Terry Bradshaw throws some light on his career in HBO special ‘Going Deep’
The documentary reveals a Hall of Famer who loves the spotlight while questioning whether he deserves it.
“If there’s one thing in my life I do wish I had … I wish I was loved and respected … like Brady, Peyton, Roger Staubach. … I never had that kind of respect. And I wish I did.” – Terry Bradshaw.
In the wake of that epic Bills/Chiefs divisional round playoff game Sunday night and with the football world buzzing about NFL overtime rules and whether the coin toss should carry such weight, here’s your reminder we were a coin flip away from seeing Terry Bradshaw in a Bears uniform throughout the 1970s.
HBO Sports and NFL Films present a film directed by Keith Cossrow, premiering at 8 p.m. Tuesday on HBO and available afterward on HBO Max.
The Bears and Steelers finished the 1969 season with identical records of 1-13, and in those days draft deadlocks were decided by a coin toss. When the Bears’ Ed McCaskey called heads and the silver dollar landed on “tails,” the Steelers won the rights to draft Bradshaw, and the Bears traded the No. 2 pick to the Packers. Bradshaw went on to a Hall of Fame career as the Steelers won four Super Bowl titles, while the Bears’ QBs during that era included Bobby Douglass, Gary Huff, Bob Avellini, Mike Phipps, Vince Evans and the immortal Kent Nix.
Not that Bradshaw expected to be the No. 1 pick in that draft, as he recounts in the revealing and warmhearted special “Terry Bradshaw: Going Deep,” premiering Tuesday on HBO. “Where’d that come from?” says the 73-year-old Bradshaw. “I don’t want to be the first pick in the draft. … I shouldn’t have been.”
This is the constant theme of the documentary: the dichotomy between Bradshaw’s admittedly tremendous ego and his love of the spotlight — and his lifelong misgivings about whether he deserved success and happiness. “Terry Bradshaw: Going Deep” toggles back and forth between a filmed concert in August of 2021, when Bradshaw took the stage at the Clay Cooper Theater in Branson, Missouri, and a traditional documentary approach combining a lengthy interview with Bradshaw and archival footage from his playing days and his career as a TV personality and occasional television and film actor.
The stage show consists of Bradshaw with his decent but at times wobbly voice performing country and pop numbers with a solid backup band, telling stories about his life and times (he’s a terrific, self-deprecating raconteur) and taking questions from the adoring audience, some of them wearing Steelers jerseys. It seems like a good time — but the real insights and most memorable moments come from the interview sessions, in which Bradshaw talks about dealing with clinical depression.
“As much as [the Steelers] accomplished, it was hard to enjoy,” he says. “Winning is so consuming, so stressful. … I never could find … my comfort to go and relax and enjoy myself. … Right now, talking about it, I get a headache.”
Today’s TV audiences know Bradshaw as the avuncular, good-natured butt of the jokes on Fox’s “NFL Sunday,” but as Bradshaw discloses in admirably honest fashion, there are times when he gets tired of that role, and it hits him when he’s off the air. Since Bradshaw’s early days with the Steelers, there have been questions and a myriad of jokes about his intelligence or lack thereof, as when the Cowboys’ Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson famously said Bradshaw “couldn’t spell ‘cat’ if you spotted him the ‘c’ and the ‘a.’ ”
“It was not something I take kindly,” says Bradshaw.
In Bradshaw’s sophomore year at Louisiana Tech, he split playing time with Phil Robertson, who would go on to “Duck Dynasty” fame. (“Two years I sat behind that guy and all he wanted to do was shoot stuff,” he cracks.) Once Bradshaw was given the starting role, he displayed a cannon of an arm, but he acknowledges he was “extremely immature” when he joined the Steelers and wasn’t ready for prime time. It didn’t help that Bradshaw had a contentious relationship with Steelers coach Chuck Noll, a businesslike taskmaster who wasn’t interested in coddling his players.
“I never got really comfortable … with him,” says Bradshaw. “Just uncomfortable. I was scared s---less of him. He scared me to death. I wasn’t his kind of quarterback, and he wasn’t my kind of coach. … He was a great coach, I just had a helluva hard time with him, that’s all.”
The stereotype about Bradshaw’s intellect led directly to his acting career. We see a clip of Burt Reynolds mercilessly mocking Bradshaw on an NBC special in the late 1970s, after which Reynolds felt so bad he contacted Bradshaw, invited him to the set of “Hooper” and wrote a role for him on the spot. Bradshaw went on to do a total of five movies with Reynolds and has appeared in films such as “Failure to Launch” with Matthew McConaughey, which leads to the moment in the stage show in which Bradshaw shows the infamous clip of him appearing nude and even sings a song about it. It’s a typically goofy, classic Bradshaw moment — but things take a sobering turn when we see a clip from a 2003 interview in which Bradshaw talks about his depression and says, “I begged the doctor [to] put me out for three days,” and in present day talks about how a certain friend made fun of him and continues to make fun of him. “I don’t want to be laughed at,” he laments.
Quite the opposite. Bradshaw should be admired for his openness. If a famous football player/ broadcaster’s talk of having clinical depression helps even one person, that’s a Hall of Fame move right there.