As Chuck Noll, the Grand Guru of the Pittsburgh Steelers, no doubt figured it, the sudden maturation last January of Terry Bradshaw from Mr. Teen-Age America to Super Bowl quarterback should have given him enough inner peace to survive the next few million huddles. After all, once Bradshaw finished dissecting the Minnesota Vikings in the Super Bowl, people immediately stopped pestering Noll with the one question that always made him display his coldest Ronald Ziegler glare: "Uh, Coach, who's your No. 1 quarterback today? Bradshaw, Joe Gilliam or Terry Hanratty?" Better still, the Pittsburgh press did not conduct any more straw polls on the subject, and all the Rolling Rockers over at Chiodo's Tavern quit clamoring for the reincarnation of Bobby Layne. They could still call Bradshaw a dummy, but in Noll's peaceful mind Bradshaw was officially Pittsburgh's No. 1 quarterback. At least until he threw his first interception.
"The way I read the situation, I can't lose the job during training camp but I could lose it during the regular season," Bradshaw remarked last Friday as the Steelers prepared to open the NFL's preseason schedule against the College All-Stars at Chicago's Soldier Field. Bradshaw was sinewy trim, having just lost 24 pounds after a diet that excluded "all the greasy stuff we love in the South," and his rapid verbiage was a monologue dripping with confidence that bordered on cockiness. "I hate to sound selfish," Bradshaw intoned, "but it was me against the world in that Super Bowl. I had a lot of things to fight. Being a sensitive individual, I worried before the game—and during it, too—that I didn't have the respect of the coach. I had reason to worry. Now, to be honest, I know that I have won his respect."
He paused, then shook his head. "What bothered me most down in New Orleans was that everyone kept insinuating that I was brainless, a dumb quarterback. Why, you won't believe it, but people even asked me what kind of grades I got in English. Listen, anyone who knows football knows that Terry Bradshaw has a damned good brain. After five years in the NFL I feel I can handle any type of defense they throw against me. Of course, maybe people think I do stupid things, like running over tacklers instead of running out of bounds. Everyone knows it's stupid for quarterbacks to risk getting hurt. Well, let me tell those people something. Football is changing, and it's changing because of people like me. The day of the quarterback who falls down and curls himself around the football is over. Gone are the days when you have a quarterback with a flabby belly who can't throw the ball 20 yards but is always screaming at his offensive line. It's a whole new game now."
Maybe it is, but the trim, confident Bradshaw of 1975 flat bombed out so badly against Coach John McKay's feisty All-Stars that Pittsburgh's nagging old quarterback question promptly resurfaced, and Noll was left pondering the Xs and Os of Transcendental Meditation in search of new inner peace. To be exact, Bradshaw's real problem was that a lot of the All-Stars, particularly Bob Brazille and Mike Fanning and Glenn Cameron and Ralph Ortega and Neil Colzie, played like Mean Joe Greene and L.C. Greenwood and Jack Ham.
Brazille, Jackson State's 6'4", 230-pound contribution to the Houston Oilers' defensive line who insists he does not like ballcarriers "unless I'm on top of them," and Fanning, Notre Dame's 6'6", 250-pound gift to the front four of the Los Angeles Rams, played Ping-Pong with Bradshaw's bones as the college kids embarrassed the Steelers by sacking Bradshaw six times—or four more than Minnesota's Purple People Eaters managed in the Super Bowl. On those rare occasions when Bradshaw did avoid Brazille and Fanning, he barely dented the old Coral Gables defense played by former Florida high school teammates Cameron, Ortega and Colzie.
Besides those six sacks, the Stars so flustered Bradshaw that he even dropped the ball once as he set up to pass. Another time Bradshaw aborted a Pittsburgh drive when he threw a perfect interception to Ortega near the goal line, with no receiver in sight. To his credit, Bradshaw did not blame that interception on the murky ozone that smogged the Chicago air all week or on the 10-watt lights that darken Soldier Field. However, the combination of Bradshaw's bad pass and the big numbers on the scoreboard—All-Stars 14, Steelers 7—stirred Noll's inner peace, and when the Steelers regained the football early in the fourth quarter, he did his best Sparky Anderson act and summoned Joe Gilliam from the bullpen.
Gilliam wasted no time on the college kids. "Bradshaw tried to sophisticate us," Brazille said, "but Gilliam, he just whang it." Working both sides of the field artfully, and getting perfect protection, Joe Willie Gillie turned Noll's inner peace into total turmoil as he moved the Steelers to a pair of quick touchdowns and a 21-14 victory over the Stars in a game that Pittsburgh dominated after the first five minutes.
"Uh, Coach, who's your No. 1 quarterback now?"
Cold stare. Raised eyes. No answer.
"Uh, Joe, who's the Steelers' No. 1 quarterback?"
"I'm not conceding anything," Gilliam answered. "I'm not in control of the decision situation. I don't decide who starts and who doesn't start. I just do what they tell me."
Ironically, before the game McKay expected that his All-Stars, not the Steelers, would experience the type of quarterback problem that has plagued Noll the past few seasons. One of the All-Star quarterbacks, Freddy Solomon of Tampa, was listed as a wide receiver because the Miami Dolphins intend to try him there as a replacement for the defected Paul Warfield. Another, sidewinder Steve Joachim of Temple, was promptly written off as a "knuckleballer who sets up wrong and then throws off the wrong foot." So McKay was left with only the NFL's No. 1 draft choice, 6'4" Steve Bartkowski of California, a Plunkett-style dropback artist who recently signed a four-year, $625,000 contract with the Atlanta Falcons. Bartkowski, remember, not Bratkowski, as in Son of Zeke.
"Bartkowski did not have a great camp," McKay admitted, "but I know he can throw the football because he always threw it well against USC." Meanwhile, Bartkowski's main receivers—Tight End Russ Francis of Oregon, Split End Pat McInally of Harvard and Flanker Larry Burton of Purdue—represented the strong points of McKay's attack plans. "Of course, we can't just pass the ball," McKay conceded. "We've got to run, too. If you can't run, you can't win. I guess Stagg was the first coach to say that. Sure, the Steelers are good, but they're not a team of destiny. They didn't beat the Dolphins last year. So they held Minnesota to 21 yards rushing in the Super Bowl. We'll certainly gain over 21 yards on the ground against them." Pause. Long pause. Longer pause. "I think."
With the possible exception of Francis, the All-Stars were in a state of surprisingly good humor as they lounged around the air-conditioning units in their hotel rooms Friday afternoon. Francis, however, was threatening to withdraw from the game because a line in his program profile said he had dropped out of Oregon because of "low grades." "I transferred out of there with a 3.24 average," he snarled. "Someone better come up with an apology real quick. And if I ever find the guy who wrote it, I'm going to hang him out that window. How many people are coming to the game? 60,000? And that Howard Cosell will get a program, too, and he'll go tell millions of people that 'Russ Francis, No. 81, College All-Stars, is a dropout from the University of Oregon.' They're making me out to look like an idiot."
The 6'6", 245-pound Francis, who has an excellent chance to start for the New England Patriots, spent his odd hours getting the lowdown on the Boston cultural and social scene from Harvard's McInally, a 6'6" stringbean who sometimes delighted the Stars with his academic wit. When McInally was introduced to a Nebraska lineman at the start of training camp, he boldly asked the Cornhusker if Nebraska was an accredited institution of higher learning. Another day, several Ohio State players were discussing the relative size of the defensive lines in pro football, and when McInally walked by they yelled, "Hey, Harvard, what did your line average?"
"Oh, about 3.8!" McInally shot back.
Bartkowski, meanwhile, was curious about the tactics of Mean Joe Greene and other Steeler defenders. "I sure don't want to flop," he said. "Everyone knows that I was the guy drafted No. 1 by the entire NFL, and I can't afford to fall on my face. No, I'm not worried. Johnny Unitas was the fastest quarterback there ever was at setting up. He did it in 1.3 seconds. I do a steady 1.4, and I'm ready to unload—after setting and taking my step—in 2.0. I sure hope that's fast enough."
"Mean Joe doesn't say much," somebody told Bartkowski, "and L.C. Greenwood gets mad when you dirty his gold shoes. Dwight White likes to do all the mouthing off up front. The guy you really ought to be worrying about is Jack Lambert, the middle linebacker. No. 58."
"Yeah. The Steelers say he's meaner than Mean Joe ever was. They even say that Lambert's so mean he doesn't like himself. Lambert, though, says he doesn't bite fingers the way some middle linebackers used to."
"I'll remember that."
Once the game began, Bartkowski rifled the football to his receivers with the precision of vintage Unitas. On the Stars' second play, Bartkowski connected with Burton, the Olympic sprinter, for 48 yards, then two plays later he zipped a bullet to the towering McInally over the middle. The Ivy Leaguer, who had boned up for the game by reading Carmen in the dressing room, motored for the end zone and was tripped up as he crossed the goal line. Unfortunately for McInally, he landed hard on his left leg and fractured the fibula, an injury that will delay his debut with the Cincinnati Bengals for at least six weeks.
Mean Joe Greene and Meaner-than-Joe Jack Lambert never touched Bartkowski during the first quarter, and they only grazed him during the second. Instead, they obliterated every running back who moved their way. Soon it became apparent that even though the Stars had taken a 14-7 halftime lead on Virgil Livers' 88-yard punt return, they were in desperate trouble because they had not established any semblance of a ball-control ground game, getting zero—zilch—yards on the ground in the first half. In the second half the Stars managed one first down and accumulated 19 yards on the ground. Soon Mean Joe and Meaner-than-Joe began to get to Bartkowski. "That Lambert is the greatest football player I've ever had the pleasure of playing against," Bartkowski said later. "If it was a pleasure."