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.
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.
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.