and 24 picks in his rookie season. Imagine the BTSC comments if that occurred today.

As Bradshaw struggled, he lost the starting QB spot to both Terry Hanratty and Joe Gilliam. Yet he persevered, absorbing aspersions to his playing ability and intelligence. Through it all he endured, becoming a football legend.

After his retirement, he disclosed that he frequently suffered from anxiety attacks after games. He has openly talked about his bouts of depression, in an attempt to urge others to seek help. His willingness discuss his problems was heroic. Pro football players, even retired ones, are expected to be stoic warriors. In the NFL, machismo was and still is, king.

As an analyst, Bradshaw has never pulled his punches. While  many Steeler fans didn’t agree on his criticism over the sexual assault allegations against Ben Roethlisberger, many did. Bradshaw’s admonition that Ben needed to grow up, stay out of trouble and concentrate on improving his game and his reputation was dead on. His recent criticism of Jerry Jones for signing Greg Hardy, a seemingly uncontrite abuser, is commendable and certainly not appreciated by Goodell and the league.

The Complicated Parts

Since his playing days, Bradshaw has distanced himself from Pittsburgh, his teammates and Coach Noll and his fans.

When Bradshaw was elected to the Hall of Fame, he had his broadcast partner, Verne Lundquist, present him for induction. His choice of Lunquist was shocking, if not bizarre. At the time, Bradshaw had known Lundquist but two years. Lundquist was stunned and commented he didn’t think he and Bradshaw were that close.

Bradshaw saw Art Rooney as a father figure and the one guy who Bradshaw truly admired, and “he was the only guy who cared about me.” Rooney loved Terry, so much that he gave Bradshaw a key to his office, the only Steeler player so favored. Yet when the Chief died, Bradshaw did not attend the funeral.

For years, Bradshaw stayed away from Pittsburgh, unless his job required him to be there. He skipped events commemorating the Super Bowl wins. His critical comments about the City of Pittsburgh, Noll and the Steeler organization were common knowledge.

Yet, when he did return to Pittsburgh in 2002, the yinzers cheered wildly. Despite a nineteen year absence, he was welcomed with all the fervor Steeler Nation could muster. In Gary Pomerantz’s book “Their Life’s Work” the author reports that Bradshaw was sure he would be booed roundly by the Steeler fans. Bradshaw may not have lived in his fears, but he certainly lived with them.

He famously “hated” Chuck Noll. Bradshaw remains bitter about how his career ended in injury—Noll just moved on.  Bradshaw wanted love from his coach, a man for whom displays of emotion were foreign. Although Bradshaw apologized to Noll for all derogatory comments he ever made at a Dapper Dan Banquet in 2003, the rift between coach and quarterback continued. When Noll died, few were surprised that Bradshaw did not attend the funeral.

Except for a return to Heinz Field to accept his place on the Steelers’ 75th anniversary team, Bradshaw remains absent from Steeler celebrations, despite attempts by Joe Greene, Franco Harris and others to get him to join them.

My View

Terry Bradshaw is a very complicated man. Many times, he has proven his bravery, not only on the field, but in discussing controversial issues. Even more, I admire his courage in revealing his battles with depression and other psychic and emotional issues to help those who also struggle.

Yet, he absents himself from former teammates who truly want him at the Steeler celebrations. He avoids them, and except for rare exceptions, he has avoided the Steeler fans, as well. His behavior baffles me, as he appears to enjoy himself at these public events. The wide Bradshaw grin appears a genuine display of joy in the many photographs which exist. Maybe “appears” is the operative word here.

He is an enigma. Terry was incapable of accepting Chuck Noll for who he was. He was wounded by Noll’s failure to express love for him, express gratitude to him for his efforts and for cutting him when he could no longer play. Yet he himself has failed to return the love of his fans and his teammates. He stayed away from Art Rooney’s funeral, a decision which defies explanation. Even Terry now regrets not attending. The Chief loved Terry, encouraged him, even tried to shield him from Noll’s stoic harshness.

I don’t know what motivated Bradshaw’s choice of Lundquist to present him for induction in Canton. Even so, it is difficult to see the choice as anything but a childish slight aimed at everyone in the Steelers’ organization who hurt him.

Even his criticism of Big Ben, while valid and deserved, seemed to have a tinge of jealousy, perhaps a hint that Ben was an unworthy usurper of his place as the Steeler top dog.

There are a good deal of Steeler fans who now see Bradshaw as an ungrateful jerk, a pampered QB who couldn’t handle it when the cheering stopped and glory days were over. While there might be a good measure of truth in that view, I’m compelled to dig deeper and feel some compassion for Bradshaw.

Clearly, his many accomplishments have not satisfied him nor given him peace. I can’t begin to understand what prevents his enjoyment of a great football career. Bitterness has evicted joy. Maybe it is just not in his nature, just as it was not Chuck Noll’s nature to display emotion.

I hope that, in his own way he has or will find happiness. I appreciate what Terry Bradshaw did for the Steeler franchise. I wish it weren’t so complicated. Maybe Terry does too, but  I choose not to dwell on the things I wish he’d done. He did a lot for Pittsburgh and the Steelers, fans included. It’s enough.

Sources: Gary Pomerantz’s book “Their Life’s Work,” and the Terry Bradshaw Wikipedia page, as well as the sources linked herein.

20 comments

  • Good article. I went from growing up with Terry Bradshaw as a hero to finding him a jealous jerk for how he has talked about Ben Roethlisberger negatively and publicly since shortly after Ben was drafted. I went from defending Terry against the many slights flung his way to losing interest in him as a person because of the slights he has slung towards the man who has replaced him as the best Steelers QB to date, Ben Roethlisberger.

    I don’t hate Terry, I just don’t like him. Not anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Thank you for this, RF. It was interesting to get a fuller picture of the man. I’ve only ever experienced Bradshaw as a loose cannon on the TV – you get the sense that anything at all could come out of his mouth at any moment, and it might or might not be wholly appropriate (or comprehensible for that matter.) You see that his fellow panelists feel this too, and are waiting a bit breathlessly to see whether they have avoided a disaster once more. And of course his comments about Ben irritated me, even though some of them were clearly correct. I just didn’t know what right he thought he had to say them.

    Insofar as the Steelers organization goes, it’s a shame he can’t get over himself sufficiently to accept that other people are flawed and screw up, and in light of his own flaws and screw-ups perhaps he could cut them some slack. But maybe he isn’t capable of that.

    I’m curious. I very seldom hear him (or see him) on TV. Has anyone heard him talk about a player in terms of “he’s done” – that the player is no longer capable of playing at the level he once did? Because surely he must be able to see that there comes a point where a guy can’t play well enough anymore, for whatever reason – age, injuries, accumulation of both – and that he is hurting his team by staying. But it’s much harder to see in ourselves…

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  • Nice article, Rox. But I will say that your last 5 paragraphs come to the viewpoint of a Steelers fan (You say, “well, duh”, but hold on!).
    There’s an expectation from fans that the players of their favorite team loves the team as much as the fans do. That simply doesn’t always happen. Sometimes, a person is ready to move on with other aspects of their life and aren’t interested or willing to be identified by one specific aspect. You see this in sports, you see this in entertainment, etc. Mark Wahlberg gets incensed when anyone brings up Marky Mark. Vanilla Ice hates his ever-popular hit. John Quincy Adams is remembered as a President, but he cherished his work in Congress far more.
    Vanilla Ice eventually had to return to his one song..as it was all that could make him money. Wahlberg didn’t have to return to Marky Mark as he had a successful film and producing career. Bradshaw has had plenty of success post-Steelers, as well. So why return to that point in his life?
    You say that Bradshaw didn’t accept who Noll was, but clearly that went both ways. And the fans are making the same error. Emotional people need emotional support…and if you can’t get that support from somewhere, you move on.
    We’re making the assumption that he isn’t happy because he’s not involved with the Steelers now. Well…perhaps that’s exactly what makes him happy.
    We sometimes dismissively say that a player should ‘move on to their life’s work’ when we think the team should be done with the player. Bradshaw is one player that actually did move on..and some fans resent him for it. I think it says more about us than it does about him.

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  • I had the pleasure of watching Terry play during the Steel Curtain days. I don’t know the man, never met him, and I have no clue what goes on in his mind at times, at any time, nor does it bother me. While our emotional attachments to professional athletes may cause us to feel as though we are members of their family, I assure you, they do not, in almost every case, share the sentiment.

    The only thoughts I have about Terry Bradshaw that I feel are worthy of posting here concern his prowess as an NFL quarterback and his place in history. I think it’s a major injustice that when speaking of the greatest quarterbacks of all time Terry is usually little more than an afterthought. Four Super Bowl championships and two Super Bowl MVP awards. I couldn’t care less about his regular season stats, show me the hardware. My list of greatest quarterbacks is Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw, and everyone else.

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  • John Quincy Adams was never able to pick up the blitz, and the cover two left him clueless. Besides, he used his family connections to get where he did. But, like the Rooneys, he was real good on civil rights issues.

    A splendid and fair analysis of Bradshaw, who remains one of the most enigmatic players in Steeler history.

    Terry has battled depression and ADHD most or all of his life. That must be part of any narrative involving him.

    Early on, he was treated as some kind of hayseed or rube. Steeler teammates called him Ike, short for Ozark Ike. Several times in the early years, he was knocked senseless on the field and the fans cheered. Most cheered because local boy Terry Hanratty was coming in to replace him, and the cheers were for Rat. But Brad thought at least some of the fans were cheering his injury.

    His marriage to Pittsburgh native and former MIss Teenage America Melissa Babish didn’t work out. That didn’t help.

    And, of course, the relationship between Brad and Noll didn’t work out either. Terry needed somebody to hold is hand and motivate him. Noll was busy teaching people who were already motivated. His years in Pittsburgh were difficult, to say the least.

    Terry needs to be loved, he needs attention, and he needs affirmation. He will put on a show, and play the clown to make people happy so that they will give him that attention and affirmation. I saw that in him when I knew him, and I see that in him now. We all need to be loved, but some of us need it more than others because of insecurities and inner demons.

    Just because you are a tremendously gifted athlete doesn’t mean you can’t be a wounded soul. And Terry is a wounded soul. (In a larger sense, we all are.)

    He tells yarns, makes stuff up, his excuses don’t always add up. One highly respected member of the Steeler family calls him, “the biggest phony I ever met.” The term now being tossed around is “fabulist,” when referring to political hopefuls who lie for a living. Noted.

    But Terry fought through all that stuff to deliver four Lombardi Trophies to Pittsburgh. And he left it all on field until he could no longer throw a football. He was a true warrior. You can’t ever take that away from him.

    I’ve learned enough about depressive disease from family members and loved ones to not judge others too harshly. Franco and members of the Steeler family still reach out to Terry, and still remain in contact with him. But, as Norman MacLean once wrote,” it is those closest to us who so often elude us. But we can still love them. We can love completely, without complete understanding. ”

    There’s a lot about Terry Bradshaw to love. But even more that we don’t – or can’t – understand. I wish him peace of mind, good health, and happiness in his journey through life.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you for your kind words, Homer. Your comments capture much of what I was trying to say. Terry is like a family member who pisses you off, but you forgive him or her because, like us all, they have flaws and you love them anyway.

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    • Beautiful, Homer, just beautiful. But I have one question—do you know for sure that John Quincy Adams couldn’t pick up the blitz or didn’t understand the cover two? He seemed like a pretty smart guy…

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      • JQ Adams could NOT pick up the blitz and was totally clueless how to defeat the cover two. That’s why he only lasted one term.
        He was, however, every bit as bald on top as Bradshaw.

        Liked by 1 person

  • Yes Homer beautiful post. Everyone needs to be loved. Life is so much more than IQ or accomplishments, or looks. He is us only on a bigger stage. We can look no further than ourselves to see his pain and what motivates him to do the things he does as it relates to the Steelers organization. The pain in his soul is in ours too even though we may hide it better than he does. We are all weak and fragile souls continuously searching and seeking something that we likely have already found.

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  • cold_old_steelers_fan

    The first time I saw the Steelers play, they were on Monday Night football and I thought the announcers were mocking the Steelers in general and Bradshaw in particular. This, and their lack of success over the long term made them the underdog. I was raised to be a fan of the underdog and the Steelers were as underdog as it got at the time. They have been my team ever since.

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  • This article is wonderful–nuanced and compassionate and, HA, supposedly rookie writer Roxie does it all beautifully. (I couldn’t come up with any more alliteration and I’m disappointed in myself.) I don’t know right now if I knew all of this before I read the article and the comments, but I never put it together like this. Thank you. And as a plus, what great comments. Vanilla Ice and John Q and a lot of affection for Terry as well as admiration.

    I’m fond of Terry Bradshaw because if I hear his voice or read his name, I can be right back in my childhood, in my parents’ living room, lying on the floor during games not really paying much attention (reading a book, doing my homework, I was a nerdy kid). My Dad had conversations with Terry, his favorite player of all time, and entertained us, while my mother was a more serious intelligent fan. At half time, we’d all run outside and there was our whole neighborhood–people coming out of their houses to have a chat about the game, dogs barking, kids trying to re-enact plays or playing a quick brutal game of kickball. Then someone would yell that the game was starting again and we’d all run back inside. Sometimes I’d linger outside just for a moment because there was something amazing about it: all those houses with the same game on the television, the shouts and cheers from a distance, and nothing moving outside.

    Somehow Terry Bradshaw was at the center of that, more so than anyone else. I’m not sure why that was. Maybe just my memory and how much my dad liked him, enough to watch his fishing show!. When I became a fan for real and watched old games, I understood that. I too think he’s one of the greats. I wish my dad were still around so I could send this to him. Like you, he worried about Terry just a little and felt a little sorrow that he’d distanced himself from the team.

    Earthling

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  • Let me just say thank you.

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  • If you know Steeler football from the early 70’s one would realize that would Terry Bradshaw arrived in 1970 he wasn’t ready to play on a top NFL level immdately. He had a cannon for an arm but was wild with his throws and he had problems remembering the plays early on in his career. It took him about 4 to 5 yrs to really became a top NFL Q.B. but the problem is that the defense came together much sooner and was great! Chuck Knoll was very patient with Bradshaw. H’s greatest wasn’t immediate like Green, Franco, Blount, Lambert, Sywnn, Stallworth etc etc

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  • It’s true, Terry’s greatness was not immediate like Joe Greens, Franco Harris, Mel Blount’s, Jack Lambert’s, Lynn Swann’s or John Stallworths, but Terry wasn’t a defensive end, a running back, a linebacker or a wide receiver, he was a quarterback, and the development process is more complex and takes time. The fans in Pittsburgh were ruthless in his first three years, dubbing him with the nickname “Bubba” and bringing hangman’s dolls and other related props to his home games to show their displeasure with him while acting out hanging him in effigy. That was pretty harsh treatment for any QB coming in to the league, but it was as if the fans in Pittsburgh wanted to blame Terry for all of their years of losing teams before he got there as well, mainly because he was drafted with the No. 1 pick in the 1970 draft and was expected to come in as their messiah, the great white hope. Instead he came in as an unpolished human being, a Louisiana country boy with an arm like a cannon, flawed and unsure of himself, lost in a playbook that was more complicated than any he’d ever seen, and he needed the support of the team and it’s fans and instead got treated like a convict. Terry’s accomplishments were many over the span of his career as a pro QB, but none more important than winning over the Steeler’s fans and his teammates while becoming one of the all time great QB’s in NFL history. Props to him for that!

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