Terry Bradshaw is Finally Becoming Himself

Photo credit: HBO
Photo credit: HBO

Terry Bradshaw is watching himself. He's on a stage in Branson, Missouri, in, roughly, the first quarter of his touring musical-memoir-standup show, Terry Bradshaw: America's Favorite Dumb Blonde…A Life in Four Quarters. (Yes, the FOX broadcaster who you recently saw flying drones at halftime has a musical-memoir-standup show.) Dress shirt unbuttoned wide, Bradshaw plays an old clip from his days quarterbacking the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he'd win four Super Bowls.

Bradshaw isn't that person in the video. It's 1970 and he'd just been drafted by the Steelers, ceremoniously plucked from his home town of Shreveport, Louisiana. In the clip, an interviewer is trying to get Terry to say that the day Pittsburgh called his name was the best damn day of his life. But the kid keeps getting it wrong. And wrong again. Bradshaw hardly has any inflection in his voice. Eyes blank. This is the guy we'd later characterize by his laugh, that smile. Something's wrong. But no one knew that back then. Or cared, really.

"If you take 72-year-old Terry and take him back to 20-year-old Terry—because that's how old I was—he wouldn't be like that," Bradshaw says on the Missouri stage. "I would say totally different stuff."

So what does Terry Bradshaw want to put out there? It's the question behind HBO's Going Deep (out February 1), which combines footage from A Life in Four Quarters with an affecting—and surprising—interview with Bradshaw. The man won four Super Bowls. Been at FOX for over 20 seasons. Played Matthew McConaughey's dad in Failure to Launch. But he's also long faced an unfair perception of stupidity from media, fans, and even some players. Bradshaw has been divorced three times. Had such a tumultuous relationship with his Steelers coach, Chuck Noll, that he didn't even attend Noll's funeral in 2014. He hears about it all, even today. But there's something else that's gone on, too.

In A Life in Four Quarters, Bradshaw speaks at length about suffering depression so terrible that, as he once said in a 2003 TV interview, he asked a doctor to put him out, unconscious, for three days. Just for the relief. Through all of his sporting career, his separations, his bouts with the media, it's depression—the kind so deep that you feel it in every inch of yourself—that's fought against his happiness, of fulfillment for a life well-lived, this entire time.

Watching the film, you'll understand why, sure, Terry Bradshaw is not that kid from Shreveport anymore. He's not the Super Bowl winner even. Hell, he may not even be the guy you see hamming it up every Sunday. You'll see that he is a man, in the eighth decade of his life, who remains in motion. Evolving. You get the sense that he's still becoming someone else. In an interview with Esquire about Going Deep, we talked to this Terry Bradshaw—the one who knows what the purpose of all of the pain.

Terry Bradshaw: Brady Lang, log, lane, laugh. Laughable.

ESQUIRE: We'll go with laughable. I think that's the best one.

T.B.: All right, let's do that. This is Terry Bradshaw, bud.

ESQ: How are you doing?

T.B.: Oh, good. I just got back from the barn. My wife and I checked on our babies and got here in time. I'm good. A little tired. Been a stupid busy fall and winter.

ESQ: I mean, what you're going on, what, probably week 20, 21?

T.B.: 21 weeks, and then all the other stuff that gets pushed in between that. I think my wife and I packed four suitcases and we were gone six weeks. And we were home two and a half days.

ESQ: At least it was a hell of a weekend for football.

T.B.: Oh, Brady. With some of my staff this morning—we didn't talk football, we were talking horses. And then my ranch manager said to me, "You believe those football games?" I said, "You know, Chad, I don't know in my 73 years of life that I've ever seen four better games." Last night topped it off. I've never seen anything like that. Never.

ESQ: I honestly do feel bad for Josh Allen. I can't imagine being in that position, not being able to keep competing.

T.B.: That's the unfortunate thing of an overtime. And in reality, it's not fair. I think the audience was deprived of another great run by Buffalo. Another great drive. Both those quarterbacks were in a zone. And for him not to have a chance. A chance! America's watching. They want to see it. They want another hour of this.

ESQ: I would've done another five.

T.B.: I thought it was wrong. It's just not fair.

ESQ: Football hangover aside. I watched Going Deep, and it was hilarious—I think it genuinely will help a lot of people too. It helped me.

T.B.: Going Deep what? What are you talking about, the HBO show?

ESQ: Yeah, the HBO show.

T.B.: Is that what it's called? I hadn't seen it. I won't watch it. I haven't watched it. I'll watch my movies. I won't watch my own stage performance. I should, so I can get better, but I know where I can get better. I don't need to see it.

Photo credit: Wally McNamee - Getty Images
Photo credit: Wally McNamee - Getty Images

ESQ: There's a point in the film when you say you'd love to be loved and respected like a Tom Brady.

T.B.: When I did the interview, there was some strong reluctance on my part to do it. I'm tired. You know? I'm tired of people saying, "So and so's the greatest. This guy's the greatest. This guy—” Just, oh fuck yourselves. And I think it's Elway this and Marino that. And Brady and Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. After a while you just go, man, you people have no idea. They never played against Roger Staubach. You haven't played against the Raiders and Kenny Stabler. And it's not necessarily about me. I don't need to be told that I was great… There's a part of me that wants to scream, "Hey, I played good in big games!" But I can't. I won't talk like that.

ESQ: People are always going to say something, you know?

T.B.: Always. Well, these two quarterbacks have two Super Bowls and they're better than you. And I always say, "Yeah, yeah." I feel pretty damn good because I've got four of these suckers. And let's throw them on the table. Mine will still be making noise when yours stops.

ESQ: The highlight of your stage show has to be the part where you sing a song about your own butt.

T.B.: [Sings] You see my butt!

ESQ: If I’m reading interviews from the 2010s correctly, it seems like Matthew McConaughey's reaction was genuine, and he really was reacting to you being nude on the set of Failure to Launch.

T.B.: Because I really was nude. I had a penis sock on when I shot it. OK? Cause you can't be naked. So then when I was through shooting my portion of that. They turned the camera around to shoot Matthew. So I went back to my trailer, put on my boxer shorts, and came back and stood there for him. Matthew told the director, "I'm trying to get the picture that we had earlier.” So they came over to me and said, "Matthew would like for you to get in your sock. Your penis sock.” I'm sure he didn't say penis sock. So I said, "I'm not putting it on anymore. Tell Matthew when he walks up the stairs, I'll give him the look he's looking for.” So he went down the stairs and action! When he looks at me, I pulled my pants down, I grabbed my jock, and I shook it at him. I mean, I grabbed hold of it. And if you'll watch that film, you'll see him. His smile on his face.

ESQ: I'm sure he got a kick out of it, though.

T.B.: Oh my god. I don't think we did that but twice.

ESQ: It really was incredible to hear and watch you sing during this documentary. You even yodel. What are you feeling when you’re up on stage?

T.B.: The thing is it's when I'm on stage is when I'm happiest. I tell stories and I tell jokes and then I sing and then I tell some more stuff and I sing a little bit about my growing up. When I first did that show, I did it at the Mirage. I'm petrified. It's Vegas… While I was in Vegas, I was able to check out the crowd. And I realized, holy cow, most of these people are 50 and older. Why am I nervous? So if I sing bad, who cares? I'm going to tell some good stories. We'll have some fun.

ESQ: Near the end, you talk about the happiness you've found in your life. You know, your wife, having fun on FOX. Excuse the big, broad life question, but do you think people need to go through a certain amount of pain to be truly happy?

T.B.: Yeah. I think people like me who are—I'm not a single purpose human being. I'm multi-purpose. Maybe that's my ADD. I'm driven. Sometimes I drive myself too hard. I expect too much. And I look for the weaknesses in almost everything. I'm initially drawn to the positives, but once I get committed to it, then I start looking at the weaknesses. Unfortunately for me, I applied that to marriage. I did not understand marriage. I don't fault my first three exes, at all… I just wasn't mature enough. I just simply wasn't mature enough to realize that these three women are not for me.

I knew from the very beginning, Tammy was the kind of woman I needed to be married to. But I wouldn't open up to it. Didn't want to be divorced again. You know, I questioned myself. Why do you like her? Are you really in love with her? It drove me crazy. And I went to therapy. I went to counseling for three years—and counseling was the best thing I ever did—now we've been married eight years. And I'm like, this is how it was supposed to be. A partner. A talking buddy. I lay in bed now and she gets up. I'll tap her on the shoulders. Breakfast time, coffee. She loves taking care of me. I love taking care of her. I think this is how it's supposed to be.

ESQ: You talk about therapy in the documentary too, about depression being a disease and really having to put in the work.

T.B.: I'm fortunate in that if it's a disease, well, why you making fun of me? Why are you taking shots at me because I'm depressed? You ever been depressed? Have you ever really had depression as a disease? Not going through some crisis in your life where you're depressed. That's normal. Everybody. Everybody does that. I'm talking about just walking around outside, starting to get sick.

ESQ: Physical symptoms.

T.B.: Horrible. Everything comes over you. You get emotional, you get sad. You get sick at your stomach. And when I do that, when I know when it's coming on, I get real quiet. And normally, I'll go sit in the rocking chair on the porch, and Tammy can tell and she'll come out and she'll say, "What can I do?”

ESQ: You just want to put yourself away.

T.B.: Yeah. I'll always get out it, because I know what got me into it. You spend so much time dealing with the negative. You're going to get sick, and you're going to get depressed. There are certain things that happen in my life. Certain demands on my life, certain disappointments in my life from people, that send me over the edge. And I guess it's something I can't control.

ESQ: In Going Deep, you give an insight into the throws of it that I don't see represented often.

T.B.: You don't realize, really, whose lives you've had an impact on. I don't think like that. I think talking about yourself, sometimes to me, is way too vain. I don't like talking about myself. You talk about me. You tell me, you tell me how great I am. But the depression thing, it's turning out to be kind of a legacy thing, you know? For a lot of people. And I'm glad of that. I'm glad of that. I wish I didn't have it. But I'm glad now.

Photo credit: KMazur - Getty Images
Photo credit: KMazur - Getty Images

ESQ: At the beginning of Going Deep, you talk about why you did the show. You wanted to separate yourself, especially in a way that you feel that maybe the four Super Bowls did not. And just after doing the shows, do you feel like you’ve done that? Do you feel that fulfillment?

T.B.: I have. What am I trying to tell you? Is it important that people see this special and they see a side of me that they've never seen before? I think so... I do think there's a separation. I do believe from what I've heard about the special that it is revealing deeper into me. I'm scarred by the criticisms of the Rooney family and the Chuck Noll funeral and all of that. I only regret not going to Art Rooney's funeral, and that was a huge mistake. One I never will get over. But my wanting to run from Pittsburgh and all the shit that I went through the last two years [there]. That's just, to me, that's just immaturity. I regret that so much. I don't regret the rest. I don't regret it at all. I'm very happy. And I love that Steelers fans are so good to me. It's all the other shit. I was so driven by Chuck's relationship with all the bullshit.

ESQ: It’s hard. We all have those people.

T.B.: Yeah. It eats at me, you know? … I mean, I could talk for hours on this and I think the conclusion would be: I can't exorcise. I can't get it all out. I can't empty my soul. And all the hurt and pain that nobody knew I was going through. Because I did such a good job of hiding it. I took humor as my protection. As I told you before, I'm normally a guy that looks at the good first, the bad second. I think that I would rather look at the good and the happy and ignore the negative, ’cause there's shit nothing you can do about it. If I can't control it, then why worry about it. Right?

ESQ: Right. I mean, I go through that process by the hour, you know?

T.B.: There's a saying I heard on television and I'll get it to you and you'll love this. I think his name is Whitney Phipps, a Black bass singer, gospel. And before he sang this beautiful song, he said, "It is in the quiet crucible of your personal, private suffering that your noblest dreams are born and God's greatest gifts are given to you in compensation for what you've been through."

ESQ: Oh my god.

T.B.: I thought, wow, now that is so good. So you can interpret it a lot of ways, but simply the way I look at it is—we all get in a hole. We all have trials. We get down. Those that refuse to wallow in pity and misery are committed to figuring it out. How to get out, how to change, how to be better so that they can be happy. And those that don't give up, those that fight the battle and dig away, and wail away at the demons and finally crawl out of the hole? Then you receive your blessing. I'd like to think that applies to me. And you can apply to you.

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