Terry Bradshaw was hurting after the 1982 season. The 34-year-old Steelers quarterback had torn muscle and tendons in his throwing elbow in training camp after slipping on a wet field while throwing a pass. Aided by cortisone shots, he managed to play every one of the nine games in the strike-shortened season, but needed surgery in the offseason to repair the damage.
On March 3, 1983, Bradshaw was admitted to Doctor’s Hospital in his hometown of Shreveport, La., for surgery. To avoid being descended upon by press and admirers, Bradshaw was admitted under an assumed name: Thomas Brady.
It seemed too outrageous to be true when the Twitter account @QuirkyResearch shared the newspaper clipping on Wednesday. But no, it’s 100% real. The surgery was reported by The New York Times and UPI.
Bradshaw wasn’t the one who came up with the alternate T.B. name. He told the Tampa Tribune that he didn’t know he wasn’t registered under his real name until the doctor told him. Still, of all the names to pick, the most accomplished quarterback of his era just happened to get the name of the guy who would eventually surpass him in Super Bowl wins.
“Many times, we have to admit people under an assumed name or under no name to keep the press and the fans away,” hospital administrator Charles Boyd told UPI at the time.
Dr. Bill Bundrick (misidentified in the article as Dr. Burdick) told UPI that the surgery was routine and that Bradshaw would be throwing again in about three months. In reality, Bradshaw never fully recovered.
According to a 1983 Sports Illustrated article, Bradshaw disobeyed doctors’ orders and began throwing two months before he should have, resulting in more tears to his elbow tissue. The joint “ballooned to the size of a softball.” The discomfort hadn’t abated by September, so Bradshaw started seeing physical therapists in Pittsburgh. When that didn’t work, he went back to Shreveport to see Bundrick, who had recently purchased a device called the Acuscope, “which simulates the effects of acupuncture by increasing the electrical activity of cells, thereby promoting healing,” SI writer Jill Lieber wrote.
This isn’t some Tom Brady–style pseudoscience. The electro-stimulator is still used today and it worked wonders for Bradshaw. He improved so quickly and was so eager to get back on the field that he strained his triceps by throwing too much.
Eventually, Bradshaw would be healthy enough to play again. He suited up for the Steelers’ regular-season finale against the Jets and completed five of eight passes, with two touchdowns.
“But as soon as I threw that first touchdown that day, I felt my elbow snap,” Bradshaw said later, according to the Times.
He didn’t play in Pittsburgh’s playoff loss to the Raiders, and after the game, was hopeful his arm would allow him to keep playing.
“I want to play five or six more years if my arm comes around,” Bradshaw said, according to the Times. “I don’t want my career to end like this; a lot of ’em do, but I don’t want mine to.”
He would officially announce his retirement that July.