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Dapper Dan Dinner: One-way feud finally ends as Bradshaw shows appreciation, love for Noll

Sunday, February 09, 2003

By Ed Bouchette, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Terry Bradshaw will sit on the dais for the Dapper Dan Dinner tonight. They should give him a couch instead because he plans to pour out his long-repressed feelings about a coach he has criticized for nearly two decades.

(Illustrated by Daniel Marsula, Post-Gazette)

Dapper Dan Dinner
6 p.m. Today
Pittsburgh Hilton and Towers

He was wrong, Bradshaw admits, and he'll stand up tonight before hundreds at the Pittsburgh Hilton and Towers and proclaim it: Chuck Noll was the greatest thing to happen to him since his parents.

"I miss my head coach," said Bradshaw. "I'd love to be in contact with him. He's just a great guy. He taught me the game of football, and it's just stupid the way things went along."

Noll will present Bradshaw tonight for induction into the Pittsburgh Sports Hall of Fame. The reunion of the two Pro Football Hall of Famers stirred so much interest that the Dapper Dan added a luncheon tomorrow for the two because the dinner tonight was sold out long ago.

Bradshaw hopes to end, once and for all, the bitterness he expressed about Noll over the past 20 years because of what he now says was misinterpretation of his coach's treatment of him at times.

"He's a good man; we all grow up," Bradshaw said. "The picture becomes clear when you retire. Chuck's plan for me, the way he coached me and treated me, it was tough love. I didn't understand it, but I understand it now and I appreciate it.

"We probably can all say things now we wouldn't dare say before: I love him and care for him."

In his books and interviews through the years since his playing days ended, Bradshaw criticized Noll's style of coaching him, for not patting him on the back and nurturing him during his playing days, and for ignoring him when he hurt his elbow in 1983. The injury forced his retirement.

"He did it right," Bradshaw said. "I may not have agreed with it, but a lot of people say quarterbacks and their coaches don't get along. I got along with him. I was afraid of him, which I guess is good. And I wanted to please him. I was not as secure about myself as you would have thought. I think I was trying to please him, trying for him to be happy with me. And he was, as long as I was obedient and good. It's like with your parents: When I was bad, I got punished. Same as Chuck."

Bradshaw let out a laugh as hearty as a 10-10-220 commercial. Tonight -- with his parents Novis and Bill present -- will cap an emotional turnaround for Bradshaw that began when he attended teammate Mike Webster's funeral here last fall. The Steelers honored him at halftime of a Monday night game Oct. 21, the first time he had stepped on a football field here in public since his playing days ended.

He told an excited crowd at halftime at Heinz Field that he was the Prodigal Son returning to his football home, and tonight he gets to end a two-decade, one-way feud with his football father.

"It's kind of like the final piece to the chapter," Bradshaw said. "I want to try to silence everything, show everybody that everything is fine with Chuck and me, as it should be and as it has been. It just backs up what I said. Hey, look, I screwed up."

Noll never responded to Bradshaw's criticisms through the years and readily agreed to present him for induction tonight.

"There was no reason to respond," said Noll, who often advised his players to prepare themselves for life after football. "You don't get into those kinds of contests. Life goes on. He's in something he obviously loves to do, he's having fun and enjoying it."

Bradshaw has become a successful football broadcaster with Fox television network, as an ad pitch-man, as a motivational speaker and is a budding NASCAR owner (Kerry Earnhardt drives the No. 12 car for Bradshaw Racing next Saturday at the Busch race in Daytona).

He finally let go of the lingering bitterness that developed after he suffered the elbow injury that ended his career at age 35. The injury occurred in a playoff loss against San Diego Jan. 9, 1983, his last game in Pittsburgh. The Steelers did not realize how serious it was, or they might have drafted Dan Marino that year when they had the chance.

Bradsahw's injury kept him from playing all the 1983 season except for one game against the Jets in New York. It was the second-to-last game of the season, and the Steelers needed a victory to make the playoffs.

Noll started Bradshaw. He threw two touchdown passes and walked off the field clutching his right elbow in pain. The Steelers won, but Bradshaw never played again.

Chuck Noll and Terry Bradshaw had a stormy relationship -- and Bradshaw blames himself. But times have changed, and so has Bradshaw, who plans to publicly express his fondness for Noll tonight at the Dapper Dan festivities. "I'll just straighten it all out once again in front of everybody, let him know how much I love him and care for him and how sorry I am that I caused such a ruckus," Bradshaw said. (Post-Gazette photo)

"The ligaments ripped; that was it," Bradshaw said.

It ended a season-long frustration of sitting and watching his teammates play.

"I didn't take kindly to being an outsider. It was probably the insecurity on my part. Insecurity sets in. I was not realizing that Chuck had to coach his football team, go on and win and I was going to be out all year. I was working out all hours of the night, at high school gyms, trying every type of gadget from a myna bird to electro-stimulate machine. It drove me crazy. I couldn't handle it. The press was constantly asking Chuck, 'When's Terry coming back?' I'm sure Chuck got tired of hearing it. 'Terry's not here.' I said, fine, win without me.

"It was all part of my immaturity. I don't like admitting it, but it's a fact. I should have been encouraging everybody instead of feeling sorry for myself."

Just as he did last October with Steelers fans, Bradshaw hopes to repair his relationship with Noll, who acts almost oblivious to any problems between them.

Asked if he looked forward to reuniting with Bradshaw, Noll said, "It's always fun to get together with the guys."

Why now for Bradshaw?

"Better now than never, when everybody's dead and gone," Bradshaw said.

He wasn't quite sure what he will say tonight, just that it will be heartfelt.

"It'll all be good. I'll just straighten it all out once again in front of everybody, let him know how much I love him and care for him and how sorry I am that I caused such a ruckus. I'll make sure that everybody knows I'm sincere, let them know there's no hidden agenda.

"I want a relationship with him. I want him to know how great he was to me and how much I appreciate it. I might even break down and cry."

Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3878.

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