Bradshaw: The Prodigal Son Returns

Former Steelers' quarterback Terry Bradshaw shunned his old team for 19-years until the magical Monday night of Oct. 21,2002. The 19-year old wound healed as Bradshaw serving as honorary co-captain, watched his old team clobber the Indianapolis Colts, 28-10.

Terry Paxton Bradshaw has always been a star on the football field and off. Not bad for the man Dallas LB Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson once trashed before Super Bowl XIII by saying "Bradshaw couldn't spell CAT if you spotted him the C and the A."

Terry Bradshaw has parlayed a Hall of Fame football career into success as a broadcaster - first on the NFL Today on CBS TV and now as the studio analyst for Fox TV.

Born in Shreveport, LA in 1948, Bradshaw played High School football at Woodlawn HS before heading to Louisiana Tech for a sparkling college career. The Pittsburgh Steelers made Bradshaw the first player selected in the 1970 NFL draft.

Bradshaw wasn't thrilled when the Steelers selected him. He had to check a map to see where Pittsburgh was located and would have been happier if he was chosen by a southern team - like Atlanta, Miami, Dallas or Houston.

It was the beginning of a rocky relationship between Bradshaw and Pittsburgh. Despite the fact the he was the catalyst for the four Super Bowl Champions in the 1970's, Bradshaw has had trouble making up his mind about how he truly feels about Pittsburgh. Until that magic Monday night in 2002.

Bradshaw believes he could have played longer with the Steelers had he sat out the 1983 season to heal his injured throwing elbow. "It was the career. It was, like, unfinished business. I was just really starting to have fun. I'm five years behind everybody growing up, and I was just really having fun. Then I got hurt."

"You know, nobody knows what I was going through, and I wasn't going to say anything. Pressure from people in the organization -- 'you can play hurt.' I had a torn ligament in my elbow. I couldn't throw, and I played the following year with a torn muscle. Had to get it shot up [with drugs]. The reason I didn't play in Knoxville [in a 1983 preseason game] was because I tore the muscle. ... When [the doctor] shot me up, he found out that my ulna nerve split. The whole arm was dead, just flopping around. So we just kept it quiet."

 "I just went through so much. I was working out at a high school at night, turning on the gym lights, trying to come back without anybody knowing it. Lifting. Had a trainer. I mean, I was killing myself. You don't want to tell people: 'Look how hard I'm working.' That's not my style. I just feel like if they knew how hard I wanted to come back, and how much I wanted to come back."

 "If they had just left me alone and let me have [1983] off, I would have been fine. I would have been 100 percent. But, you know, [people in the organization] were constantly challenging me, and naturally I said, 'OK' -- tried to face up to the challenge."

"I'm just angry. Angry that I had to leave like I left. Every time I'm not here, it's like there's more bad blood between us, and there isn't. I wish that never happened."

Bradshaw has always had mixed feelings about his former coach Chuck Noll.

In his book, "Looking Deep", which was written by Buddy Martin of the Denver Post, Bradshaw was critical of Noll and his indifference when he needed someone to care.

"When you look into Chuck Noll's eyes, you see nothing," wrote Bradshaw. "They appear mysterious - cold and emotionless."

At other times he has praised Noll. "Chuck Noll was right in the way he handled me, because it made me a better quarterback," Bradshaw said. "He knew how to bring out the best in me as a football player, although I always felt he didn't understand me as a person."

"Chuck was not the kind of person who knew how to deal with my feelings."

Bradshaw apologized profusely to Noll when Noll presented him for induction into the Dapper Dan Charities Pittsburgh Hall of Fame on February 9, 2003.

"If I could reach down in my heart, I would say I'm sorry for every unkind word and thought I ever had. I mean that. I'm ashamed about that. It was ... my wrong, my childishness, my selfishness. Having said that, it kind of cleanses me. I miss my coach. I love my coach. I miss Chuck Noll."

"Wow, how cool is this?" Bradshaw began. "I am so glad to be back. It's been way too long. One of the great things about life, as we grow up and mature, we become wiser."

"I'm sure, Coach, I drove you a little bit crazy. You were trying to pass on your brilliance. I just wanted to play. I didn't want to read coverage's -- cover-four and stuff. I didn't want to audible. I sure didn't want to run the football. I just wanted to throw it."

"People say we had trouble. I created that. I wasn't as much mad at you, Chuck, as I was mad at me. The problems were never really problems. Coach Noll never let them be problems. They were my problems. Even sitting by him tonight, I'm still trying to please him. I guess that's the little child in me."

For years after his retirement Bradshaw was viewed by many fans as a man who hated them and hated Pittsburgh. Nothing could be further from the truth.

"My last year here, I got booed coming off the field, and I never got over that," Bradshaw told ESPN shortly before the Monday night Indianapolis-Steelers kickoff, referencing his bitter 1983 end. "Then I got hurt, and I never got over that. I went through a lot of things. Then, one day I woke up: 'Terry, you're 54 years old. You don't have a football family.' I made a point to mend all my fences so I could go back home." He added to WTAE-TV, "It took awhile to get comfortable coming home."

Bradshaw has a special message for the "Steeler Nation."

"I would love for [Steelers fans] to know ... we never had a problem at all."

Bradshaw is also at ease with is teammates and the accomplishments of the "Team of the '70's" as evidenced by his visit for a Steelers reunion organized by former DE Dwight White in April of 1999.

"You don't really appreciate how good we were until you get away from us. Bradshaw opined. "I'm talking about as a former player. So the farther away that I get from what we accomplished the more I appreciate what we did and you appreciate what we accomplished in six years. I don't think anybody will ever win four Super Bowls in a six year period. I don't think it will ever happen."

Bradshaw led Steelers to eight AFC Central and four Super Bowl titles and was MVP in Super Bowls XIII, XIV. He held Super Bowl records: nine TDs, 932 yards and post-season records: 30 TDs, 3,833 yards. His career stats: 27,989 yards, 212 TDs passing, 2,257 yards, 32 TDs rushing. He was AFC Player of the Year in 1978.

"The thing that stands out," Bradshaw feels. "Is that it was pretty much the same offensive players and the same defensive players. It was that same 22 that did all of this. So we were fortunate that we were able to keep our team together."

"Also the wonderful memories of Mr. Rooney and Super Bowl IX, him receiving the Vince Lombardi Trophy, that stands out. The first one is always the one you remember the most and it was the most special."

Bradshaw was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August of 1989 and makes no bones about why he is there.

"The only reason I got into the Hall of Fame is because of my rings. You can't look at my statistics and say, 'Those are Hall of Fame statistics.' It's always been about the rings. The Pittsburgh fans, we won four, and what was the first cry out of their mouths? 'Win one for the thumb.' The dust hadn't settled yet. I mean that's what you're measured by. That's what you play for."

"I'll take the rings, and the [great modern-day quarterbacks such as John Elway and Dan Marino] can have the yardage and the touchdowns. Plus, I called my own plays, jiminy Christmas."

The wound has healed and Bradshaw is back in the fold as evidenced by his closing statement to the fans at the Monday night game in 2002.

"Ladies and gentleman," he closed his 2 minute, 45 second speech, "it's good to be home."

George Von Benko
SteelCitySports.Com

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