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Terry Bradshaw, 74, on Overcoming Cancer: ‘My Strength ... Came From My Faith’

The NFL Hall of Famer shares the power of football and faith

VIDEO: NFL Star Terry Bradshaw on Fame, Faith and Football

NFL sports analyst Terry Bradshaw, 74, won four Super Bowls as the quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers. AARP caught up with the sports legend, who recently overcame skin and bladder cancer.

Barefoot in Louisiana

Me as a child? Rambunctious, never still, always in trouble, always dirty, never could keep my clothes clean, didn’t even like to wear clothes. Used to take my shoes and socks off on the way to school and hide them in a culvert, so I could go barefooted. Not a good student, didn’t like school — and then, of course, later on in life, you find out that you’re an ADD guy, so that helps explain why you weren’t a good student.

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Praying and fishing

My dad worked all the time, six days a week, and then on Wednesdays and Sundays, we were in church — I had that foundation. I fished with my father, but he never played catch with the football. He wasn’t an athlete; my mother was the athlete. My Uncle Duck was my biggest sports fan, and we bonded over sports and fishing. If I screwed up in life, I can’t blame it on anybody but myself because I grew up with a lot of love and a lot of fun.

Working the land

We had an acre of land and enough room for my dad’s garden. My dad loved to garden, that was his passion, and my brother and I, we’d dig what looked to us like a thousand acres with a shovel. Then my dad would come home for lunch and come down and inspect while we were doing it, and if the lines weren’t right, if we hadn’t shoveled straight, we got in trouble. Aw, I hated that.

The early lure of sports

I got my first football when I was 11, and I was hooked. I wasn’t a good athlete at first, but I worked hard to be good at it. I remember figuring out how to snap my wrist and make a spiral, and then throwing the ball into a snowbank — we were living in Iowa then — over and over, because I didn’t have anybody to play catch with. And I said, “Oh my God,” and went and begged my mother to come watch me. That was it.

Coaches as mentors

I’ve said it a thousand times: By far the greatest impact on my professional career was Mickey Slaughter at Louisiana Tech. I wasn’t highly recruited from high school, but my body really caught up my junior year in college. Mickey was the one who always said, “You’re gonna be the best,” just pumping me. He saw in me someone with tons of talent, and then he figured out how to handle me, how to encourage me.

Winning, losing and learning

It was a lot of pressure to be the first draft pick for Pittsburgh, a team that had never won anything. I was naive, immature, and didn’t understand anything about the business side, or the downsides, of football. So we won four Super Bowls in six years and had many wonderful moments together. But you learn more from your mistakes than you ever do from successes. You know you can throw the ball, you know you can run, but you have to learn to handle the booing and the four interceptions and the critics on your ass. Learning that helped me through the other tough times in my life.

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Life in the broadcast booth

David Hill hired me at Fox in 1994 and said, “I want to build my show around you.” He wanted humor, he wanted entertainment and he wanted star attractions. He was the first person in television who saw my star potential. [Laughs.] He put me in the pregame show and away we went. It’s a team sport. It’s not about me — it’s about Michael Strahan, Jimmy Johnson, Howie Long, Curt Menefee, Terry Bradshaw. Five individuals come together, all believing in the same thing, all striving to be the very best. Jealousy is set aside. We all support one another; we care about each other as people; we know each other’s families. I’m really proud of that show.

Surviving cancer

My strength in dealing with skin and bladder cancer last year came from my faith. Like I told my wife, if I die I’m going to heaven, and if I don’t die I get to enjoy you some more, so what’s the downside? The nervousness with cancer comes after you’re told you’re cancer-free and you go back every 90 days for blood work and PET scans, and sitting there waiting on the results for three days.

spinner image n f l hall of famer terry bradshaw with a horse
Photo by Arturo Olmos

Embracing change

It still feels like I’ve just started in life. I’m really having a good time. When opportunities knock, there’s a certain part of me that says, “If I don’t take this, it may never come again.”

Singing as a side hustle

I sang my whole life, but it was my success on the football field that opened the door to making albums, and I sing pretty good now. I’ve done Vegas; I’ve done Branson. There’s no money in it. I do it just to get onstage and have people say, “I didn’t know he could sing,” and that’s worth all the money in the world.

Making ’em comfortable

For a 74-year-old guy, I’m pretty silly. I see life as a big ol’ toy to play with, to laugh and have fun. I love to engage people. I know I’m a celebrity, and I know they’re looking at me in awe, and I like to take the anxiety away from them and make them feel at home. It makes me feel good. I like people liking me.

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