Ron Cook: Who is the real Terry Bradshaw?
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Ron Cook: Who is the real Terry Bradshaw?

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Terry Bradshaw made national news last week during an interview on 93.7 The Fan when he hit Tom Brady harder than any linebacker. He said Brady wasn't the greatest quarterback of all time and rattled off four quarterbacks who were just as good, if not better, including Dan Fouts. He even ridiculed Brady by saying he is "a little bit tired of all this soap opera stuff that's going on between him and (Bill) Belichick. Golly, geez Louise, get this over with."

Just about every sports outlet picked up Bradshaw's comments.

Even TMZ ran with them.

But what Bradshaw had to say about Pittsburgh was much more interesting. He talked about Ben Roethlisberger. He talked about Mike Tomlin. He talked about Chuck Noll. He talked about his relationship with the city.

The 25-minute interview confirmed three things I long have believed about Bradshaw:

One, he can be charming with an incredible ability to entertain.

Two, he is a brilliant man who has a built a fortune that's worth an estimated $25 million.

And three, he is the biggest phony I have known in Pittsburgh sports.

That third part goes all the way back to when I covered Bradshaw with the Steelers. He would tell you what he thought you wanted to hear and would tell the next guy something completely different. It was impossible to know when to believe him.

Bradshaw said Roethlisberger is the best quarterback in Steelers history even though he has two more Super Bowl rings than Roethlisberger. "I absolutely have no problem with that. He deserves it," Bradshaw said.

Sorry, I don't believe that's what Bradshaw really thinks. It sounded good - humble - to say it, so he said it. His people reached out for him to do the interview so he could pump his new Terry Bradshaw Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Of course, he wanted to come across as a good guy. He even pointed out he is a "good guy" later in the interview.

Bradshaw ripped Brady for wanting to leave Belichick and said he never wanted to leave the Steelers to get away from Noll. "I damn sure didn't always like (his relationship with Noll), but I respected him and I knew if I listened to him and learned from him and followed his direction that we would win. That's all I cared about."

I might believe that if Bradshaw hadn't spent years and years bashing Noll for no good reason. Noll was tough on him, sure. But Bradshaw was immature and needed that tough love. Noll played a huge role in Bradshaw becoming a Hall of Famer. And after they parted, Noll always was the bigger man. He never responded to Bradshaw's hate. He never said a bad word back.

"I had problems with Chuck Noll," Bradshaw said in the interview. "Not that I couldn't work with him. Maybe I was a little like Tom Brady wanting Bill Belichick to say, 'Oh, my God, how am I going to live without him? He's the best I've ever seen.' Maybe I wanted (Noll) to kissy up to me and stroke my ego. I'm sure I did."

Bradshaw was asked by Joe Starkey about Mike Tomlin, whom Bradshaw has mocked for being "a cheerleader." He acknowledged Tomlin did his best work last season after losing Roethlisberger to a major elbow injury in the second game but added, "You have to understand I was coached by a no-nonsense coach. I see the chest-bumping and all that (with Tomlin). Can you imagine me going over after a touchdown pass and me and Chuck chest-bumping? I did not like a lot of that from Tomlin. I want my head coach to be my head coach."

Maybe I'm missing something. Bradshaw didn't like playing for Noll because Noll didn't kiss his behind and tell him how great he was. And he wouldn't like playing for the more emotional, publicly supportive Tomlin?

Tomlin was stung by Bradshaw's "cheerleader" comment and fired back. "Terms like 'cheerleader guy,' to me, maybe fall outside the bounds of critique or criticism," he said late in the 2016 season. "They fall probably more into the area of disrespect and unprofessional. But what do I know? I grew up a Dallas fan, particularly a Hollywood Henderson fan."

That was a blistering reference to Henderson saying before the Cowboys played the Steelers in Super Bowl XIII after the 1978 season that Bradshaw "couldn't spell cat if you spotted him the c and the a."

Of all people, Bradshaw should be able to understand Tomlin's anger and why Tomlin refused to return two of his telephone calls.

Bradshaw said it ate him up to be labeled as dumb during his playing days. "It (ticked) me off. I had to live with it, but I damn sure wasn't happy about it. I had to play up to it and make fun of it. But I was a serious football player. Very serious."

Now, I'm buying all of that.

Bradshaw is no dummy. He was smart enough to take his country bumpkin image and turn it into millions. It's hard not to like him when he is at his amusing best. He even referenced being dumb during his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech in 1989: "Why did I go to a small school like Louisiana Tech? Let's get it out on the record. I failed the ACT test. I was strong and white and dumb."

It was during that same Hall of Fame speech that Bradshaw was at his insincere worst. He looked skyward and pointed to the heavens to Art Rooney Sr., who had died the previous August, saying, "I know you're watching Art. I loved you. Thank you."

Bradshaw didn't attend Rooney's funeral. He didn't attend Noll's funeral in June 2014 even though he was in town performing in his one-man show at the time. He didn't attend Dan Rooney's funeral in April 2017.

"I just don't go to funerals, period," Bradshaw said when I asked him about it last week. "I handled it the way I wanted to handle it. You may not like or appreciate it and I'm sure someone with a lot more class than I have would have been there. That doesn't mean I didn't love or care for Mr. Rooney. Dan Rooney, I didn't know that well. I worked for Chuck for all those years, but I wasn't close to Chuck.

"I don't know why people are so hard on me. Maybe they need to look at themselves and stop worrying about judging me. I'm a good guy. I'm not a bad person at all. I live my life the way I want to live it. If you have a problem with it, I'm sorry. I don't have a problem with it at all."

Bradshaw's answer left me cold, but maybe that's just me.

Bradshaw is 71 and appears to be in a good spot in his life. He lives with his wife, Tammy, on their ranch in Oklahoma. Before ending the interview to go host a virtual happy hour to peddle his bourbon, he said this of Pittsburgh:

"I never had a problem with Pittsburgh. Everybody thought I had a problem. I just wasn't in love with Pittsburgh. I am a Southern boy. I was always going to leave."

That's not exactly what Bradshaw said when he returned for the first time to be honored before a Steelers game in 2002, 19 years after he retired and started his self-imposed exile. "I was booed off the field (as a player)," he said that night. "I never forgot about that. I got hurt. I had to grow up."

The applause at Heinz Field was thunderous when Bradshaw walked to midfield for the coin toss with his daughters, Rachel and Erin. Chants of "Ter-ry! Ter-ry!" reverberated throughout the North Shore.

It will be that way again if Bradshaw ever comes back.

Steelers fans never will forget Bradshaw's contributions to, arguably, the greatest dynasty in NFL history.

Character flaws?

What character flaws?

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