Terry Bradshaw: Football, Fame, and Faith

By Steve Beard

March/April 2006

When I was growing up, I was infatuated with two quarterbacks. One was the long-haired Kenny “The Snake” Stabler of the Oakland Raiders and the other was Terry Bradshaw of the Pittsburgh Steelers-the first quarterback in NFL history to lead his team to four Super Bowl championships.

Ever since he was chosen as a #1 draft pick player in 1970, Bradshaw has entertained sports fans as an athlete, broadcaster, and analyst. He led the Pittsburgh Steelers to six AFC championship games and eight straight playoff appearances from 1972-1979. Bradshaw, a two-time Super Bowl MVP, a four-time All-Pro, was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

I watch Bradshaw every Sunday afternoon as the co-host and analyst on “Fox NFL Sunday,” a four-time Emmy Award-winning NFL pregame show. His work on the program earned him two Sports Emmy Awards.

Since his retirement from football, Bradshaw has dabbled in show business, appearing both in feature films and television shows. He was the first NFL player to receive a Star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Currently, he is starring opposite of Kathy Bates as Matthew McConaughey’s father in Failure to Launch, a Paramount film to be released on March 10.

Multitalented, Bradshaw has recorded four albums, two of which were gospel records nominated for Dove Awards (one of them with the legendary Jake Hess). He is an exceedingly popular motivational speaker and author of five books. I remember my parents giving me No Easy Game (1973) to read when I was just a kid. He was a great inspiration to me.

Four days before the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game to earn the right to play in Super Bowl XL, I was able to catch up with Terry Bradshaw and ask him about three subjects he knows quite a bit about: fame, faith, and football.

-Steve Beard

In your role in Failure to Launch, you are definitely playing against character: Al is low-key, laid-back. Was that fun? Was it odd?

Terry Bradshaw: The director, Tom Day, said, “I don’t want you big, I want you little. Don’t take it over the top and I’ll keep you down.” And I said, “Not a problem.” Now, acting was difficult. I think it’s been about 30 years. But I found it kind of interesting to do something that was low-key.

Is acting something you want to pursue?

No. I took this role only because they pursued me. I’m just kinda there. Kathy carries all the scenes. And to work with an Oscar winner and Bradley Cooper, Matthew McConaughey, Justin Bartha, Kathryn Winnick, Sarah Jessica Parker, and the other cast members who are really brilliant actors, it was nice that my role was a low-key role and I could just sit back and watch these people do their magic. And I walked away with a great respect for actors, which, you know, we all see on television and say, “I could do that.” But, take a plain piece of paper and take some dialogue and have someone tell you, “Here’s what they’re like,” and go deliver it. It is not easy. So, I walked away with a great thrill.

Isn’t that a lot like watching football? We all sit at home and analyze a play, thinking it is so easy to make.

Sure, because if someone will deliver a line on television, you could sit at home and deliver it too. And that’s easy. But once again I go back: Take a blank piece of paper with no pictures and no music and take two paragraphs of dialogue and set a scene for it and do it without any coaching or anything, and that’s not easy to do. These people, in college, they studied production. Many of them went to playhouses. You know, they earned their way up through the ranks. And so, in a way, you feel like you’re invading a sanctuary and you’re not qualified to be there. And you have to get past that. And that’s very difficult because I’m a big man. And actors for the most part are not. And I did not want to embarrass myself. I did the scenes, but I didn’t see any of the dailies or any of the takes. I can only go by what the director told me and what the producers have told me. But I have not seen it and so I do not know how I did.

It is not a secret that you are a Baptist. What is the most difficult thing about maintaining your faith in the spotlight?

Everybody’s Baptist here in the South except those who’ve been messed with. [Laughter.]

Here’s the first thing I always do at the end of the day: “Lord, forgive me, please.” A lot of forgiveness. There’s a lot of temptation. Not so much a woman-thing or a booze-thing, but just being-a-man-thing. You’re in the groups and you’re telling jokes and they’re laughin’ and gettin’ crazy. And then at the end of the day you pound your head and go, “Nice. Way to go, Terry. That’s just beautiful. Really, you’re really doin’ work for the Lord.”

It beats me up, everyday, Steve. I wish I were Billy Graham, but I’m not. I struggle. I fight. I go nuts. And the only time I’m really a good Christian is when football season is over and I’m able to get back in church around all my Christian family. And then I feel like I’ve been purified. But often I’ve said, “I’m just scum of the earth.” And I get so tired of being this weakling. I’m not a good example.

In your book Keep It Simple, you actually had your Christian therapist give us a sketch of your personality. Would you explain what he was able to do for you in relationship to your Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and depression?

Sure. Absolutely. I’ve said this a thousand times: “Everybody ought to have an analyst. Everybody.” And, you know, I still talk to my therapist, or whatever you want to call it. Still talk to him, still share things with him. Also, my preacher has become one of my best friends, and he helps me get past the guilt. Yeah, he’s a good friend of mine. And the church prays for me before I go off because they know I’m walking into that den of iniquity. It’s a struggle, man. I start off good. Then I get bad. Then I rebound, then I get worse. It just drives me up the wall. I oftentimes just go, “You know, some Christian you are.” And so many times I’ve ended the season and said, “I’m not going back. I’m not going to do this anymore. I’m sick and tired.”

I live on a ranch, and at nights I can see the stars and I’m just amazed that God loves me as much as he does when I’m such a pitiful example.

You have spoken about your reluctance to call yourself a Christian because you don’t want to be a bad example for the faith. Is that still what you believe?

It’s not something I dwell on. I don’t beat myself up anymore. One of the things I’ve done since I got saved and gone to therapy is not necessarily make excuses for myself anymore. My preacher’s helped me tremendously. I know God loves me. I know he forgives me. I know he’s upset with me and disappointed in me. But I don’t let my sin separate me from him like I used to. I don’t let that happen anymore. I’m not a good example, but I try to be.

I preached for the first time last year.

You did?

Yes, sir. In my speeches that I give I’m always making references to my faith. So I have slowly come out of that protective shell. I know how Christians are. We’re the worst people in the world. I understand why so many people say, “Why would I want what you’ve got. I’ve got the same thing. And look at you. You’re just as bad as I am.”

Is it different for those in the public eye?

That is a real struggle for people, not only in the public eye, but people that are not-it’s no different. It’s a struggle. And God knows it’s a struggle. I wish I could’ve walked with Jesus. Would I have been a Doubting Thomas? They saw the miracles performed. They saw him on the cross. They saw him gone from the tomb. And yet, they still had some doubts. If they had doubts and they saw it, you know, thousands of years later here we are. God says to us that we can get to heaven by accepting Christ by faith.

It’s so simple to get saved. It’s so simple, yet we look at the complexities of God and the wonders that he created and ask ourselves these questions, “How long did it take? How did he do it? Where did it come from?” So, as complex as it is to understand that-and he told us we’re not going to understand it-God made it a thousand times easier to become part of his family just by a simple profession of faith.

What goes through your head when you see someone wearing a black and gold #12 jersey?

That’s pretty cool.

You are definitely not someone who glories in past accomplishments-as dramatic as they are. For example, you do not live in Pittsburgh. Do the glory days of the 1970s Steelers bring back good memories of a really great chapter of your life?

They do. And you’re right about one thing. I don’t dwell on yesterday. I’m living for today and planning for tomorrow. And that’s how I have always lived my life. I don’t live in the past. I don’t talk about my football accomplishments. I don’t do any of those things. To me, it just stirs up the past. And the past serves me no good. While I’m proud of it and realize how hard I worked to get there, it’s over. It’s over for me and I move on. But when I see that #12 jersey, like when I went back to Pittsburgh and saw my jersey was still being sold with my name on it, it does make you feel good.

Speaking of fame, where will you spend eternity?

Oh, I’m gonna be in heaven singin’ praises and walkin’ with Jesus and talkin’ with God and seeing the angels and being with my grandfather and my grandmother and all those that I love and my family that’s going to join me. Man, it’s going to be a celebration for eternity. That’s where I’m going to be. And I’m in no hurry to get there. But when I die, that’s where I’ll be.

Will there be country music in heaven?

There’ll be country music, and they’ll all sing on key.

Steve Beard is the creator of Thunderstruck. This interview appeared in the March/April 2006 issue of Good News. 

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