As Chuck Noll, the Grand Guru of the Pittsburgh Steelers, no doubt figured it, the sudden maturation last January of Terry Bradshaw from Mr. Teen-Age America to Super Bowl quarterback should have given him enough inner peace to survive the next few million huddles. After all, once Bradshaw finished dissecting the Minnesota Vikings in the Super Bowl, people immediately stopped pestering Noll with the one question that always made him display his coldest Ronald Ziegler glare: "Uh, Coach, who's your No. 1 quarterback today? Bradshaw, Joe Gilliam or Terry Hanratty?" Better still, the Pittsburgh press did not conduct any more straw polls on the subject, and all the Rolling Rockers over at Chiodo's Tavern quit clamoring for the reincarnation of Bobby Layne. They could still call Bradshaw a dummy, but in Noll's peaceful mind Bradshaw was officially Pittsburgh's No. 1 quarterback. At least until he threw his first interception.
"The way I read the situation, I can't lose the job during training camp but I could lose it during the regular season," Bradshaw remarked last Friday as the Steelers prepared to open the NFL's preseason schedule against the College All-Stars at Chicago's Soldier Field. Bradshaw was sinewy trim, having just lost 24 pounds after a diet that excluded "all the greasy stuff we love in the South," and his rapid verbiage was a monologue dripping with confidence that bordered on cockiness. "I hate to sound selfish," Bradshaw intoned, "but it was me against the world in that Super Bowl. I had a lot of things to fight. Being a sensitive individual, I worried before the game—and during it, too—that I didn't have the respect of the coach. I had reason to worry. Now, to be honest, I know that I have won his respect."
He paused, then shook his head. "What bothered me most down in New Orleans was that everyone kept insinuating that I was brainless, a dumb quarterback. Why, you won't believe it, but people even asked me what kind of grades I got in English. Listen, anyone who knows football knows that Terry Bradshaw has a damned good brain. After five years in the NFL I feel I can handle any type of defense they throw against me. Of course, maybe people think I do stupid things, like running over tacklers instead of running out of bounds. Everyone knows it's stupid for quarterbacks to risk getting hurt. Well, let me tell those people something. Football is changing, and it's changing because of people like me. The day of the quarterback who falls down and curls himself around the football is over. Gone are the days when you have a quarterback with a flabby belly who can't throw the ball 20 yards but is always screaming at his offensive line. It's a whole new game now."
Maybe it is, but the trim, confident Bradshaw of 1975 flat bombed out so badly against Coach John McKay's feisty All-Stars that Pittsburgh's nagging old quarterback question promptly resurfaced, and Noll was left pondering the Xs and Os of Transcendental Meditation in search of new inner peace. To be exact, Bradshaw's real problem was that a lot of the All-Stars, particularly Bob Brazille and Mike Fanning and Glenn Cameron and Ralph Ortega and Neil Colzie, played like Mean Joe Greene and L.C. Greenwood and Jack Ham.
Brazille, Jackson State's 6'4", 230-pound contribution to the Houston Oilers' defensive line who insists he does not like ballcarriers "unless I'm on top of them," and Fanning, Notre Dame's 6'6", 250-pound gift to the front four of the Los Angeles Rams, played Ping-Pong with Bradshaw's bones as the college kids embarrassed the Steelers by sacking Bradshaw six times—or four more than Minnesota's Purple People Eaters managed in the Super Bowl. On those rare occasions when Bradshaw did avoid Brazille and Fanning, he barely dented the old Coral Gables defense played by former Florida high school teammates Cameron, Ortega and Colzie.
Besides those six sacks, the Stars so flustered Bradshaw that he even dropped the ball once as he set up to pass. Another time Bradshaw aborted a Pittsburgh drive when he threw a perfect interception to Ortega near the goal line, with no receiver in sight. To his credit, Bradshaw did not blame that interception on the murky ozone that smogged the Chicago air all week or on the 10-watt lights that darken Soldier Field. However, the combination of Bradshaw's bad pass and the big numbers on the scoreboard—All-Stars 14, Steelers 7—stirred Noll's inner peace, and when the Steelers regained the football early in the fourth quarter, he did his best Sparky Anderson act and summoned Joe Gilliam from the bullpen.
Gilliam wasted no time on the college kids. " Bradshaw tried to sophisticate us," Brazille said, "but Gilliam, he just whang it." Working both sides of the field artfully, and getting perfect protection, Joe Willie Gillie turned Noll's inner peace into total turmoil as he moved the Steelers to a pair of quick touchdowns and a 21-14 victory over the Stars in a game that Pittsburgh dominated after the first five minutes.
"Uh, Coach, who's your No. 1 quarterback now?"
Cold stare. Raised eyes. No answer.
"Uh, Joe, who's the Steelers' No. 1 quarterback?"