Remembering Bradshaw

Bumped. Good stuff. Very good stuff. Let's stick to these kinds of contributions, continue to welcome all, regardless of their team,  and use this growing amount of insight and opinions to breakdown the Steelers offseason decisions and dilemmas. So far so good. Let's keep it up and BTSC will have itself one hell of an enjoyable spring and summer before the chase for Super Bowl number seven commences next September.- Blitz-


Recently, there was a small discussion about Terry Bradshaw. For all those members of the Nation not old enough to have seen him play... will you allow me to take a (long) walk down memory lane?



I became a Steeler fan in the parking lot of Payday's Grocery store, on route 51 outside of Elizabeth. (Sadly, the ol store is closed now). That is where I was waiting in the car with my father, who had the Steelers game on -- something very rare for us in those days.

The Date: December 23, 1972. The infamous date of the "Immaculate Reception."

Before that, we never really watched the Steelers. When we were kids playing football in the back yard, we were more likely to pretend to be Don Merideth, than Terry Bradshaw. That didn't even change after the Immaculate Reception.

In 1974, Terry Bradshaw lost the starting job to Joe Gilliam. Bradshaw had been too inconsistent, and Chuck Noll announced a new starter. For six games Bradshaw sat on the bench. But, after a 4-1-1 start, Noll reversed his decision.

Terry Bradshaw won back his job, and finished 6-2. The Steelers finished 10-3-1 and ended the season in the Super Bowl. They won, but Franco was the MVP. Terry did enough to win, but had not become a Hall of Famer that day. That would start with the next Super Bowl.. and really take hold during the third

But, in 1975, things started to change -- both for the Steelers, and for my family. Now, Sundays became scheduled around the game. My Mother would put a roast in the oven, before church, and it was scheduled to come out at half time. We would watch the first half, and then get the food and watch the second half while eating. The Steelers became part of our family, our routine, and our life.

And now when we kids played football in the back yard, we would be wearing Terry Bradshaw Jerseys. The kids took to him much faster than the Sportswriters. But pretending to be Bradshaw was hard work.

He threw the ball like no one else. He GRIPPED the ball like no one else. Look closely and you can see him put his index finger on the end of the ball. He threw it like a javelin. And we all tried to do the same.





But the thing that really set Bradshaw apart was the flick of his wrist. Most quarterbacks will throw using their shoulder (Brett Favre) or their arm (Tom Brady). With Bradshaw it was his elbow and wrist. The guy had forearms like Popeye, and when he threw the ball, it seemed almost casual until he snapped that forearm forward and the wrist flicked… then the ball zipped out like it was shot from a gun.

It was that movement that enabled him to make throws no one had any business making. Throwing across his body was no great trick. Throwing on the run – easy. A simple flick and the ball went spinning away like a rock from a slingshot. You know how a quarterback will sometimes throw the ball away by throwing it out of bounds? Bradshaw would throw it out of the end zone. Thirty yards away… just a flick of the wrist… and it was in the stands. Hard to call intentional grounding on that one.

The QB was different then. For one thing, there was no "in the grasp" rule. The play was alive until the QB was down. And Bradshaw didn’t go down easily. He didn’t have the elusiveness that Ben Roethlisberger has… but he had the size, and he didn’t go down easy.

This frustrated defenses. It wasn’t like Fran Tarkenton, who would scramble around and look to make a play. Bradshaw would step aside, and make the play while defenders clung to him from all sides.

Sometimes, this lead to defenders taking out their frustrations on Bradhsaw when they did get him. The most famous of those was Turkey Jones of the Cleveland Browns, who literally picked him up and drove him – head first – into the ground. (Bradshaw would miss several games, but the Defense rose to the occasion and the team once more made the Super Bowl.)





But Bradshaw was tough. Remember Ben giving the fans a thumbs up from the stretcher and then returning two weeks later to lead the Steelers against the Chargers?

Bradshaw was knocked out of the game against the Raiders in 1980, carried off on a stretcher, and returned later in the same game. This prompted Myron Cope to proclaim: "Yoi! There are two Bradshaws. And they wheel one off and then switch them and bring the other guy on!"

Of course, everyone knows about the Super Bowls. I’ll let others talk about them. The NFL films speak for themselves.

But the amazing thing was Terry’s "Aw shucks" attitude belied his intelligence. Hollywood Henderson (of the Dallas Cowboys) said of Terry (during a pre-Super Bowl press conference): "Terry Bradshaw couldn’t spell CAT if you spotted him the C and the A."

Meanwhile, he was calling every play, while the brilliant Roger Staubach was sent in his from the Sidelines. Terry Bradshaw was a true general on the battlefield.

I heard Bradshaw talking about that once. He said: "We didn’t have huddles. We had debates. Franco telling me he wants the ball. Stallworth saying he saw something in the defender. Swann just leaning over and smiling at me… "

But in the end, it was Bradshaw who made the call. When he caught the Cowboys in a blitz and called a draw play up the middle for Franco… that was Bradshaw. When he dropped into his own end zone in the Super Bowl and launched a 50 yard pass to Swann – that was Bradshaw’s decision.

And none of us had to be spotted the M and the V to know what Bradshaw was after he beat the Cowboys for the second time: MVP. It was fitting.

And yet… he was never embraced by the city like he should have been. We were spoiled by the 70s. We didn’t know what we had…until the 80s and 90s came.

Bradshaw almost left several times. He had a rocky relationship with Chuck Noll. He was booed by the fans. (Some even cheered when he was injured once during a game.) He went through a couple of divorces. Hollywood tried to claim him. So did Nashville.

He did a pilot for a TV show with Mel Tillis. He said at the time that if the show were a hit, he would leave football and pursue acting full time. That prompted the Houston Oiler’s head coach, Bum Phillips, to urge everyone in Houston to watch the show.

 "We’ll make it a hit."

There was no doubt in Houston’s mind how important Bradshaw was to Pittsburgh.

But, the Houston conspiracy didn’t work. The pilot flopped, and Terry stayed.

This was 1981 and the Super Bowls were behind him, though no one could know it at the time. But I am glad he stayed because it set up, in my opinion, the best game of his pro career.

December 10, 1983

Bradshaw has missed the whole season with elbow problems. That magical flick of the wrist was gone. He could no longer zip the ball effortlessly. The Steelers had been stumbling towards the playoffs under quarterback Cliff Stoudt.

But they had faltered down the stretch. After jumping out to a 9-2 start, they had lost 3 in a row. The playoffs were slipping from their grasp, and the Steeler Nation was restless. And, of course, they did what they always did: They blamed the quarterback.

Cliff Stoudt gave amusing interviews ("I think when I get home, I am going to put on a tape of the game and boo myself…") But talk was cheap. We needed a win to assure a play-off berth.

I remember listening to talk radio in the Burgh the experts patiently explained that it wasn’t Stoudt’s fault. "You have to remember, it isn’t like he has Swann and Stallworth to throw to. He has guys named Sweeny and Capers." Part of what made Bradshaw great was his receivers, conventional wisdom said. In fact I heard one analyst say: "There were two reasons Bradshaw was a great quarterback, and their names were Swann and Stallworth."

But… we needed a win. And, fate was moving against us. It turned out that the game against the New York Jets was going to be the final game in New York city. Ever. It was the last football game ever played at Shea stadium.

All of the greats were going to be there. It was an emotional time for the team, and they were determined to go out with a win. (Let me put this in perspective for you… in 2000, when the Steelers played their final game at 3 Rivers,  a not very good Steelers team trounced the Redskins 24-3).

A week before the game at Shea, the Steeler Nation got some welcome news: Bradshaw would be under center for the first time that season.

Oh man! It was all anyone could talk about.

Of course, the talking heads explained all of the reasons why Terry would not be sharp. And everyone wondered if he could even throw the deep ball – his signature. And don’t forget that he wasn’t getting Swann and Stallworth back… he’d have those same guys named Sweeny and Capers.

And, you could tell in the warm-ups… Terry didn’t have it. He couldn’t pop the ball like he once did. All game long, those tight pretty spirals were absent. His passes fluttered like ducks, with a fraction of his usual velocity.

And it did not matter.

He marched the Steelers down the field like it was a scrimmage against a high school team. Again and again… the Jets were absolutely powerless to stop him.

Pass after fluttering pass.  It was beautiful.

When they were thinking pass, he’d call a run. When they loaded up for the run, he’d drop back and throw. It was like watching a chess master playing checkers with a 3rd grader.

I started watching as a fan, hoping against hope that we could somehow win one and get into the playoffs. It was all I was thinking of… but as the game went on, I realized I was watching something really special. The playoffs didn’t matter. I was watching the best quarterback of the game will his team to victory.

It didn’t matter that he couldn’t throw it long, and everyone knew it. It didn’t matter that Swann and Stallworth were watching the game from their living rooms, and all he had to throw to were a couple of kids who had never been to the playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl.

That was Terry Bradshaw under center. And he was going to win this game. For the Steelers. For their fans.  And for his legacy.

The Steelers would win the game in a rout, 34-7. It would have been worse, except that Terry’s heroic return was cut short.

After a touchdown pass to Calvin Sweeny, he hit his elbow against a helmet, and he was done. But his last pass in the NFL… was a touchdown.

I was blessed to watch Terry’s whole career. I saw his erratic play in the early 70s, I saw his championship form in the late 70s. And in the 80s, I saw him singlehandedly take the Steelers to the playoffs one more time.

And… I was even more lucky… because I spent some time in Grapevine, TX. Terry had a ranch not far from there in Roanoke. There was a Mexican restaurant in Grapevine called Esparza’s. Apparently, it was one of Terry’s favorites, because I ran into him there on afternoon.  

I usually leave celebrities alone. They get pestered enough. But I had to approach him and say: "Mr Bradshaw? I don’t want to bother you. I just wanted to say I grew up in Pittsburgh and I wanted to thank you for all of joy you brought the city all those years."

He nodded, but was clearly not pleased with being interrupted, and was waiting for me to go away. This was before he "came home" to Pittsburgh. But, before I left, I added: "And I wanted to say that your last game, against the Jets, was probably the greatest game I’ve ever seen..."

And that stopped him. He looked up and smiled at me. "Yeah," he said. "That was fun."

 And that was it… I left him to his fajitas. But I think he summed it up: Watching him.. and the Steelers… all those years… man, it was fun.

Terry Bradshaw may have said it best in his acceptance speech to the Hall of Fame:

"My nature was 'attack'. Throw it deep. Anybody can throw wide, let's go deep! Oh, God, wasn't it fun? Didn't y'all like seein' that stuff fly down there? I mean it was fun, what a ride! What a ride!

"We… we did know… winning, because that's what we were bred to. We, the Steelers, all my boys. All of 'em. We loved to win. God, we loved to win!"

And, God, we loved watching them…


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