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A less-bitter Bradshaw makes memories of his greatness sweeter

Sunday, July 16, 2000

A few years back, I decided to stop listening to oldies on the radio. I still liked the tunes and the fond memories they engendered, but it was like living in the past. It wasn't all that hard a habit to kick -- easier than quitting smoking I can tell you. Sometimes you have to resist the temptation to fall back into that which is safe and comfortable.

 
 

Stan Savran is the co-host of SportsBeat on Fox Sports Pittsburgh.

   
 

I fell off the wagon Monday. Couldn't help it. Didn't even mind it. Terry Bradshaw was back in town. And Bradshaw just by being Bradshaw, evokes images and a reverie that once was, but is no more. Just like a favorite oldie.

For most, there was no "worst of times" in the '70s Steelers saga. But there is a dark side for Terry Bradshaw. His estrangement from Pittsburgh is a tangled web. A rift with Chuck Noll? Fans cheering when he was injured? Being called dumb? A sincere belief that the city dislikes him intensely, when, in fact, the exact opposite is true?

But it wasn't until Monday, during my half-hour interview with him, that he revealed the source of his simmering anger. It is the Steelers' organization, or the organization as it was structured at that time, against which he harbors resentment.

You see, Bradshaw retired prematurely. People forget it was a shredded ligament in his throwing elbow that chased him out of the pocket and into retirement. He was only 35 years old, and he believed, as did the Steelers, that he had three, perhaps four more productive years left in him. But his elbow was injured, and in the off-season, he had it surgically repaired.

Only he didn't inform the Steelers that he was having the procedure performed. In addition, team doctors didn't believe surgery was necessary. So the two were at loggerheads.

Bradshaw wasn't convinced the team's doctors had his best interests at heart, wondering if perhaps their loyalties were split. He contends they wanted to shoot him up so he could play. But with the injections of the "juice", as it's called, he wouldn't feel the pain, thus unable to know how much damage was being caused. And thinking back, I remember him telling me that at that time. But it was off the record, not to be repeated and certainly not to be reported.

Many don't remember that Bradshaw's first game of the 1983 season was also his last. The elbow injury had kept him out, opening the door for Cliff Stoudt.

And the Steelers started out 9-2, even though it was largely because of the play of the defense. But then their lack of offense caught up to them.

They lost three in a row, including a 45-3 Thanksgiving Day pasting in Detroit, and there was only one man who could fix what was so obviously broken.

From Bradshaw's perspective, 17 years later, he still resents the subtle challenges from the organization, which he believes were designed to coerce him to play while he was physically incapable.

"You won't play hurt? You're letting your teammates down!" That may not have been what the Steelers were implying, but it was indeed what Bradshaw inferred. And so he took the bait, even though his elbow was still on the mend.

Bradshaw played against the Jets that December Saturday at Shea Stadium. For the last time. Remarkably, he threw two touchdown passes, one to Gregg Garrity (which actually snapped the elbow ligament), the last to Calvin Sweeney. It was the last pass of any kind he would ever throw. He thought there were hundreds of passes left in that arm, if only he had been allowed to heal. Now and still, he blames the Steelers for those not thrown.

I didn't know that until last Monday. Being more insightful, and showing a maturity that has only recently begun to tinge his amazing personality, he realizes that maybe it's time to let all of that go. That he is responsible for perpetuating the ill feelings.

While TV commitments prevented him from attending last year's ceremony celebrating the first Super Bowl team, and this year's final game in Three Rivers Stadium, he says he would love to participate in the first game at the new stadium. Good.

It is time to let it go. Too many good memories to savor. This is one oldie we should all enjoy.

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