Terry Bradshaw cannot tell his life story, this tale spun over four quarters, without reliving The Immaculate Reception.
Bradshaw was quarterbacking the Pittsburgh Steelers against the visiting Oakland Raiders at Three Rivers Stadium in the 1972 AFC divisional playoff game. The Raiders had taken a 7-6 lead on a touchdown run by quarterback Kenny Stabler in the game’s final minute.
“I called a play. Incomplete,” Bradshaw recalls from the stage at The Mirage on Friday night. “I called another play. Incomplete. I called another play. Incomplete. We had fourth-and-long, fourth-and-10, and we had one more chance.”
The quarterback — who incessantly reminds that he called all of his own plays (he says he knew four, total) — dialed up something called 66 Circle Option, a deep, down-the-middle pattern that was supposed to be delivered past the first-down markers to one of the Steelers’ receivers.
Bradshaw dropped back, and anyone who has seen highlights of the greatest plays in the history of the NFL knows what happened next.
“I am under heavy pressure, Raiders all over me,” Bradshaw recalled, scrambling across the stage in a kind of gridiron pantomime. “I ducked two of them — I was a very quick, strong, young man — and heaved the ball downfield toward a black jersey.”
That was the figure of Frenchy Fuqua, the Steelers’ starting fullback. Fuqua reached for the pass and was creamed by Raiders safety Jack Tatum. Halfback Franco Harris — “Who shoulda been blockin’, that’s why I was running from all those Raiders!” as Bradshaw remembers — plucked the deflected pass just inches from the artificial turn and sprinted down the sideline for the touchdown that won the game for the Steelers.
It is one of the game’s greatest, and most controversial, plays. If the ball had caromed off Fuqua into the hands of Harris, it would have been ruled incomplete. If it bounded off Tatum, the TD would stand. It is still impossible to tell who made contact with the ball in a play that NFL Films, the league’s official film company, has regularly dubbed The Greatest Play in NFL History.
“It was the play of my life,” Bradshaw says more than 40 years later.
That legendary play is emblematic of the way Bradshaw operates. Scrambling. Relying on faith. Heaving it downfield and knowing that, somehow, that sucker is gonna score a TD.
The play Bradshaw called this weekend is a lot like that Immaculate Reception. Yes, there is a plan in “Terry Bradshaw: America’s Favorite Dumb Blonde … A Life in Four Quarters” as drawn up by Bradshaw and director Anita Mann. The playbook is for Bradshaw to sing and tell jokes and refer to videos and photos on screens flanking the stage. Behind him is a super-solid and, more important, ever-alert, backing band. He’s recruited four of the best backing singers and dancers in Vegas — Maren Wade, Amanda Avila, Lorena Peril and Sarah Jessica Rhodes.
The show unfurls over four quarters. Bradshaw remembers his youth in Shreveport, La., chasing chickens as one of his first jobs, often winding up splattered with feathers and chicken poop. The family bathroom was an outdoor “two-holer,” or an outhouse with side-by-side commodes, saying, “You did not want to be downwind from a two-holer!” He remembers being a highly sought-after high school athlete — as a javelin thrower, able to throw 245 feet. It’s a great throw for a 17-year-old kid, but there was little future in throwing the javelin for a teen out of small-town Louisiana who dreamed only of playing football.
Bradshaw talks of trying to get into LSU, scoring 15 on his ACT “when any moron could have scored 16.” His “miracle” passing score on the SAT led him to Louisiana Tech, where he wanted to play football but was pinned behind an avid duck hunter and duck-call inventor named Phil Robertson.
“He’d come to practice in jeans and sneakers with no socks,” Bradshaw remembers. “He was late for meetings. He was late for games. He’d say, ‘The ducks are flying high today!’ And I couldn’t beat this guy out! He had such a quick release! If he hadn’t been knocked out by mighty Delta State, I would have started just one season at Louisiana Tech, after he left! That’s how good he was! But he got to pursue his passion of duck hunting, and I got to pursue mine, which was playing football!”
Bradshaw also adds, laughing, “'Duck Dynasty' is my daughter’s favorite show!” and that it was Phil who first dubbed Bradshaw “The Blond Bomber.”
Upon receiving his first signing bonus as a pro, Bradshaw tells of driving his mother to the furniture store to outfit her home. “We had nothing. Nothing, when I was growing up.” His salary was so sparse, he accepted any product endorsement deal he was offered, including from a manufacturer of men’s hairpieces. Bradshaw hated wearing the blond accessory, which he pulls from his pocket onstage to show it looks like a yellow possum. “I was golfing one time and shoved this thing in my back pocket. The owner of the company actually saw me on the fairway and I didn’t have this thing on my head, and they fired me on the spot!”
Bradshaw concedes he was not well prepared for life after football, owning a degree in physical education from Louisiana Tech. He tried raising cattle, ostriches and racing pigeons, and none worked out; one of the photos shown on the wings of Terry Fator Theater is of these “racing” pigeons lounging on his shoulders and atop his cowboy hat, which is adorned with the feature of a long-lost ostrich.
“I lost all my ostriches — and my $7,500 investment!” Bradshaw recalls during a running theme of misguided business decisions.
It wasn’t until Brent Musburger, a passenger in a stretch limousine, showed up with a contract offer from CBS — $100,000 a year for three years, guaranteed! — to work NFL games that Bradshaw considered a career in broadcasting.
He does so much more, too. Bradshaw has sung some, onstage and in a studio. He’s recorded “You Never Know How Good You’ve Got It” with Glen Campbell and dedicated the song to the superstar, who has Alzheimer's disease, during Friday’s show. He sang a wonderful duet, “Daddy Won’t Say,” with his composer/singer daughter Rachel, a song that debuted on “The Tonight Show” a couple of weeks ago.
And there were innumerable clips from Bradshaw’s TV and film career (Burt Reynolds popping him in “Hooper” and Bradshaw spitting out a tooth being one highlight). The audience was dotted with his longtime friends from football and broadcasting: Jimmy Johnson, Norv Turner, Troy Aikman and Howie Long.
“I laughed. I cried,” is Long’s quick assessment of the show afterward. “Terry is a classic, old-time performer. It’s just really been a big wish of him to do this. We’ve been together 20 years now, that’s how long we’ve been friends. My kids have grown up with Uncle Terry.”
Long is asked if he’d ever consider performing on a Vegas stage.
“Me. Oh, no,” he says. “God, no.”
Johnson, whose reddened face was of a man who has spent a lot of time under the sun, was grinning as he walked from the theater.
“He loves the spotlight, and he is an entertainer. People see that every week on Fox NFL Sunday. I think people loved him. I think people do love him.”
Those who remember the Bradshaw who won Super Bowls, even those who might not be Steelers fans, have to agree. As Bradshaw summons memories of that pass from ages ago, it is evident that he was the one person in Three Rivers Stadium who didn’t actually witness Harris’ touchdown sprint.
“I was on the turf, and I just heard the crowd,” he says. “A huge roar went up, and by then I knew what a touchdown roar sounded like. This was a touchdown roar. I didn’t know what happened, but I just thought, ‘You are a HE-RO!’ ”
The audience laughed, but it’s the truth. The effort itself was heroic, as Terry Bradshaw let it fly and came out a winner.