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Pittsburgh's Pride

Bashful Bradshaw?
By Mike Puma
Special to

"Howie Long and I were talking about this [Bradshaw's perceived lack of intelligence]. And I said, 'What happens when Terry's IQ drops about 10 points?' And Howie said, 'That's $10 million,' " says Burt Reynolds on ESPN Classic's SportsCentury series.

Statistics don't tell his story. He never led the NFL in passing yards and threw only two more touchdown passes than interceptions in his career. All Terry Bradshaw did was win.

The Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s were defined by defense, but without a quarterback, the Steel Curtain might have dented. Four times in six seasons Bradshaw guided the Steelers to NFL championships, twice as the Super Bowl MVP. Joe Montana is the only other quarterback with as many Super Bowl wins.

In 14 seasons, Bradshaw was 107-51 as the starting quarterback and the Steelers reached the playoffs 10 times. His career postseason record as a starter was 14-5.

The 6-foot-3, 210-pounder retired after the 1983 season with 27,989 yards passing, 212 touchdowns, 210 interceptions and a completion rate of 51.9 percent. In 1989, Bradshaw was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"When I look at my statistics compared to the truly great players, I'm almost embarrassed," Bradshaw wrote in his autobiography, It's Only a Game. "That's probably the reason I have some difficulty when people define me by my playing career."

Life after football has been good to Bradshaw, who remains visible as an Emmy-winning Fox studio analyst for NFL games and in television commercials. He has embraced the role of country bumpkin.

"He may appear to be a rube, but he's very sharp," Fox anchor James Brown said. "It doesn't take a mental giant to determine that because of the way my man is, he's a lovable redneck."

Bradshaw, who has made appearances in movies, emerged as a glamour boy in the 1970s when he married figure skater Jo Jo Starbuck. They later divorced. "She didn't love me and she left me," Bradshaw said.

The second of Bill and Novis Bradshaw's three sons, he was born on Sept. 2, 1948 in Shreveport, La. Bill was a welder who instilled fear into his boys; punishments often included a beating. Terry and his brothers also were given numerous chores around the house.

Terry, who had attention deficit disorder (although it wasn't diagnosed as a child), played in his first organized football game at nine. At Woodlawn High School, he didn't become the starting quarterback until his final season. Once he got the chance, he led Woodlawn to the state semifinals. But football wasn't Bradshaw's only sport.

Later in his senior year, he set a national record by throwing the javelin 244 feet, 11 3/4 inches, prompting more than 200 colleges to offer him a track scholarship. He also pitched for the baseball team. But Bradshaw had his heart set on football.

His strong arm gave him a chance. In 1966, he accepted a football scholarship to Division II Louisiana Tech after bombing the entrance exam at Louisiana State. Bradshaw says he purposely flunked to avoid having to back out.

At Louisiana Tech, he was a backup for two seasons before getting an opportunity in his junior season (1968) after the starter was injured in the opening game. Bradshaw replaced him and went on to become a Division II All-American, leading the nation in total offense with 2,987 yards. The Bulldogs defeated Akron, 33-13, in the Grantland Rice Bowl, and Bradshaw was named the game's MVP after completing 19-of-33 passes for 261 yards.

Over two years, Bradshaw threw for 6,589 yards and 39 touchdowns. In 1969, he repeated as a Division II All-American and was voted MVP of the Senior Bowl.

The Steelers and Chicago Bears both went 1-13 in 1969, but Pittsburgh gained the first pick in the 1970 draft by winning a coin toss. After turning down numerous trade offers for the choice, it selected Bradshaw, who signed a contract that paid him $25,000 as a rookie. Bradshaw flopped in his first season, throwing six touchdowns and 24 interceptions and was benched at one point as the team went 5-9.

"Booing Terry Bradshaw became a favorite sport in Pittsburgh," he said. "Hey, what do you guys want to do tonight? Let's go boo Terry Bradshaw."

He improved in 1971, completing 54.4 percent of his passes for 2,259 yards with 13 touchdowns and 22 interceptions as the Steelers had a 6-8 record. He finished fourth in the league in both attempts and completions.

While he completed just 47.7 percent of his passes in 1972, for the first time in his NFL career he threw as many touchdown passes as interceptions (12). More importantly, he led Pittsburgh to an 11-3 record and its first division title in its 40-year history. This was the first of eight consecutive seasons the Steelers had the best record in the AFC Central Division (six times outright, twice tied).

With the Steelers trailing the Raiders 7-6 in a divisional playoff game, Bradshaw threw one of the most famous passes in history: "The Immaculate Reception." When intended receiver Frenchy Fuqua was clobbered by Jack Tatum, the ball ricocheted toward Franco Harris, who raced 42 yards for a touchdown with five seconds remaining that gave Pittsburgh a 13-7 victory.

In 1973, Bradshaw missed four games because of a shoulder separation and threw for only 1,183 yards, but again led Pittsburgh (10-4) into the postseason.

When the players returned in 1974 after a preseason strike, Bradshaw had lost his starting position to Joe Gilliam. The Steelers went 4-1-1 before Bradshaw regained his old job. They finished 10-3-1.

Two victories in the playoffs got the Steelers into Super Bowl IX, where they defeated the Minnesota Vikings, 16-6. Bradshaw completed 9-of-14 passes for 96 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions.

The Steelers went 12-2 in 1975 as Bradshaw completed a career best 57.7 percent of his passes. In Pittsburgh's 21-17 victory over Dallas in Super Bowl X, Bradshaw completed 9-of-19 passes for 209 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

Neck and wrist injuries in 1976 forced Bradshaw to miss four games. He was sharp in a 40-14 playoff victory over the Baltimore Colts, completing 14-of-18 passes for 264 yards and three touchdowns, but the Steelers' hopes of a three-peat ended with a 24-7 loss to Oakland in the AFC championship game.

In 1976, Bradshaw wed Starbuck. It was Bradshaw's second marriage. His first - to a former Miss Teen USA, Melissa Babisch - had ended in ended in 1973 after 18 months.

"I got married the first time, strictly because I was depressed," he said. "I got married the second time because I was madly in love with my wife."

On the field, he led the Steelers back into the playoffs. Pittsburgh lasted only one game, losing 34-21 to Denver as Bradshaw threw three interceptions. But in 1978, he led the league in touchdown passes with 28 and then was the MVP in the Steelers' triumph in Super Bowl XIII, 35-31 over Dallas. Bradshaw completed 17-of-30 passes for 318 yards, four touchdowns and one interception.

His best season was 1979, when he passed for a career high 3,724 yards and 26 touchdowns. The Steelers returned to the Super Bowl and defeated the Los Angeles Rams, 31-19, as Bradshaw completed 14-of-21 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns. He was again voted the game's MVP.

By 1980, Bradshaw and Starbuck had split. After two seasons of missing the playoffs, Bradshaw played through pain - he needed a cortisone shot before every game because of an elbow injury sustained during training camp - in strike-shortened 1982. He still managed to tie for the most touchdown passes in the league with 17. In a 31-28 playoff loss to the Chargers - Bradshaw's last postseason game - he completed 28-of-39 passes for 325 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

After undergoing offseason elbow surgery, Bradshaw was idle for the first 14 games in 1983. Then against the Jets, he felt a pop in his elbow while throwing a touchdown pass. Bradshaw later left the game and never played again.

In 1984, CBS hired him as a color commentator. Six years later, he moved to the studio as a co-host on the NFL Today. Bradshaw jumped to Fox in 1994, and in 1999 and 2001 he won the Emmy for best performance by a studio analyst.

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