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White Heat

The fire still burns for Terry Bradshaw, former Super Bowl MVP quarterback.
Ken Shouler
From the Print Edition:
maduro issue, Winter 93/94

(continued from page 1)

At 45, Bradshaw still gears up for the big one on Sunday--his NFL Today segments, game highlights and half-time shows throughout the afternoon. He once called his analysis "baby talk," because of the keep-it-simple advice that comes from above. But now and then there are the glowing signs, those Sundays where fans who missed his playing days can still catch a glimmer of the white heat within. That brief, slam-dunk-in-your-face, no-holds-barred confrontation with Cunningham offered up the quintessential definition of the man Bradshaw has become away from the playing field--just as tough and straightforward as in his playing days. While Bradshaw no longer lines up against NFL defenses, he still moves his six-foot-three-inch, 225-pound frame quickly enough to run six miles in 62 minutes. And his description of how to keep an NFL-scarred physique in shape also explains his drive in life. "I can't compete anymore; it's kind of like competing with myself."

It is only fitting that the shape of his life has brought him to this point. The football analyst's week--like the player's--begins on Tuesday. The demands of reading notes, reviewing tape and rehearsing in the studio adds structure--and about $700,000 a year--to the simple Roanoke, Texas, life on a cattle ranch with wife Charla and their two children. The week-long preparation of an NFL quarterback finishes--often ingloriously--with about 12 minutes of running time on Sunday, an absurdly brief epilogue to six days of concealed aches and pains. Bradshaw now gleans material from USA Today and a voluminous 200 pages of statistics and facts meticulously gathered by the CBS staff. "And then I use about 1 percent of it," he cracks. If he talks too long, Gumbel is there to "bring him back." So all his preparation results in fiery analysis and zealous demonstrations fit between commercial breaks.

One moment he'll say that television causes him to lose focus and how weekends away cause him to miss time with his wife and children. "If I had to it all over again, I wouldn't want any part of this. You lose sight..." The next moment he talks of lucrative acting offers that "people keep bringing me" and of the friendship between him and his partner Gumbel. Could he really give up this gig, this town, this adulation? Give up the cab drivers and the cops and the sidewalk wanderers shouting, "Hey, Terry"? Sure, there's a chance.

But for now, he still strives for excellence, just as he did from 1971 through 1984, a time during which he steered a once hapless Pittsburgh team to four Super Bowl wins. "That was serious," he says, "this isn't." "That" refers to the huddles and the preparation and the 1,001 cranium-crunching skirmishes that comprised his football days. "This" is television. It's Bradshaw's nature to invest television time with play because he is playful and so he sees television that way. When he complains, he is venting disillusionment with the cutthroat, get-ratings-at-any-cost philosophy of the networks. There is not a single "I" in team, but the team concept gets lost sometimes in the world of television. "I think this business is very cruel, very cold. I've got Rick Gentile (executive producer) now, before that I had Ted Shaker, before then Terry O'Neill," he says, explaining how quickly management can change.

What's more, critics of NFL Today snipe at the Gumbel-Bradshaw duo for having too much fun. One can reduce sports shows to rating numbers just as surely as one can reduce a quarterback's efforts to statistics. But to Bradshaw sports is the toy shop of life. Silly boy, he still expects the artificial-turf-ground-acquisition pastime to be a diversion, not a numbers-crunching duel in which television anchors, producers and everyone else in sight eventually fails to make the final cut. One gets the unmistakable impression that Bradshaw thinks the more demanding things in life occurred years ago. Now he would just like to be with his family, plow the farm and fish. And fill Sundays with his inimitable style of teaching football to the masses while enjoying himself in the process.

Bradshaw's childhood on a farm in rural Louisiana filled him with respect for hard work. He also played hard. His father Bill recalls that Terry, "always had to have a ball in his hand. I had a swing set that I hung a tire and a five-gallon bucket on. He would throw it 10 feet, 20 feet, 30 feet--most of the time by himself." The tire and bucket lasted, but the chains broke with fatigue. He wore out leather footballs by throwing them into an open field, onto a roof, even into trees.

As a junior in high school, he won a distance-throwing competition, tossing the ball 72 yards. "I could always throw. I was clumsy, awkward, skinny, not a great athlete. But every weekend I was throwing that football. I could throw it deep; I could throw it hard. But I wasn't accurate. I hated short passes; I was bored with them."

But when his college days began, the most controversial thing he'd done up till then was fail the American College Test (A.C.T.) at the University of Louisiana. On purpose. He simply wanted to play at the smaller, less competitive Louisiana Tech, despite the wishes of those around him. Remarks about Bradshaw being "three bricks shy of a load" and "too stupid to call his own plays" trace back to that time. He laughs because he has heard it so many times. "I have always been five years behind everyone else when it comes to maturity. I hate telling people no; it's still a problem."

A.C.T. or no A.C.T., it's hard to argue with the act that followed. He was selected No. 1 in the 1970 college draft. ("I didn't think I'd be a first-rounder, so obviously I didn't know much about my talents.")

After several years as a backup, Bradshaw emerged as the Pittsburgh Steelers' No. 1 guy. Four Super Bowls later, Bradshaw was mentioned in the same breath as Johnny Unitas and Bart Starr and Sammy Baugh. He won two Super Bowl MVPs and still holds Super Bowl records for average gain, career (11.10 yards) and average gain, game (14.71 in Super Bowl XIV versus Los Angeles). He was also unanimous choice for MVP in Super Bowls XIII and XIV. And only a guy named Joe Montana has equalled Bradshaw's distinction of being the winning Super Bowl quarterback four times.

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