Yes, he is a smart quarterback, his unfortunate image to the contrary. Although he has been picking NFL defenses to pieces all year, he remains, in the eyes of the ignorant, "dumb." Noll, who is as outwardly emotional as a throw rug, bristles at any suggestion that his quarterback reads defenses remedially. "That's ridiculous," he snaps. "People who say he's dumb should look in the mirror." Bradshaw calls all of his own plays, often brilliantly. Roger Staubach, supposedly a clever quarterback, calls almost none of his. Bradshaw knows his enemies as well as Rommel knew his. When the '49ers foolishly tried to blitz him in November, he deftly threw three touchdown passes. He engineered a masterful 11-play, 80-yard drive against Houston that transformed a bitter defensive struggle into a clear-cut Steeler victory. Bradshaw is nobody's fool.
In his own mind, his weaknesses as a quarterback are emotional, not mental. "I cannot play well unless I'm relaxed," he says, "and sometimes, when I really want to beat someone, I try too hard. I really think, maybe for that reason, I'm a notch below the top quarterbacks. I admire Bob Griese, for one. He has that consistency and poise. By the time I retire I'll probably pick up at least a half-notch." Swann suspects that Bradshaw has not successfully separated his professional life from his personal life. He is having a terrific season now because all is well at home, says Swann. And maybe this is all to the good. "He may be the healthiest of us all," Swann says, "because he is never two people."
Bradshaw is exasperated and hurt by the slurs on his intelligence. "It is a thorn in my side, and it always will be," he says. "I guess every quarterback has an image. Pat Haden is too short. Staubach is too clean. I'm too dumb. Pat could be 6'3" tomorrow and they'd still call him a shorty. I could get a doctorate in chemical engineering and they'd call me dumb. If there is one thing I've learned about an image, it is that you can never get rid of it. I just can't fight it any longer. I have to live with it."
Bradshaw suspects he got his movie role because Reynolds, now a friend, felt guilty about calling him dumb on television. In their fight scene in Hooper, which required Bradshaw to hoist the actor off his feet and snarl insults at him. Bradshaw achieved a measure of revenge by ad-libbing, "Listen here, dummy, aren't you ever going to learn?"
Bradshaw's burly physique, his open face, his Prince Myshkin innocence may all have contributed to persistent misconceptions about his mental agility. Griese, smallish and bespectacled, looks like a quarterback: Bradshaw looks as if he should be rushing one. And yet, says Russell, groping for the right word. 'He is really...uh...well, vulnerable."
Maybe that is because he is more at home on the range. He is assured enough back at the ranch as he walks bowlegged toward his quarter horse, Flying Bolo Bars, soothing the beast with a country song and some sweet nonsense. "My old faithful Bo. Remember our last rodeo? You got second. I got third." He turns to a companion. "I love football now more than I ever did," he said, "but I don't have to have it. There are other things. No one plays forever." He mounts his steed.
"You look right at home up there," he is told.
Bradshaw smiles. "It's a good place to be," he says, galloping off, by heaven, into the sunset.