Far from being villainous, he is steeped in the traditional American virtues. He grew up on a small, hilly farm, the only child of Foy and Evilla Bradshaw. "My mother is 5 feet 11," Charlie says, "and she could plow better than anyone I've ever seen. She'd take a lunch into the field and plow from daylight to dark. I was taught that when you do something do it right. And I was taught to be truthful and honest. If I ever got caught in a lie I got my rear end whipped."
Determined to play high school football even though practice would cause him to miss the school bus, Charlie hitchhiked five miles every day from Center, the seat of Shelby County, and then walked five more miles down a lonely dirt road, arriving home hungry about 9 p.m. Foy Bradshaw decided his son was silly to go to such lengths to participate in a fool's pastime, so he yanked him off the team. Only when the coach promised to get Charlie a ride home did Foy relent, thereby launching his son on the road to ignominy.
Playing end for the Center High Roughriders, Charlie and a promising halfback from town—a skinny kid named Del Shofner—led the team to the state playoffs in their senior year and then pressed on to Baylor University at Waco, Texas.
George Sauer, the Baylor coach, immediately made Charlie a tackle. "It was a nightmare at first," says Charlie. "I was long and skinny, as tall as I am now but only 200 pounds or so, and, particularly when I was on defense, people would fold me up like an accordion." But the family virtue—a love of hard work—carried the day at Baylor, just as it would in 1958 in the Los Angeles Rams' training camp, where Coach Sid Gillman was so impressed by Charlie's hustle that he decided to carry an extra tackle. Charlie's love of hard work helped, too, when he labored through four off-seasons for a degree in law. In 1965 he passed the Texas bar examination with a grade of 86—the highest in his class at Baylor and only three points less than the highest in the state.
Thus far the Charlie Bradshaw saga reveals absolutely no motive behind the vituperation that burns Charlie's large ears in Pittsburgh. Superstitious Buddy Parker, unaware that Charlie had been born on Friday the 13th, brought him to the Steelers in exhange for a high draft choice in 1961 and found him a coach's delight. Except for two games that Charlie missed because of a shoulder separation, he has played every game, injured or not. Quick enough to be a quarter-miler in high school, shrewd at anticipating an enemy's move, Charlie made the Eastern Conference's Pro Bowl squad in both 1963 and 1964, whereupon the following year he discovered that Pittsburghers are apt to look upon Steelers the way the Son of the Sheik looked upon women: today's plum is tomorrow's prune.
The day the booing started Charlie was shocked and stunned. "Why me?" he asked himself. He could not have loused up a season that had not yet begun. He had not beaten his wife in front of the U.S. Steel Building. Indeed, why him?
The answer begins in the NFL record book. There it says that in none of the 33 years that the Steelers have drawn breath on this earth have they won a championship, or even a division title. It is said that records are made to be broken, but this one looks like a cinch bet to live on through eternity, and it is certainly an item that has frayed Pitts-burgher nerves. Snapped them, in fact.
Frustrated to the breaking point, Steeler fans needed a scapegoat, a man upon whom they could rain epithets until they got the venom out of their systems. The quarterback was a logical choice, so for a while, in the early '50s, the scapegoat was Jim Finks ("Finks stinks!") and then, as the '50s turned into the '60s, it was Bobby Layne. As Charlie Bradshaw himself recalls, "My second year with the club we were doing pretty well. Layne was having a good year, and we were on our way to finishing second. One Sunday we were playing the Redskins and Bobby started to throw a screen, but just as he turned the ball loose he got clobbered. He was knocked cold. As we carried him off the field on a stretcher the fans booed him. Right there I said to myself, 'This has to be the toughest group of fans in the country.' "
Club Owner Art Rooney and Bradshaw himself readily acknowledge that the Pittsburgh fan has a case. They appreciate that last year's attendance—an average of 32,605 per game—demonstrated public perseverance in the face of utter hopelessness. The fans had hung in there booing and heaping their scorn in 1964 upon Layne's successor at quarterback, Ed Brown. But last year a new coach, Mike Nixon, decided to open the season with another quarterback, 24-year-old Billy Nelsen, who had ridden the bench for two years. Callow and untried, Nelsen did not strike the fans as a target worthy of their efforts. Who, then, would they boo?
Aha, here was Charlie Bradshaw, bigger than life, a giant who could not hide, an oak tree in a line that resembled a row of beer kegs. Furthermore, every man who in his lifetime had been served a process or plunged into legal morass would be delighted to boo a lawyer. But here was the principal motive: a Steeler you could not wipe out of sight. You had to hate him.