Induction Year: 1988
In his rookie season in the National Football League, Terry Bradshaw threw six touchdown passes and set a league record with 24 interceptions. In his fifth season, 1974, he threw seven touchdown passes and completed only 45.3 percent of his passes. He dropped below 50 percent for the fourth time in five years.
He had suffered through a divorce and a player’s strike, and was benched for half of the season. He lost several teeth, and at the age of 26 he was already losing his hair. He grew a beard. Rumors of the disenchanted Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback jumping to the World Football League were widespread. But it turned out to be the pivotal year in his career, climaxed by the first of his four Super Bowl victories.
The most impressive thing about Terry Paxton Bradshaw wasn’t what he did. It was when he did it.
The first 300-yard passing performance in his NFL career was in the Super Bowl following the 1978 season.
He had four more 300-yard games the following season. One of them was in the Super Bowl.
He’s the best I ever saw, said Steelers president Art Rooney, who always regarded Slingin’ Sammy Baugh as the best quarterback in pro football until Bradshaw came along.
I think he can do anything better than anybody, Rooney said of Bradshaw.
Dan Rooney, who took over the Steelers’ presidency after his father’s death, agreed. Terry Bradshaw was the greatest quarterback that has ever played the game, he said when Bradshaw was voted into the pro football Hall of Fame in 1989.
In May of 1979, Steelers coach Chuck Noll went on record as saying Bradshaw was the best quarterback he had seen in all his years of pro football.
It didn’t happen overnight.
Over a period of eight seasons, from 1963 through 1970, Bradshaw was the only starting quarterback for Shreveport ‘s Woodlawn High School who did NOT win All-State honors. The Knights’ three All-State quarterbacks were Trey Prather, Jo Ferguson and Johnny Booty.
In his senior year, after backing up Prather for two seasons, Bradshaw set a state record with 21 touchdown passes. But All-City, All-District and All-State honors w4ent to Fair Park ‘s John Miller, who broke the state record for passing yardage. Three years later, after Ferguson shattered national high school record in leading Woodlawn to the 1968 state championship, Bradshaw’s only school record in football was for punting the football, not throwing it.
One of his prep records passed the test of time with flying colors. Bradshaw’s first taste of national recognition came in the spring of 1966, when he set the national high school record in the javelin throw with 244feet, 11 inches in the City meet at Bossier High. He was pictured in Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd. With an elbow injury hampering him at the end of the season, Bradshaw took only one throw in the state meetand set a composite record of 329-11 ½ that stood for 16 years. A generation later, his 244-11 is still Louisiana ‘s best regular-season prep performance and his single throw in the state meet has been bettered only once.
After getting limited playing time in his first tow years at Tech (and seriously considering transferring to Florida State), Bradshaw shattered state collegiate passing records in his last two years and became the first small-college player ever picked No. 1 in the national Football League draft.
Before the roller coaster 1974 season, the high-lights of Bradshaw’s football career were a pair of dramatic touchdown passes in the final seconds of play. One was at Shreveport ‘s State Fair Stadium, the other at Pittsburgh ‘s Three Rivers Stadium.
On Oct. 19, 1968, a Louisiana Tech team that had opened its season with an upset victory over Mississippi State was desperately attempting to avoid a sixth consecutive loss in Gulf States Conference play and a third consecutive defeat at the hands of old rival Northwestern State in their State Fair Classic. Bradshaw completed only two of 12 passes in the first half but he led the Bulldogs to more that 400 yards total offense in the second half and the most spectacular finish in the long series’ history. When a penalty against the Demons gave Tech a final opportunity at its 18 yard-line with 13 seconds remaining in the game, Bradshaw threw a pass to former Woodlawn teammate Ken Liberto. Northwestern freshman cornerback Kenny Hrappmen, who had intercepted a similar pass in the first half, leaped to catch the ball, but it went through his hands. Liberto grabbed it without breaking stride and completed an 82-yard touchdown play to give the Bulldogs a 42-39 victory.
That fantastic finish was nothing, however, compared to a nationally televised NFL playoff game on Dec. 23, 1972, that put Pitsburgh in the American Football Conference championship game after 40 years of futility. This time, Bradshaw was facing fourth-and-10 against the Oakland Raiders with 22 seconds to play. Scrambling away from a hard rush, he managed to get off a final bullet pass in the general direction of Frenchy Fuqua a split-second before he was flattened. Fate intervened, the form of Raiders cornerback Jack Tatum. The ball ricocheted off Tatum’s chest backwards 10 yardsinto the hands of Franco Harris, who was going downfield to throw a block. The officials huddled and made a call to the press box before signaling the touchdown.
Bradshaw’s regular-season statistics (27,989 yards passing, 212 touchdown passes) were good enough to get him into the pro football Hall of Fame in 1989, his first year of eligibility. But his most impressive numbers were 3,833 yards passing in 19 post-season games. On THAT list, he was more than 1,000 yards ahead of second-place Roger Staubach.
He was selected Most Valuable Player in the NFL in 1976, and was voted Most Valuable Player in both of his last two Super Bowls. Sports Illustrated made Pittsburgh heroes Bradshaw and Willie Stargell co-winners of its Sportsman of the Yearaward.
I always felt special, Bradshaw said. Nothing I did was special, but inside of me, I always felt different. I wanted to be somebody. I wanted to be good.