Season's Greetings to Steeler Fans (Especially the Creeps in Sections 17, 18, 19, and 20 Behind the Bench)
Remember, Only One Game Left
To Get in Your Boos
Don't Miss the Fun!
Many Happy Boos for 1966
Your fine, outstanding right tackle,
December 19, 1966
Filled with yuletide spirit, Charlie Bradshaw composed the above ad copy last December and, until several friends talked him out of it, was prepared to purchase space in Pittsburgh sports pages as the season drew to a close. "I was really serious about it," he says. Off the field Charlie has made a number of friends in Pittsburgh, so he is not entirely bitter toward the city. Even when loudmouths behind the bench urge him to drop dead he does not return their sentiments in kind. He simply would like five minutes alone with each of them—in a telephone booth.
Bradshaw is a lumbering, stoop-shouldered, 30-year-old Texan, 6 feet 6 and 255 pounds, with a yellow crew cut and an oddly chiseled face that resembles John Nance Garner's, without wrinkles or stogie. As an offensive tackle he belongs to a category of football players who are as obscure as they are huge. They labor in a forest of arms and legs and clanking helmets, and their victories are often nothing more than the deadlock that spares the passer from an end who is bent on slaughtering him. Yet alone among all the National Football League's offensive tackles—in fact, alone among all those who have passed through history—Charles Marvin Bradshaw has a following. True his following is like the hounds that Charlie used to send tearing after coon in East Texas. But why quibble about recognition?
"At least they know you're out there," Charlie was told last year by Dan James, his counterpart on the left side of the line. Working his eighth year in Steeler uniform, James added, "They don't even know my name."
The catcalls hurled at Charlie are not mere persiflage delivered in a picnic spirit. Until the Steelers discontinued pregame introductions, the announcement of his name was voluminously booed. Fans keep a close check on the state of his uniform and from time to time admonish, "Ya oughta be ashamed to pick up ya pay, Mr. Clean!" For Charlie, the current NFL season opened exactly according to form, as soon as the P.A. announcer at Pitt Stadium introduced the starting lineup. Polite applause greeted the first five men who trotted to midfield. "And now," said Charlie, turning to a teammate on the sideline, "a nice robust boo for Bradshaw." It thundered down on him from every section in the stadium and hung in the air like the bedlam of a train passing through a tunnel.
On the enemy bench Jim Katcavage, the New York Giants' defensive end, who would spend the afternoon trying to knock Bradshaw over, was baffled. "He's a helluva tackle and a nice guy," said Katcavage. "He and Bob Brown of the Eagles are about the two best I've played against in the Eastern Division. Why in the world do they boo him?"
The exact origins of Charlie's unpopularity can be traced, all right, but not easily.
Far from being villainous, he is steeped in the traditional American virtues. He grew up on a small, hilly farm, the only child of Foy and Evilla Bradshaw. "My mother is 5 feet 11," Charlie says, "and she could plow better than anyone I've ever seen. She'd take a lunch into the field and plow from daylight to dark. I was taught that when you do something do it right. And I was taught to be truthful and honest. If I ever got caught in a lie I got my rear end whipped."
Determined to play high school football even though practice would cause him to miss the school bus, Charlie hitchhiked five miles every day from Center, the seat of Shelby County, and then walked five more miles down a lonely dirt road, arriving home hungry about 9 p.m. Foy Bradshaw decided his son was silly to go to such lengths to participate in a fool's pastime, so he yanked him off the team. Only when the coach promised to get Charlie a ride home did Foy relent, thereby launching his son on the road to ignominy.
Playing end for the Center High Roughriders, Charlie and a promising halfback from town—a skinny kid named Del Shofner—led the team to the state playoffs in their senior year and then pressed on to Baylor University at Waco, Texas.
George Sauer, the Baylor coach, immediately made Charlie a tackle. "It was a nightmare at first," says Charlie. "I was long and skinny, as tall as I am now but only 200 pounds or so, and, particularly when I was on defense, people would fold me up like an accordion." But the family virtue—a love of hard work—carried the day at Baylor, just as it would in 1958 in the Los Angeles Rams' training camp, where Coach Sid Gillman was so impressed by Charlie's hustle that he decided to carry an extra tackle. Charlie's love of hard work helped, too, when he labored through four off-seasons for a degree in law. In 1965 he passed the Texas bar examination with a grade of 86—the highest in his class at Baylor and only three points less than the highest in the state.
Thus far the Charlie Bradshaw saga reveals absolutely no motive behind the vituperation that burns Charlie's large ears in Pittsburgh. Superstitious Buddy Parker, unaware that Charlie had been born on Friday the 13th, brought him to the Steelers in exhange for a high draft choice in 1961 and found him a coach's delight. Except for two games that Charlie missed because of a shoulder separation, he has played every game, injured or not. Quick enough to be a quarter-miler in high school, shrewd at anticipating an enemy's move, Charlie made the Eastern Conference's Pro Bowl squad in both 1963 and 1964, whereupon the following year he discovered that Pittsburghers are apt to look upon Steelers the way the Son of the Sheik looked upon women: today's plum is tomorrow's prune.
The day the booing started Charlie was shocked and stunned. "Why me?" he asked himself. He could not have loused up a season that had not yet begun. He had not beaten his wife in front of the U.S. Steel Building. Indeed, why him?
The answer begins in the NFL record book. There it says that in none of the 33 years that the Steelers have drawn breath on this earth have they won a championship, or even a division title. It is said that records are made to be broken, but this one looks like a cinch bet to live on through eternity, and it is certainly an item that has frayed Pitts-burgher nerves. Snapped them, in fact.
Frustrated to the breaking point, Steeler fans needed a scapegoat, a man upon whom they could rain epithets until they got the venom out of their systems. The quarterback was a logical choice, so for a while, in the early '50s, the scapegoat was Jim Finks ("Finks stinks!") and then, as the '50s turned into the '60s, it was Bobby Layne. As Charlie Bradshaw himself recalls, "My second year with the club we were doing pretty well. Layne was having a good year, and we were on our way to finishing second. One Sunday we were playing the Redskins and Bobby started to throw a screen, but just as he turned the ball loose he got clobbered. He was knocked cold. As we carried him off the field on a stretcher the fans booed him. Right there I said to myself, 'This has to be the toughest group of fans in the country.' "
Club Owner Art Rooney and Bradshaw himself readily acknowledge that the Pittsburgh fan has a case. They appreciate that last year's attendance—an average of 32,605 per game—demonstrated public perseverance in the face of utter hopelessness. The fans had hung in there booing and heaping their scorn in 1964 upon Layne's successor at quarterback, Ed Brown. But last year a new coach, Mike Nixon, decided to open the season with another quarterback, 24-year-old Billy Nelsen, who had ridden the bench for two years. Callow and untried, Nelsen did not strike the fans as a target worthy of their efforts. Who, then, would they boo?
Aha, here was Charlie Bradshaw, bigger than life, a giant who could not hide, an oak tree in a line that resembled a row of beer kegs. Furthermore, every man who in his lifetime had been served a process or plunged into legal morass would be delighted to boo a lawyer. But here was the principal motive: a Steeler you could not wipe out of sight. You had to hate him.
Experts on human behavior may ponder the following phenomenon: no command to boo Charlie passed through the city in advance of the season opener; no meetings were held or leaflets passed. Yet—as if by some marvel of telepathy, some miracle of ESP—thousands suddenly booed in unison when Charlie answered the P.A. announcer's call.
Now that the fans had chosen Charlie to fill their deep-seated need to hate, they set about justifying their choice. Just look at that oaf, they said. Look at him charging forward with his head up and his big behind sticking out (in the view of coaches, letter-perfect form) and his mouth hanging open. Even worse, the fans noted that no matter how many Steelers had been run into the ground by an enemy charge Charlie usually remained on his feet. The fact is that Charlie does not care to have people knock him down, and he has the strength to see that they don't.
When the 1965 season had run its course Charlie made tracks out of town and began 1966 on a satisfying note. In January NFL athletes elected him president of their Players' Association. Soon after, he joined the Houston law firm of Talbert, Giessel, Barnett & Stone and, although a rookie, was immediately entrusted to argue negligence and accident cases before District Court, the state's highest trial court. By July, when he reported to training camp, he had gone undefeated in four trials—operating on defense, by the way. Then he set aside his conservative courtroom attire, cleaned out his desk in the State National Building, accepted a raise from Art Rooney, and presented himself for another season of abuse.
This time he was philosophical. Said Charlie: "You get to thinking, 'How many offensive tackles in the history of football have been booed?' The answer is none. In fact, people don't know their names. So I would say I've been tendered quite an honor, a place of high esteem. One of football's most important values is the opportunity it gives people to get out and release pent-up frustrations. Maybe their wives or their bosses have been picking on them. So you see, I'm of great therapeutic value to the American public."
Still the occasional urge to climb into the stands poses a certain frustration to Charlie himself, and he has toyed with a couple of ideas under the heading of self-therapy. He has considered communicating to the crowd via a series of long banners that he would unroll from time to time. "Come on, now," one would read toward the close of the game, "give a big boo for Bradshaw. It's your last chance." Also, Charlie thought he might assign Equipment Manager Tony Parisi to paint him with a bucketful of mud in full view of the crowd.
Bill Austin, a tough Vince Lombardi disciple who succeeded Mike Nixon as Steeler coach, is satisfied with Charlie, laundered or filthy. "Charlie has been having a real good year," he told Vice-President Dan Rooney not long ago, and Rooney himself goes further. "I think Charlie has had the best year of his career." After opening day Rooney told his P.A. announcer to discontinue pregame introductions, because "it's a waste of time." And besides, Rooney adds, possibly with Bradshaw in mind, the introductions invite ugliness.
The scowling Austin, who appears tougher than he really is, has taken some of the heat off Charlie. The fans appear to have been soothed by visions of Austin flogging the Steeler players with a bullwhip or in some way making their lives miserable. So the fans have lately contented themselves with a smattering of brief insults to Charlie. There is hope that next year the insults will be even briefer. Last month Charlie won his first case in a Pittsburgh court when he defended a man charged with malicious mischief. The fans' verdict on Charlie Bradshaw may also be coming around to not guilty.