As an athlete you expect to be booed, but the last place I ever thought people would boo me was in my hometown, Shreveport. I was home during the 1979 off-season, and I was going to join Larry Gatlin onstage to sing Your Cheatin' Heart in front of 8,000 people. (I had a country-music thing going in those days.) The second the crowd saw me, they let me have it. It hurt, but looking back now, I understand. They weren't really booing me, they were booing the team I represented. Just weeks before, my Pittsburgh Steelers had beaten Shreveport's favorite team, the Dallas Cowboys, 35-31 in Super Bowl XIII.
When most people think of Louisiana, they think of bayou and Cajun country. But Shreveport, which is in the northwestern part of the state, is different. It has rolling hills and pine trees and lots of lakes. It has more in common with Texas, which is only 10 miles away. In fact, I grew up a big Cowboys fan. When New Orleans got its team in 1967, I rooted for it too, but even today Shreveport is more about the Cowboys than about the Saints.
I was lucky to grow up in a place like Shreveport. I loved it because I spent so much time surrounded by my family. My pawpaw on my mother's side had a watermelon farm in Hall Summit, about 25 miles away, and my two brothers and I went there almost every weekend. We'd spend all day playing with our cousins—my mother had four siblings, and all their kids would be there too. We'd climb trees, play hide-and-seek in our underwear and sometimes play baseball in the pasture. You know how that works: cow chips for the bases, and be real careful sliding into home.
In Louisiana, as in much of America, football is king, and the game was my true love. I would get a new football every year, and I'd toss it around with friends until the sun went down. I played for Woodlawn High and was part of its great string of quarterbacks. Ahead of me was the best quarterback I ever played with, Trey Prather. He played at LSU for a year before joining the Marines; sadly, he was killed in Vietnam. Behind me were Joe Ferguson (who would play for the Buffalo Bills) and Johnny Booty (who would be all-state and whose sons Josh and John David would also excel at the position). I don't know why we had so many great quarterbacks; we just did.
I played college ball at Louisiana Tech. I had initially agreed to play at LSU but had second thoughts and tanked my entrance exam. Even though Tech was smaller, it was only 70 miles from Shreveport, in Ruston, and I wanted to stay close to home. From Louisiana Tech, I was drafted to play for Pittsburgh, where my favorite wins were against the team I rooted for growing up, the Cowboys. One reason those wins were so satisfying, of course, is that they came in Super Bowls. But those wins also meant that my family could walk down the street proudly, without having to take any sass from all those Cowboys fans.
When I retired from football, I never really thought about living anywhere but back in the country. At first I made my home near Shreveport, but now I'm a few hours away in Fort Worth, Texas, where I can be with my teenage daughters. I have a farm there and another in Oklahoma where I raise quarterhorses. Even though I have to be in Los Angeles or on location 22 weekends a year for the Fox pregame show, I fly home every week, between shows. I love being outside among my horses, especially in Oklahoma, where it's so quiet, so isolated. I can walk with my dogs and listen to the panthers and cougars and bobcats. I'm still a homebody, and I love the South. Of course it's changed a lot since I grew up.
Here's one sign of change. I was booed at that Gatlin concert back then, but this summer the state of Louisiana renamed a stretch of road in Shreveport the Terry Bradshaw Passway How cool is that? Although even without my name on the highway, I'd know the way home.