It was Super Bowl week, and Thomas Henderson wanted to try out some new material.
What better opportunity than Media Day—held on Tuesday before The Big Game—to show how brilliant you are, and how much the other guy isn’t?
Henderson, the bombastic Dallas Cowboys’ linebacker who encouraged the use of the nickname “Hollywood” for himself, wanted to tell reporters just what he thought of the opposing quarterback, Terry Bradshaw of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
This was before Super Bowl XIII in January 1979, with Bradshaw’s Steelers already having won two championships, after the 1974 and ’75 seasons.
Henderson made sure the eyes were on him and the pens were put to notepads and the tape recorders were whirring.
“Terry Bradshaw,” Henderson said, “couldn’t spell ‘cat’ if you spotted him the ‘c’ and the ‘a’.”
Laugh, chortle, guffaw!
In a game whose strategic tactics are often compared to that of chess and military theaters, Bradshaw, playing what should then be the most cerebral of all of football’s positions—quarterback, for goodness sakes—somehow garnered a reputation of being a little shy in the smarts department.
It’s a reputation that still follows him, to this day.
The country bumpkin from Louisiana proceeded to go out, in the wake of Hollywood Henderson’s biting comedy, and victimize the Cowboys with one big play after the other.
Bradshaw carved up Hollywood and his Cowboys for his third Super Bowl victory. He’d win another, the following season.
Country bumpkin Terry retired undefeated in The Big Game, 4-0.
Not bad for someone who was allegedly absent the day they handed out brains.
Bradshaw, today pulling down way more dough as a Fox Sports studio analyst than he ever did being a Hall of Fame quarterback, last week harkened back to his then-fledgling football-playing career.
The subject was our own Matthew Stafford, the Lions’ rookie quarterback, who had just earned his first NFL victory.
Jimmy Johnson, a Super Bowl-winning coach before being lured into the bosom of TV, reminded everyone that he had Troy Aikman as a rookie in 1989, and Troy went 1-15 in his debut season.
“Sometimes you gotta throw these kids to the wolves!,” Jimmy said with emphasis.
Then Bradshaw offered a truism.
“That’s what happened to me; I got thrown to the wolves,” Terry said.
Did he ever.
Bradshaw joined the Steelers in 1970 from Louisiana Tech as the NFL’s first overall pick, when the Steelers were coming off a 1-13 season.
It didn’t start off smoothly for him.
What else do you call it, when they hang the quarterback in effigy at his home stadium?
They did with Terry in Pittsburgh—his “likeness” purposely portrayed with a goofy, idiotic, cross-eyed look on his face.
The more Bradshaw struggled in his rookie season, the louder the whispers became.
Terry Bradshaw, those so wise in such things said, is too dumb to be a pro quarterback.
So they said—in so many words.
Sometimes in those exact words, actually.
Hollywood Henderson, before that XIIIth Super Bowl, tried to revive the “Bradshaw is dumb” thing, despite Terry being twice a champion at the time.
He can’t spell “cat” even if you spot him the “c” and the “a.”
But Bradshaw could spell “win” very nicely, thank you.
Stafford is, indeed, being thrown to the wolves in Detroit. When your new team went 0-16 the year before your arrival, you’re also being smeared with raw meat before being chucked.
It’s a monumental task, to lead the Lions from historic depths to the look and feel of a winning unit.
But the kid is going to be OK.
It’s hard to make my case, I understand that, because it’s rooted in gut feel and held together with intangibles, but I’m telling you that Stafford has “it.”
Matthew Stafford carries himself more like a pro quarterback, after just three regular season games, better than so many of the other bozos the Lions have thrust under center.
He also fits this town very well, despite coming from the University of Georgia.
Ty Cobb was a Georgia Peach, too, and look how he fit in, in Detroit. So it has been done before.
Stafford has embraced Detroit—its people, its financial hardships and its grit. He did so almost immediately after being drafted No. 1 overall by the Lions in April. He’s a good-looking kid but there’s no “pretty boy” about him. He has already spoken of getting involved with the community, helping in any way that he can.
So many things went wrong with the last highly-drafted quarterback the Lions had, but if Joey Harrington had one flaw that stood out above the rest, it was this.
Joey wasn’t a Detroiter. He was wine and cheese, being drafted into a shot-and-beer town. He was an “aw, shucks” guy coming into a “you got a problem with that?” city.
Joey was “pretty boy,” absolutely.
He arrived in town playing the piano—literally—and no one in Detroit even owns a piano, much less plays one.
We play electric guitar here; this is Detroit Rock City, after all!
But we were willing to overlook Joey and from where he came, because he was new and exciting and maybe he could play quarterback a little bit—and in that case, who cares what his pedigree is?
Big oaf Tony Siragusa, several years back, made some snide remarks about Harrington, in Tony’s role as another of those Fox Sports blabbermouths.
Joey was soft; he was all about champagne and strawberries, or something like that, Siragusa said, when you need your QB to be piss and vinegar. Tony then questioned Harrington’s manhood, in an indirect way, not too subtly.
We were aghast in Detroit. Or, at least we pretended to be.
I bet you that a lot of the people who purported to be offended, on Joey Harrington’s behalf, by Siragusa’s comments, secretly made an admission at the same time.
Tony Siragusa, in our heart of hearts, was right. Only, we didn’t want to believe it.
In retrospect, Siragusa was spot on about Joey.
Stafford shows fearlessness on the football field. There’s some mad bomber in him. He’s always eager to show off his rocket arm. He’s not afraid to fail.
There’s no panic. No happy feet in the pocket; Harrington danced the cha-cha back there as a Lion.
Stafford always believed, from Day One, that he was going to start for the Lions—and right now. Not next year; not in Week Six. Now.
He carries himself like a pro quarterback. He has a good head on his shoulders. He’s already ingratiating himself with his teammates—offense and defense included—fabulously. They believe in him, to a man.
I’ll even go out on a limb and say that Stafford can spell “win”, without being spotted the “w” and the “i.”
Just a hunch.