With Super Bowl week upon us, you're hearing a lot about TB12. So, let's talk about the greatest TB12 in Super Bowl history.
No, not that TB12. Not the one with the grumpy coach and the super model wife. And, not the one that sells designer hats and shirts emblazoned with TB12 on them, and eats avocado ice cream.
I’m talking about the original TB12. The one who played for Pittsburgh.
There is no more complicated figure in Steelers history than Terry Bradshaw. He bounces from beloved to annoying quicker than his lips move. And if you listen to him Sunday mornings, that’s pretty dang quick (excuse me for falling into his hillbilly vernacular). Listening to him, and watching him, it’s hard not to picture him atop a tractor in overalls and a straw hat -- certainly not wearing any designer hat.
And watch him I did. Growing up, he was my favorite Steeler. I remember being at Three Rivers Stadium during his clumsy early years when I heard the calls for Hanratty and Gilliam as Bradshaw was finding his way. He certainly is the poster boy for having some patience with a young quarterback (see Jared Goff), and he soon found his way to a legendary career.
I, too, recollect his early stints with celebrity, appearing on Hee Haw, of all things, wailing “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” and acting (?) with Burt Reynolds in the flick Cannon Ball Run. I'd say that movie aged badly, but I'm pretty sure it was always bad.
I recall being bummed out when the only Steelers QB I ever knew retired, done in by his elbow, and beginning the long plague of Steelers QBs – starting with Cliff Stoudt – that disappointed until that BIG guy finally arrived. I remember waiting for the 6 o'clock local Pittsburgh news to hear more about his retirement. Myron Cope said his piece. As the end credits ran, the news station played a popular song of the moment -- Scandal's "The Warrior" -- with clips of Bradshaw playing. With no twenty-four hour sport cycle like today (ESPN was a hardly known infant), that was about it besides some newspaper articles.
That was the good.
The bad was Bradshaw’s football afterlife where he seemed to jab Pittsburgh in the eye whenever he could. Apparently, he may have held a grudge for being cheered while hurt at Three Rivers Stadium. That certainly is boorish behavior, but not uncommon to the brutish sport, and the actions of a few.
He also had a very one-sided feud with Chuck Noll, culminating in his skipping the funeral. “I respected him, but I didn’t like him,” he was quoted. Well, fine, but Noll was his coach, not his Dad. Get over it.
He skipped other events, too, over the years and it always just seemed he was an uncomfortable fit with his Steelers legacy. Recent barbs he directed at Mike Tomlin are only the latest example. There were, and are, times he seems genuinely pleased with his Steelers roots, but it is schizophrenic, at best.
But back to his glory days, and comparing him to that other TB12, Tom Brady. For this comparison, I’m only talking Super Bowl performance. Look, they are both great, no argument, but I do believe that Terry Bradshaw gets a bit overlooked sometimes -- especially when it comes in comparison to the supposed Greatest Of All-Time (GOAT).
I believe much of this is recency bias, but it also is not taking into account how the game has changed. They are different times with very different rules. I recently heard a Fox Sports radio host criticizing Bradshaw’s Super Bowl performances due to completion percentage! The pass happy rules of today’s NFL skew the statistical argument to Brady, but I still think a look at some important stats still favors Bradshaw’s performance.
First, there’s the too obvious stat that Bradshaw was 4-0 in the big game. He never lost. Perfect is perfect, and you can’t argue that. Brady won 5, but lost 2. And, he lost two to a good -- not great -- quarterback in Eli Manning. In one of those games he came in with an undefeated team – and lost.
Also, Bradshaw beat three Hall of Fame quarterbacks to win his titles -- Fran Tarkenton, and Roger Staubach twice. Not too shabby. Brady did defeat Hall of Famer Kurt Warner, but the rest were good, not great QBs.
But, I think one set of stats clearly defines Bradshaw as arguably the best quarterback in Super Bowl history.
Bradshaw threw 9 TDs in 4 Super Bowls. The following is a list of the yardage distances of each TD score (in chronological order): 6, 7, 64, 28, 75, 7, 18, 47, and 73.
That’s an average scoring distance of 36.11 yards. If you take out the first two touchdowns Bradshaw threw in Super Bowls (both were to TEs), his last seven Super Bowl touchdown passes averaged 44.57 yards!
Touchdown passes of that length are game changers. They flip games. They change momentum. They crush opponents. They are game winners.
That Brady guy? He threw 15 TDs in 7 games. Here are his distances on each touchdown pass: 4, 5, 12, 11, 2, 4, 5, 6, 4, 22, 8, 1, 2, 6, and 5.
That’s an average scoring distance of – are you ready? – only 6.46 yards! There was only one touchdown pass over 20 yards (22 to Gronkowski), and all the rest were 12 yards or under.
Furthermore, Bradshaw holds the highest career average gain on his passing yards, period, of any quarterback in Super Bowl history – 11.10 yards (84-932)! There was no dinking and dunking here. Bradshaw constantly put pressure on opponents with chunk plays.
But, that remarkable stat aside, it’s the touchdowns that define games. Different rules or not, there is no denying that throwing touchdown passes of 36 yards compared to 6 yards is in a totally different class. Now you see why Bradshaw is a perfect 4-0, while Brady is not.
This is why Bradshaw was the greatest quarterback ever on the big stage. Games turned on his aggressive throws. Most of Brady’s touchdown passes were glorified runs at the end of long drives. Impressive. But most of Bradshaw’s touchdowns were bombs that tore his opponent’s throats out in a blink of an eye. Brady never threw a touchdown bomb – not once.
That’s why Steelers fans love Bradshaw. Even if, sometimes, he has said, or done, unpredictable things like our stereotypical crazy uncle that we invite to Thanksgiving dinner.