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Dapper Dan Dinner: Bradshaw-Noll reconciliation inspires crowd

Monday, February 10, 2003

By Chuck Finder, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

On a night when college basketball grabbed an unprecedented Pittsburgh spotlight by sweeping the top honors as Dapper Dan Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year, the star of the show was none other than Terry Bradshaw.

Well, it wasn't as much a show as it was a Bradshaw pulpit.

A quarterback's confessional.

Chuck Noll and Terry Bradshaw enjoy the moment last night. (Robin Rombach, Post-Gazette)

Bradshaw, the most storied of Steelers quarterbacks, stood last night on a dais in front of 1,700 patrons at the Pittsburgh Hilton and Towers. He spoke for 19 minutes like a Louisiana preacher, mesmerizing the congregation. Most of all, he poured out in the direction of his presenter for his induction into the Dapper Dan Charities Pittsburgh Hall of Fame and his coach through his Hall of Fame career, Chuck Noll.

He apologized profusely.

"If I could reach down in my heart, I would say I'm sorry for every unkind word and thought I ever had. I mean that. I'm ashamed about that. It was ... my wrong, my childness, my selfishness. Having said that, it kind of cleanses me. I miss my coach. I love my coach. I miss Chuck Noll."

With that, Bradshaw received his third standing ovation and threw his right arm -- the throwing arm that helped to lead the Steelers to four Super Bowls and eventually forced him into retirement -- around Noll.

College basketball was the center of the 67th annual banquet, with Pitt Coach Ben Howland being honored as Sportsman of the Year and former University of Connecticut star Swin Cash of McKeesport as Sportswoman of the Year.

Pittsburgh-area basketball hadn't seen such a Dapper Dan focus since 1969, when Duquesne coach Red Manning was the charity's award winner.

Howland, who flew back hastily after Pitt lost at Notre Dame, talked about appreciating the community he adopted when he moved here from Northern Arizona four years ago.

Pitt basketball coach Ben Howland is the Sportsman of the Year.

"It's very humbling to be mentioned in the same presence as the great athletes and coaches who have come here before and accepted this award. But I'm just a representative of this team."

Cash, who helped lead Connecticut to a 39-0 record and a national championship last season, thanked family, friends, coaches, people who supported her throughout her rise.

"Coming up," she said of her youth, "I was a skinny little kid. Bowlegged. I'm still not too big. But my mother always said, as long as you cared what was on the inside, that's all you have to worry about."

Longtime emcee Lanny Frattare, entering his 28th season as the lead broadcaster for the Pirates, also was honored with the Dapper Dan's Lifetime Achievement award.

Yet the main ballroom's air was most charged last night by Bradshaw's moment.

While then-CBS booth partner Verne Lundquist was Bradshaw's presenter at his Hall of Fame ceremony a decade and a half ago, Noll got the chance to introduce him last night. Bradshaw had requested that of Dapper Dan officials.

"Tonight is a real, real pleasure for me," Noll told the crowd. "I was asked to do something I did 30 years ago [after the 1970 draft] --introduce this young man."

"Wow, how cool is this?" Bradshaw began. "I am so glad to be back. It's been way too long. One of the great things about life, as we grow up and mature, we become wiser.

"I'm sure, Coach, I drove you a little bit crazy. You were trying to pass on your brilliance. I just wanted to play. I didn't want to read coverages -- cover-four and stuff. I didn't want to audible. I sure didn't want to run the football. I just wanted to throw it.

Former McKeesport High School basketball star Swin Cash, who went on to play at Connecticut and now in the WNBA, is the Sportswoman of the Year.

"People say we had trouble. I created that. I wasn't as much mad at you, Chuck, as I was mad at me. The problems were never really problems. Coach Noll never let them be problems. They were my problems. Even sitting by him tonight, I'm still trying to please him. I guess that's the little child in me."

Bradshaw added that few knew the entire story, such as the time Noll offered Bradshaw -- amid his second divorce -- the opportunity to live in the coach's house until he got back on his feet.

"This is my home," he said of Pittsburgh. "I'm glad that I'm back. You don't have to ask any more questions."

"No more 'When will Bradshaw come back to town? When will he come back to the Steelers' embrace? When will he make up with Noll?'

"It's dead from this time on."


Chuck Finder can be reached at cfinder@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1724.

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