Every day this week as the Los Angeles Rams prepare for Super Bowl XIV against the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers on Jan. 20, opposing quarterback Terry Bradshaw has to be uppermost in their minds.
Bradshaw has taken the Steelers to the Super Bowl three times before and has a perfect record -- beating Minnesota in 1974 and Dallas in 1975 and again in 1979. In fact, last year Terry ripped what was considered a solid Cowboy defense with four touchdown passes.
The point is, how do you stop an avalanche? How do you defense a guy who doesn't panic and throws the fastest and straightest ball in the league? How do you pressure someone who has receivers like John Stallworth (70 catches); Lynn Swann (41), Bennie Cunningham (36); and Franco Harris (36) going for him?
Gimmicks, no matter how well they are disguised, won't stop Bradshaw and his playmates Sunday. This, of course, is the primary concern of Ram Coach Ray Malavasi, who can't overload defensively against the pass without leaving openings for Steeler running backs Harris, Rocky Bleier, and Sidney Thornton.
Perhaps more words and fewer facts were written about Bradshaw early in his career than about any rookie who ever came into the National Football League. He was the first college player taken in the 1970 draft, and the tidal wave of ballyhoo that preceded him, while it might not have upset Joe Namath, left Terry slightly bewildered.
Bradshaw was still a 22-year-old country boy who, although he had set small college passing records at Louisiana Tech, would wait a long time before winning his spurs with Pittsburgh. He couldn't have been more uncomfortable in 1970 if the Steelers had made him wear his cowboy boots three sizes too small.
But the pro scouts were right about two things -- Terry had exceptional mobility for a man 6 ft. 3 in. and 215 pounds, and he had a big league throwing arm. He also had the capacity to learn, although few outside the Steeler organization thought so at the time. The media pasted a label on him -- dumb. But like most quick evaluations, it had holes in it.
"No doubt about it, I had all kinds of problems my first year because I was totally unprepared for pro ball," Bradshaw told reporters. "Other teams would blitz me, and I didn't know what to do. I needed help reading defenses; I'd seldom sat down with a coach before and studied game films; and because I didn't mix in well right away with my teammates, I really didn't feel like one of the guys."
As a rookie, Bradshaw completed only 38 percent of his passes, had 24 intercepted, and threw for only six touchdowns. At this point, Terry's past seemed brighter than his future.
Maybe Bradshaw didn't know it at the time, but he still had one very important man in his corner -- Pittsburgh head coach Chuck Noll, who firmly believed that of all his quarteracks Terry had the most natural talent.
When Bradshaw returned for his second year in the pros, he had already rebuilt most of his confidence with off-season workouts. He had also taken the time to learn to chart game films. Noll did the rest by giving him the starting job his first day in camp, and then staying with him.
The result was a great second time around for Bradshaw, who completed 203 of 373 passes for 2,259 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also learned how to scramble; how to call checkoffs at the line of scrimmage; and how to win over teammates who had previously been reluctant to accept his leadership.
Since then Terry has continued to mature as a signal call and leader, and if he isn't the most consistent NFL quarterback today, he's in the picture. He knows when to give the ball to his running backs and when to make his move through the air.
He'll also scramble out of the pocket on broken plays and either run the ball himself or find a receiver who has eluded his coverage. Often he takes what is a potential disaster and turns it into a first down.
Although some might call it gilding the lily to say that at no position do the Steelers rate a greater edge over the Rams than at quarterback, where Bradshaw has 10 years of experience, it is absolutely true.
Los Angeles QB Vince Ferragamo, for example, will be starting only his eighth NFL game on Super Sunday.