The boots are made of elephant skin. They are almost pure white and in the middle, where they shelter his shins, there is a big black number 12 made from the bellies of a lot of little lizards. Terry Bradshaw lifts the boots up on the coffee table and leans back on the crimson soft velvet couch. “Sometimes,” he says, tilting his suede Stetson back on his balding blond head, “I worry about comin’ off like a dime-store cowboy.”
And with that, Terry Bradshaw, who, at the age of 31, makes about a quarter of a million dollars a year for throwing a football very straight and very hard, starts plunking his $75 guitar. “Y’all join in if you know the words,” he tells his two city-slicker guests. He sings alone:
“‘The heart is a funny thing with a mind all its own. It withers like a garden left unattended and alone. And the thorns of loneliness invade and destroy what they can’t steal. So easy to hurt. But oh so hard to heal.'”
He looks out of place here, his back to a full-length picture window of this sooty steel town of Pittsburgh, a sullen city where the air is grayish brown, the rivers polluted by tiny tugs and the hills alive with the sound of belching smokestacks.
Here, in this unlikely city of champions, the most valuable player in the single most important game in sports sits still in his 17th-floor apartment overlooking the Monongahela River and rests from a long day of hard practice. The stadium where 50,000 fans cheer him is just over his right shoulder, not more than a fly pattern away.
He is sharing the apartment with a dog named Sugar. His wife, known to most people as JoJo Starbuck, the ice skater, is on a nationwide tour for a noodle-soup company. His folks are down home on his ranch in Louisiana, right near where, as a child, he hopped up the hills and slid down the slop.
Bradshaw grew like a Louisiana weed, to over 6’3″ and 200 pounds. When he finished at Louisiana Tech, a neighborhood college he went to because he didn’t think he was good enough to make it at the bigger schools, the people who scout and tout for pro football were calling him the next Joe Namath, a country kid with an arm like a howitzer. They thought so much of him that he was the number-one pick from the college crop that year. But that was a decade ago.
It didn’t come easy for Bradshaw. He came to a team that had played 14 games the year before and won one of them. Many people thought that, as a new quarterback playing in a new stadium, Bradshaw would immediately turn things around for the Pittsburgh Steelers. But that wasn’t the case.
“Bradshaw may have a lot in common with this stadium,” owner Art Rooney said that first year. “He’ll be beautiful—when he’s finished.”
Bradshaw played erratically those early years. He was an occasional hero and a frequent goat. Some of his frustrated teammates complained very loudly that he called dumb plays. Dumb was a label that would be picked up by the press and branded on Bradshaw. The country bumpkin. Li’l Abner in football shoes. Read the rest of this entry »