PHILADELPHIA — PHILADELPHIA -- Terry Bradshaw was in town the other night to pick up the Bert Bell Award, honoring him for his lifetime achievements in pro football.
He had only one question.
"What did I do to deserve this?" he asked.
Well, there were the four Super Bowls you won as quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers . . .
"Joe [Montana] has won four Super Bowls, too."
There was your first-ballot selection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989 . . .
"My career wasn't all that hot," Bradshaw said. "I had five good years and only one great year. I didn't have great statistics."
Bradshaw went on, talking about all the ways he did not measure up to his own expectations. And, OK, he ranks 47th on the all-time pass-efficiency list.
But try to write the history of pro football without him. It can't be done.
He threw the pass that became the most memorable touchdown in NFL history, the Immaculate Reception by Franco Harris in the 1972 playoffs.
He quarterbacked a true dynasty, the Steelers of the 1970s.
He won four Super Bowls in a span of six seasons and twice was named the game's Most Valuable Player.
"I guess that's it," Bradshaw said. "I was in the middle of a lot of stuff."
Indeed. That is why the Bakers Club honored him Tuesday night. Bradshaw's impact on pro football cannot be measured in statistics. He threw almost as many interceptions (210) as touchdown passes (212). He passed for more than 3,000 yards only twice in his 14-year career.
Yet he was one of those players, like Joe Namath, who maximized his time on stage. On the days when it mattered most, Bradshaw was at his best. He found ways to win, even if it meant bouncing a ball off Jack Tatum's head into Franco's hands.
Early in his career, Bradshaw was labeled a dummy, Ozark Ike from Louisiana Tech. But Norm Van Brocklin, a Hall of Fame quarterback with the Eagles and Rams, disagreed.
Said the Dutchman: "I don't know the kid's IQ, but he's magna cum laude at the line of scrimmage."
Bradshaw was football smart. It is ironic that he was considered dumb and Roger Staubach was considered bright, yet Bradshaw called his own plays while Staubach had the plays sent in to him by Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry. (Not that Staubach liked the idea. He didn't.)
Bradshaw came into the league as the No. 1 draft pick in 1970, cast as the savior for a sorry Steelers team. He took such a physical and emotional beating the first few seasons that he thought about quitting, but he stuck it out.
His fortitude was rewarded when the team built a Super Bowl winner around him in the mid-'70s.
Even now, after the four championships, Bradshaw has mixed emotions about his days in Pittsburgh. He still resents the city and its fans for the way he was treated. He has bitter memories about former coach Chuck Noll, whom Bradshaw feels made his early years even more painful.
"I couldn't believe how cruel he [Noll] was," Bradshaw said. "You would think someone as smart as Chuck would be a better psychologist. But he beat me down so bad, I totally lost my confidence.
"He grabbed me by the facemask and shook me. He ripped me in front of the whole team. I was the kind of guy who needed a pat on the back. Shouting at me only made things worse. Lots of times I wished I played for Bum Phillips, someone like that.
"I was benched the year we went to our first Super Bowl," Bradshaw said. "Chuck sat me down that year and started Joe [Gilliam]. He put me back in after a few games and we wound up going all the way, but even then I read stories about how the team won in spite of me. I couldn't win.
"It wasn't until my sixth year that I put all that behind me. Chuck couldn't mess with me because he knew I was the best he had. I'd go to the sideline and have it out with him. If he put his hands on me, I'd throw 'em off. If he hollered at me, I hollered back.
"I could see the other players standing behind Chuck like this [grinning]. They loved it."
Noll was an aloof figure. He played under Paul Brown in Cleveland and coached in the same frosty manner. He kept everyone at arm's length: players, press, even his own assistants.
Noll's impersonal style did not bother some players. Joe Greene did not need stroking, neither did Jack Lambert. But Bradshaw did need it, especially in the early years when he was ridiculed by the fans.
Bradshaw recalls sitting in his car outside Three Rivers Stadium, in his words, "crying like a baby" after his first booing. He recalls pulling into a downtown parking lot after a playoff loss and having the lady cashier tell him, "You stunk."
This was after he already had won two Super Bowls.
"It got to a point where I had to make a choice," Bradshaw said. "It was either let people destroy me or get tough. I decided to get nasty. I took on a different attitude. I approached it [the game] like a war.
"I couldn't change my image. I wasn't going to make the fans think I was smart. But if I won enough games, at least I could make them respect that.
"So I stopped trying to please everybody and just went out and played ball. That was when I finally started to have some fun. If I had a bad game, it was like, 'Pfffft . . . I'll get 'em next time.' "
An arm injury forced Bradshaw to retire in 1983. He saw the Steelers grow a lot in his 14 seasons. Before he arrived, the Steelers were the NFL's most hapless franchise. They had not won so much as a division title in their 37-year history. But with Bradshaw and a great defense, they shot to the top and stayed there for a decade.
Now co-host of the "NFL Today" on CBS, Bradshaw still is a major player on the football scene. His candid opinions and genuine enthusiasm for the game are a welcome addition to the studio. Now 45, he has become almost a senior statesman for the league, which is funny, given his old country bumpkin image.
"Yeah, can you believe that?" Bradshaw said, glancing over at his wife, Charla. "It's like going in the Hall of Fame. When I was elected, my reaction was: 'Isn't that for old people?' "
Bradshaw raised some eyebrows when he named a CBS colleague, Verne Lundquist, as his presenter at the Hall of Fame. Most players ask their former head coach to make the presenting speech, but Bradshaw did not have that kind of relationship with Noll. He felt it would have been hypocritical to pretend otherwise.
Bradshaw never talked things out with Noll. In Noll's mind, there probably is nothing to discuss. He was the coach, he was not paid to be anyone's buddy. The results -- eight division titles in 12 years -- are proof Noll and Bradshaw did their respective jobs very well.
But the former quarterback says he would like to sit down with Noll and talk, man to man. He plans to do it, too, sometime soon.
"I kissed and made up with Randall [Cunningham] and John [Elway]," Bradshaw said, referring to two quarterbacks he previously criticized on the air. "I haven't kissed and made up with Chuck. I guess he's next.
"He [Noll] walked by me on the field a few years ago. We were this far apart and he didn't say a word to me. I sent him a note when he was elected to the Hall of Fame last year and I never heard back.
"But I'd like to talk to him, just let him know how I feel. Now that we're both out of the game, maybe we can relate better. Hey, those were great years, we accomplished things [as a team] that will go down in history. I only wish it hadn't hurt so much."