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Bradshaw, Terry Paxton

BRADSHAW, Terry Paxton

(b. 2 September 1948 in Shreveport, Louisiana), football quarterback who led the National Football League's (NFL) Pittsburgh Steelers to victory in four Super Bowl games and became one of America's best-known sports commentators as cohost of Fox NFL Sunday.

Bradshaw, the son of William Bradshaw, a welder, and Novis Bradshaw, a homemaker, moved with his parents from Shreveport to Comanche, Iowa, while Bradshaw was still quite young. While living in Iowa, Bradshaw recalls, he made up his mind that he was going to play professional football. At the age of seven, he approached his father and said, "Pop, I'm going to play in the National Football League." As Bradshaw remembers this decisive moment, his father dismissed him by saying, "That's right, son, move on." But Bradshaw kept up the pressure and eventually persuaded his parents to get him a department-store football, which he used to learn to throw. His father hung a rubber tire from an old swing set in the family's backyard, and Bradshaw practiced throwing the ball through the opening in the tire from ten, twenty, and even thirty yards away. He went through dozens of footballs, but eventually he began to develop a strong throwing arm.

Of his early attempts to play football, Bradshaw has said, "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."

When the family moved back to the Shreveport area, Bradshaw tried out for the football team at Oak Terrace Junior High School but failed to make the team. He intensified his practice routine and tried once more to make the grade but was again rejected. He had better luck at Woodlawn High School in Shreveport, which he entered in 1962, and where he met Lee Hedges, whom Bradshaw describes as "the greatest high school coach in the history of sports there." It was Hedges who taught Bradshaw how to play quarterback.

After establishing himself in high school as a quarterback with a strong arm, Bradshaw stumbled again when he failed the ACT (American College Test) for admission to Louisiana State University upon his graduation from Woodlawn in 1966. Some have suggested that Bradshaw purposely flunked the test so he could attend the smaller, less competitive Louisiana Tech University at Ruston. Whether or not this is true, what followed is indisputable. After entering Louisiana Tech in September 1966, Bradshaw racked up such an enviable record as Tech's quarterback that in 1970 he was the number-one pick in the NFL college draft. The scramble for his skills surprised even Bradshaw, who said, "I didn't think I'd be a first-rounder, so obviously I didn't know much about my talents."

Drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Bradshaw soon felt the pressure of the hopes the team was pinning on his quarterbacking skills. The Steelers had finished dead last in the NFL the previous season and were counting on Bradshaw to help lead them to victory. Although the situation improved slightly for the Steelers over the first three seasons with Bradshaw as quarterback, his performance failed to live up to the promise of his collegiate career. Adding to the pressure on Bradshaw was the media's characterization of him as a hulking country boy without remarkable intellect. His handling by the press was clearly a no-win situation, he told a New York Times reporter. "If we have a bad game, it's because I'm dumb. If we have a good game, it's because everybody else played well and I got caught up in the action."

Bradshaw married for the first time in 1972, to Melissa Babish. The marriage soon faltered, and the couple divorced in 1974, adding to Bradshaw's troubles, which included a shoulder injury. The failure of his marriage and his continuing lackluster performance on the field prompted Bradshaw to reassess his fundamental values, leading to a spiritual reawakening. As he described it in Man of Steel, he turned his life over to a higher power, saying, "Here I am, God. I've tried to handle it all by myself, and I just can't get the job done. So I'm placing my life in Your hands. I need some peace of mind, and I know you can give it to me."

Near the midpoint of the 1974 season, Steelers coach Chuck Noll tapped Bradshaw as starting quarterback. Before long Bradshaw began showing signs of the dynamism that had characterized his college play. After leading his team to victory in 1974, he went on to spearhead their win over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IX. Bradshaw and the Steelers capped the 1975 season with another Super Bowl victory, besting the Dallas Cowboys, 21–17. Although he was sidelined with injuries for half of the 1976 season, Bradshaw turned in a stellar performance in a playoff game against Baltimore, winning high praise from defensive tackle Joe Greene, who said Bradshaw "finally destroyed all that crap that was written about him." In June 1976 Bradshaw married the ice skater JoJo Starbuck.

Bradshaw led the Steelers to Super Bowl victory after the 1978 season, defeating the Cowboys once again (35–31) in football's annual championship game. As well as he was doing on the field, Bradshaw's personal life was gloomy by contrast. His second marriage failed, largely because of career and cultural conflicts. However, his personal problems failed to dampen his playing abilities, for he managed to return to the Super Bowl in January 1980, leading the Steelers to a 31–19 win over the Los Angeles Rams. He continued to play for the Steelers through the 1983 season. Three times in his career––in 1976, 1979, and 1980––Bradshaw was selected to play in the NFL's Pro Bowl.

Bradshaw launched a new career in 1984 when he joined CBS Sports as an NFL game analyst, a job in which he continued until 1990, when he was named studio analyst on CBS Sports The NFL Today. He moved to the Fox network in 1994 and continues as studio analyst on Fox NFL Sunday. Bradshaw lives with his third wife Charla and their two daughters on his ranch in Westlake, Texas. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989.

Probably one of America's most recognizable former sports stars, Bradshaw's popularity has spread well beyond the realm of professional football. Thanks to his appearance in scores of commercials, he has become known to millions of Americans. And, thankfully, not even Bradshaw's spirited portrayal of the country-boy buffoon in his commercials in any way diminishes the enormity of his contribution to the game of football.

Books by Bradshaw that provide biographical information include No Easy Game (1973), written with Charles Paul Conn; Terry Bradshaw: Man of Steel (1979), written with David Diles; and Looking Deep (1989), written with Buddy Martin; and It's Only a Game (2001), with David Fisher. Bradshaw also supplied the foreword to Pro Football ' s Ten Greatest Games (1981). Other books that cover aspects of Bradshaw's life and career include Murray Chass, Power Football (1973); Bill Gutman, Football Superstars of the 70s (1975); Jim Benagh, Terry Bradshaw: Superarm of Pro Football (1976); and Bob Rubin, All-Stars of the NFL (1976).

Don Amerman

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