Ask most former players who were with the Steelers for any length of time and left to go play elsewhere, what their biggest regret is regarding their careers, most will say it was leaving the Steelers. Ask any player who was a career Steeler, or who played most of their career with them until retirement, what they are most greatful for about their careers, a majority will say getting to retire a Pittsburgh Steeler. The thing that all of these players have in common, is the pride they share for the opportunity to wear the Black ‘n’ Gold. They cherish their time with the Rooney’s, their teammates, coaches, and the amazing support of Steelernation. Then there is Terry Bradshaw, the 2x Super Bowl MVP, who has inexplicably put quite a bit of distance between himself and the franchise he led to four Super Bowl titles.
The relationship that Terry Bradshaw has with the Pittsburgh Steelers seems to be one of many contradictions. He has stated many times how much he loved Arthur J. Rooney, and how much the “Chief” always meant to him, yet, when Art died, Bradshaw chose to stay away and not to go to his funeral. Terry says he was never very close to any of his teammates and chose not to stay in touch with any of them when he retired. In the same breath, he says he loves nothing more than when they all get together and relive the memories. When he came back to Pittsburgh a few years ago, to “mend some fences”, he knew the fans still revered him, yet felt the need to bring his daughters with him to help ensure a warmer reception than he was expecting.
From his excuse for not attending Chuck Noll’s funeral, to his recent criticism of Mike Tomlin, one thing is certain about Terry Bradshaw’s relationship with the Steelers, all of the issues rest with Terry himself. Personal Insecurities, a little paranoia, and a grudge against Chuck Noll seem to be at the heart of this whole sad affair. This is where it’s time to separate Terry Bradshaw the player from Terry Bradshaw the man, and find out why the relationship between Chuck Noll and Bradshaw can best be described as cordial at best.
Terry Bradshaw’s problems early in his career are well documented. He wore his emotions on his sleeve, letting his insecurities and imaturity delay his development. When he failed, Terry wanted a pat on the back and encouragement from Noll, but the coach refused to coddle him. Chuck Noll knew that what Bradshaw needed to maximize his immense talent was some mental toughness. Noll’s handling of Bradshaw helped turn him into a Hall of Fame quarterback and a four time Super Bowl champion. Instead of feeling grateful for what Chuck Noll did to help him reach the pinnacle of success, Terry ultimately comes across as bitter.
While Terry Bradshaw may not appreciate the way Chuck Noll went about developing him, that doesn’t explain why he has distanced himself from the Steelers organization the way he has. The reason for that seems to be the events surrounding the elbow injury that led to his retirement. The fallout from the failure of a non-team sanctioned surgery to repair Bradshaw’s elbow seems to have galvanized his bitterness towards the Steelers organization. Former Steelers center Ray Mansfield gave his opinion in a 1989 Baltimore Sun article by Susan Reimer:
“I think Terry felt betrayed and rejected by the Steelers,” said former center Ray Mansfield “He felt like he had really done something for them, and they had turned their backs on him,” said Mansfield. “He ended up walking away bitter.”
Apparently Bradshaw and Noll differed on what was best for Terry’s elbow. Chuck thought rest and rehab was best, while Terry felt surgery was the fastest route back to the field. Either way, Bradshaw retired feeling betrayed and bitter, cutting all ties to the Steelers. Later, while working as an announcer for CBS, Bradshaw refered to Chuck Noll as a jerk, questioning whether the game had passed him by. In 2003, Bradshaw returned to Pittsburgh to attend the annual Dapper Dan banquet where Chuck Noll was to present him with induction into Pittsburgh Sports Hall of Fame. Terry apologized for past actions and professed his love and respect for his former coach.
All seemed well until Bradshaw missed Noll’s funeral, and then was interviewed for the NFL Network’s “A Football Life” documentary on Chuck Noll. This certainly didn’t come across as a ringing endorsement of his feelings or their relationship. It seemed rather contradictory to what happened at the 2003 Dapper Dan banquet. His latest comments, taking veiled shots at current Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, only highlight the vast disconnect that remains between Terry Bradshaw and the Steelers organization. Despite what he seems to think, Bradshaw will always be appreciated by the fans and the organization for the way he played and what he accomplished.
Hopefully one day Terry Bradshaw will truly realize how much he is still appreciated, and shed the bitterness he has been holding onto for the last 32 years. With all he accomplished during his playing career, Bradshaw deserves to allow himself to have a close relationship with the organization that wants to welcome him back. With the statements he has made in the past, along with his most recent ones about Mike Tomlin, Terry risks becoming a caricature of himself to today’s fans. He also runs the risk being remebered as much for his pettiness, and the things he has said, as he is for what he accomplished on the field.