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I became a fan of the Steelers in 1980. Naturally, being a youngster who didn’t know any better, I assumed Terry Bradshaw would always be their quarterback.
Between 1980-1982, things remained status-quo. But by 1983, circumstances were changing pretty rapidly with regards to Pittsburgh’s famed professional football team. And that included an absent Bradshaw, who had undergone offseason elbow surgery and missed all but one half of one game that year.
The one half that Bradshaw played–in a game against the Jets on December 10–started out quite special, as he threw two touchdown passes in what would be a 34-7 AFC Central Division-clinching victory.
Only problem was, Bradshaw re-aggravated his elbow and didn’t play in the second half, the final regular season game or the playoffs.
But would he retire?
The speculation began as soon as the offseason did, but the Steelers made a proactive move by acquiring David Woodley in a trade with the Dolphins on February 23, 1984.
The uncertainty regarding Bradshaw dragged on through the rest of the spring and a good bit of the summer, until Bradshaw officially announced his retirement at a news conference on July 24, 1984.
“This is a proud moment for me and a sad one,” said Bradshaw in a quote courtesy of The New York Times, who simultaneously announced a deal with CBS to be a color-man on the network’s NFL package.
Speaking of CBS, I can still remember watching its national news anchor–I’m assuming Dan Rather–announcing Bradshaw’s retirement on the nightly newscast. When I saw this, I thought to myself, “Wow, that must be big news for CBS to talk about it.” (Although, in hindsight, it probably had more to do with the network promoting its new employee.)
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When I think back to the summer of ’84, I picture Bradshaw and the many reflective interviews he did with local reporters–including Sam Nover and John Steigerwald. I also recall a press-conference (not sure if it was the one Bradshaw did in New York when he also announced his new CBS deal, or a local presser) where Rocky Bleier, who played with Bradshaw for years before retiring after the ’80 season and getting into local sportscasting, raised his hand and said (in a rather deadpan fashion), “Rocky Bleier, Channel 11 News.”
I’m sure that question and many others over the course of the summer had to do with why Bradshaw retired. But his elbow just wasn’t recovering at the rate it should have been, and even when it was feeling good, he could sense that, “it was just a matter of time before something happened to mess it up again.”
Regarding his budding broadcasting career, Bradshaw, 35, was rather prophetic, when he said in another quote courtesy of The New York Times, “I wouldn’t be surprised if my booth career turns out to be not unlike my football career–I’ll start slow and be good in time.”
Sure enough, after spending many years at CBS, Bradshaw made the transition to Fox in the mid-90s, when the network bought the rights to the NFC package; he’s been there ever since, and now pulls in a seven-figure salary as the star of Fox’s pregame, halftime and post-game studio shows.
But Bradshaw will forever be linked to those ’70s Steelers teams that won four Super Bowls, and he’ll always be regarded by many as the greatest quarterback in franchise history.
Picture a 12-year old watching Peyton Manning announce his retirement earlier this year and how that must have resonated–that was me 32 years ago.
Speaking of those four Super Bowls, and speaking of being prophetic, at the same press-conference that’s been quoted throughout this article, Bradshaw said, “I don’t think there will ever be another team to win four Super Bowls in six years–you can etch it in stone.”