The Tangled Life Terry Bradshaw Made For Himself

When Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw announced his retirement, it was the end of an era. The Steelers had been on a hot streak, from their infamous Iron Curtain of the 1970s into a new decade. An elbow injury proved too much, though, and when the NFL interviewed him for "A Football Life," he was honest about how he hadn't even been able to go to games and sit on the sidelines. 

"It killed me. I should go to the games, I went a couple of times, but I couldn't stand it. There's a guy out there playing my position, and it's killing me. Get me outta here," he said about not being able to play. 

It was downhill from there. After a very public falling-out with the Steelers' head coach and a reinjury, he called it quits at 35 years old — and he's made it clear that he has absolutely no regrets. The biggest benefit to retiring early? For Bradshaw, it was the chance to be who he wanted to be, instead of who the team wanted him to be. And that included becoming the fun-loving prankster he saw himself as: "I never want to be serious again the rest of my life. I hate serious. It's no fun being serious." Bradshaw famously went on to a career in broadcasting, and — taking his not-so-serious-attitude with him — succeeded in becoming a strangely polarizing figure.

He's been open about his mental health

It's taken a lot to open up a conversation about mental health, and admirably, Terry Bradshaw went a long way in normalizing that dialogue. In 2004, he spoke with the Houston Chronicle alongside a public appearance made for Paxil manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline, and said he'd had countless people approach him to thank him for his candid honesty in admitting even the high points of his life were clouded by sadness and anxiety.

"When the doctor told me, 'Terry, you're clinically depressed,' it was the happiest day of my life. It gave me an explanation for a lot of my actions. I almost said excuse, but it helped me realize why I did certain things." In his HBO special "Going Deep," he spent some time talking about his depression and told Esquire that he was grateful that sharing had allowed him to help so many people: "The depression thing, it's turning out to be kind of a legacy thing, you know? For a lot of people. ... I'm glad of that. I wish I didn't have it. But I'm glad now."

Bradshaw has also spoken out about living with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. When he spoke with ESPN's Mike & Mike in the Morning (via Behind the Steel Curtain), he said that it was still something he dealt with on a daily basis. When he agreed to do a stage show about his life, he said, "It's a terrible combination, having ADD and having to sit down and study like this."

No one was impressed with his fat-shaming

There are plenty of perfectly acceptable yet lighthearted terms to use when referring to a boss (or head coach). But when Terry Bradshaw was doing post-game interviews at 2023's Super Bowl, he went with "big guy" for Kansas City coach Andy Reid. Trying to get the coach's attention, he followed that up with "Come on, waddle over here." And then? "I know you're getting up in years now, like me," and asked if it was time for him to retire on a high note.

To his credit, Reid was incredibly gracious and chose to ignore the comments, made at mid-field and during the middle of a celebration. Fans weren't as forgiving, though, condemning Bradshaw for managing to both fat- and age-shame the two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach in a matter of minutes. Even as Reid lauded his players and gestured to the crowd for more cheers for his team, Bradshaw told him, "Have a cheeseburger on us."

The exchange came not long after Bradshaw was widely panned for his role in an incredibly awkward trophy presentation during the Philadelphia Eagles' NFC win,

and with that broadcasting catastrophe still fresh in everyone's minds, fans didn't pull punches. Neither did some media outlets, including USA Today, calling for Fox Sports to sideline Bradshaw as a sportscaster. 

No one was impressed with his suicide joke

There are some comments that professional broadcasters seem like they'd be likely to stay away from, just because, well, read the room. In 2022, fans weren't thrilled with Terry Bradshaw's comments about running back James Conner and quarterback Kyler Murray. Bradshaw made the remark on "Fox NFL Sunday," and in the midst of discussing Arizona's tendency to ignore the running game, said, "I think if this kid ran five or six runs in a row, I think he'd commit suicide or something."

Bradshaw's colleagues were none too thrilled with the comment, either, with Howie Long and Curt Menefee jumping in to speak over him, and Michael Strahan dropping a very meme-able look to the camera that very clearly conveyed a message that he was not a part of any of that. Reaction from fans and professionals were perhaps best summed up by a tweet from sports journalist Lindsey Young, who simply said, "Dear Terry Bradshaw, SUICIDE IS NOT A JOKE."

There were numerous calls for Bradshaw to just retire, but Bradshaw sort of doubled down on discussing death. In 2023, he spoke with reporters including Denver's Andrew Mason, who tweeted a video of Bradshaw explaining his thoughts on his own death: "I told Fox, if I could just die on the show — think about the ratings, right? ... And maybe I'd get a statue out front. I don't have a statue yet."

Terry Bradshaw was diagnosed with two cancers at the same time

In 2022, Terry Bradshaw took time during a broadcast of "Fox NFL Sunday" to address the questions that fans had been asking. Social media had been buzzing with speculation as to the state of his health, and he revealed that after being diagnosed and successfully treated for bladder cancer, he was diagnosed with a rare form of skin cancer. At the time of his announcement, he was cancer-free.

Bradshaw's first diagnosis came a full 11 months before he made it public, and a month after he shared his diagnosis, he sat down with Today to talk about why he'd waited so long. He said that not only did he wait to tell the public, but he had waited to tell his family, too.

"I didn't talk about it because I didn't want pity," he said. "I didn't talk about it because a lot of celebrities — unfortunately, I'm one of those — when they say this, I think the perception around America with all the millions of people is, 'Aw, look at him. Bless his heart. He has cancer. Well, my husband died of cancer. My kids are...' I didn't want that." Finally, Bradshaw said that it was condemnation from fans who shared negative sentiments about the moments where he became short of breath that made him come forward. "Social media went, 'Get rid of him. He needs to be off the air. He's an embarrassment.' And I was like, 'Embarrassment? I got cancer.'"

His investments — and losses — total ridiculous amounts

In 2019, MarketWatch sat down to talk to Terry Bradshaw about his health and his deal with Pfizer. He was lending his name, image, and voice to a campaign designed to bring awareness to a disease called pneumococcal pneumonia, saying that the idea of a professional athlete was just intrinsically linked to health. He also got honest about investment strategies, and he has some... unique ones.

In addition to his bourbon and his clothing line, he shared the fact that one of his favorite ways to invest and make money was by buying and flipping planes. "I buy a lot of planes, I've owned a lot of jets," he said. "You have to be smart when you buy one. You have to use it for business. Then I learned how to flip a plane. ... As a matter of fact, I just bought one while we were on the phone! ... You spend 4 or 5 million bucks and it might scare the heck out of you, but not me."

Bradshaw went on to say that he had long been investing in real estate as well, and what's eye-opening is the scale that things went wrong: He went on to share a story about the time he lost about $900,000 in selling off property. He called it a smart business decision, because he would have lost more staying in the real estate game at the time.

The family has gone through tragic losses

Tragic losses don't give families a miss because they're public figures, and in 2021, Terry Bradshaw and his wife, Tammy Bradshaw, spoke candidly about the heartbreaking loss of Tammy's son during an episode of The Bradshaw Bunch. They were speaking on behalf of the 525 Foundation, at an event to raise money and awareness around the issues of prescription drug abuse. In 2019, Terry told WNDU it was a cause close to the family: "My wife... she lost her son. He died on her living room floor. ... We have to constantly remind our children of the dangers of drugs."

The Bradshaw family lost another member in 2014. Their son-in-law, former Tennessee Titans kicker Rob Bironas, passed away in a fatal car accident. Reports of several road rage incidents prior to the crash were said to be completely out-of-character for the ex-football player.

Those who knew Bironas painted a picture to Sports Illustrated of the team comic, of a player who started his own charity to support music education in schools, and who went out of his way to direct the team's photographer to get candid snapshots of family members in the stands. He was later found to have had a blood alcohol level of .218 at the time of his death.

Terry Bradshaw had some harsh words for Aaron Rodgers

It's no secret that the rules and regulations surrounding COVID-19, mask mandates, and vaccination statuses have been highly divisive, and in 2021, Aaron Rogers found himself at the center of a massive controversy. After testing positive for COVID, it came out that Rodgers had not actually been vaccinated as he claimed. (He had technically said he was "immunized," later claiming he was allergic to traditional vaccines.)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Terry Bradshaw pulled no punches when it came time for him to address the controversy. During a broadcast from the United States Naval Academy he said, in part (via MSNBC), "It would have been nice if he'd just come to the Naval Academy and learned how to be honest. Learned not to lie. Because that's what you did, Aaron. You lied to everyone. ... Unfortunately, we've got players that pretty much think only about themselves. And I'm extremely disappointed in the actions of Aaron Rogers."

Bradshaw was joined in his condemnation of Rodgers by numerous others, including his Fox cohosts Howie Long, Jimmy Johnson, and Michael Strahan.

He doesn't like it when people say he's dumb

Terry Bradshaw is known for being outspoken, and in 2016, he had some harsh criticism for Steelers' coach Mike Tomlin. Tomlin responded with a thoughtful response to reporters that included name-dropping coaches who he thought were great, and adding, "But what do I know? I grew up a Dallas fan. Particularly, a Hollywood Henderson fan" (via the  Los Angeles Times).

To those who got the dig, it's masterful stuff. For those who didn't: Henderson once described Bradshaw as "so dumb he couldn't spell cat if you spotted him the 'c' and the 'a'." Henderson and Tomlin aren't the only ones to make comments about Bradshaw's intelligence: It's not uncommon to see headlines like the New York Post's "Is Terry Bradshaw really this dumb?" In fact, he had one of the most notoriously low scores on the NFL-administered Wonderlic test. But here's the question: Does it get to him?

Yes. When Bradshaw appeared on "Who's Talking to Chris Wallace" (via Mediaite) Wallace outright asked him about the Henderson quote and his reputation. Bradshaw replied, "I do get upset by the dumb image. I don't like it being brought up. And I think probably some of my anger and frustration with it is, I didn't get enough support. I didn't feel like personally, I didn't get enough support from Pittsburgh." He condemned head coach Chuck Noll, saying he wished the coach had put an end to it before it even got off the ground.

He was lauded for weighing in on the NFL's domestic violence problem

In 2014, Greg Hardy was convicted on charges related to a domestic abuse incident with his then-girlfriend (although the charges were later dropped). Meanwhile, Hardy continued to play for the Dallas Cowboys, and Terry Bradshaw had some things to say about that.

"Anybody, in my opinion, who lays a hand on a woman, I don't care who you are, my friend, you never come back in this league," he said on "Fox NFL Sunday." Bradshaw went on to condemn Jerry Jones and the Cowboys for overlooking Hardy's case because of his abilities on the field, saying Jones "basically becomes an enabler himself. This is wrong. We have no place for this, and I'm actually tired of talking about the Hardys of the world. And I really, really, seriously hope that eventually, we never have a place in the NFL for people that touch a woman, strike a woman."

While Bradshaw's comments seem like they should be a no-brainer, he had taken a major risk. Jones was a part of the NFL's committee that oversaw all broadcasting and had enough power that Bradshaw was ultimately one of the only commentators to speak out against Jones and Hardy. He explained to The Washington Post, "I'm not one of their favorites, I'm not one of their boys. I'm not afraid of being fired, and I'm gonna speak my mind." It didn't go unnoticed, with national domestic violence organizations coming forward to applaud him for taking a stand.

He's made some racist comments

Terry Bradshaw tends to do a lot of apologizing, and some of the things he's apologized for are racist comments.

In 2012, Bradshaw issued his apology statement to USA Today, after massive uproar surrounding comments made about Miami running back Reggie Bush. Bradshaw described his touchdown run as being "like he was chasing that bucket of chicken the wind was blowing," and it didn't go over well. He attempted to backtrack by saying that he hadn't been referring to Bush at all but Jimmy Johnson and his notorious love of KFC. He said that he had mistakenly said "he" instead of addressing the comment to Johnson: "I can't defend myself. I've never been in a situation like this. I don't know how to react, except to apologize for something I didn't know I said. I've been upset today. It's not me. I'm shocked."

Fast forward to 2019, and he was apologizing again. This time, it was for comments made about "The Masked Singer," when he lamented that he "was kicked off by Alan Thicke and the little short guy from Japan." Not only was Alan Thicke the deceased father of actual judge Robin Thicke, but Ken Jeong is the Detroit-born son of South Korean immigrants. Bradshaw said (via CNN), "I made an insensitive remark today about Ken, who I've known for some time. I've spoken to him about the importance of cultural respect and apologized for my offensive comments. I would like to also apologize to the Asian-American community for my insensitivity."

He's devoutly Christian and said so... to Playboy

Terry Bradshaw was a 31-year-old quarterback at the height of his popularity when he sat down to do an interview with Playboy: It was 1980, and his devout Christian faith was at the forefront of the interview. His less-than-polished first years were still a recent memory, and teammates of the Louisiana newbie were among the first to call him dumb. Journalist Maury Levy found someone who was anything but, describing him as one of the funniest, most philosophical, and down-to-earth people he'd ever sat down with.

Bradshaw also had some heartbreaking insight into why he had gotten slapped with the label of being not-so-bright early in his career, and it started with his accent and being replaced as the team's starting quarterback. There was more to it, though: "I was big and strong and fast and had blond hair and stood for Mom and apple pie, and God bless America and I love God and I tote my Bible and I pray and I love Momma and Daddy. I was too good to be true," he explained.

After explaining that he had agreed to do the interview with Playboy because he was pretty sure Jesus would have wanted him to speak to the readers of Playboy, he went on to give some serious insight into the way he led his life. Of the utmost importance? His family, his new wife, his horses, pulling pranks on his teammates, prayer, and football... even if Pittsburgh had been the last place he wanted to be.