Bradshaw’s Super Bowl greatness still greatly unappreciated

There have been just three quarterbacks to win four or more Super Bowls.

Two of them, Tom Brady and Joe Montana, are usually considered to be the two best quarterbacks in the history of the NFL.

The third one, Terry Bradshaw, is usually overlooked because he played on the Pittsburgh Steelers teams of the 1970s with eight other Hall of Famers. They were the only team to win four Super Bowls in a six-year span, the only one to win back-to-back twice and were probably the best team ever.

I was reminded of the way Bradshaw doesn’t get his just due when I was reading a recent O-Zone column on the Jacksonville Jaguars website by John Oesher.

A reader named Bradley from Carson City, Nev., was making a case for Blake Bortles, claiming he has the “potential’’ to be as good or better than 14 of the 33 Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks. He conceded Bortles wasn’t Aaron Rodgers, Bart Starr or Roger Staubach but said he could be as good as Jim Plunkett, Bob Griese or Joe Theismann.

I contend he will never even be as good as those last three quarterbacks, but I’m not here to debate that point. We will find out soon enough if I’m right. Suffice to say they all won Super Bowls without having as good of a defense as Bortles has backing him up.

But then Bradley added, “How many rings would Terry Bradshaw have won without the Steel Curtain?’’

I’ve heard that comment many times and still can’t believe it.

The real question is how many would they have won without Bradshaw? The answer is probably just one.

They could have won Super Bowl IX against Minnesota without him (the score was 2-0 at halftime in a defensive battle), but they probably wouldn’t have won the other three. Bradshaw outdueled Staubach in two of the three and was the MVP of their last two.

To his credit, Oesher answered, “No, he wouldn’t have won his four Super Bowls had he not played with one of the all-time great teams, but it’s reasonable to say that 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers team wouldn’t have won all four without him either. He was good, maybe not Rushmore good, but absolutely Hall of Fame good.’’

I am not going to argue he was Rushmore good because I will be considered biased since I covered those teams, but let me give you some examples of how good he was.

To start with, Bradshaw played his best in the playoffs (going 13-2 from 1974-1979) and made the single best clutch long throw in Super Bowl history — and nobody remembers it. That was “70 Slot Hook and Go” for a 73-yard touchdown pass to John Stallworth on third down in the fourth period of Super Bowl XIV against the Los Angeles Rams.

Stallworth was double-covered, and Bradshaw threw it perfectly so Stallworth could make an over-the-shoulder catch at midfield and go untouched into the end zone. The cover of Sports Illustrated was the ball about to fall in Stallworth’s arms.

The Steelers were aging then, down 19-17, and Bradshaw’s touchdown pass put them ahead for good.

Later in the quarter, he connected for 45 yards to Stallworth to set up the touchdown that made the final 31-19. Earlier in the game, Bradshaw threw a 47-yard touchdown pass to Lynn Swann.

Bradshaw was a gunslinger who was picked off three times in that game, but he made big plays to win Super Bowls, throwing a touchdown pass in the fourth period of all four of the team’s Super Bowl wins in the 1970s.

Neither Montana nor Brady made those kinds of deep throws in their Super Bowl wins, but then neither had Bradshaw’s arm.

And early in his career, he played before all the rule changes were made to open up the passing game and protect the quarterbacks. That’s why his stats don’t look as good as many of today’s quarterbacks.

Yet in Super Bowl X against the Dallas Cowboys, he threw a game-winning fourth period touchdown pass to Swann a second before he was knocked out of the game by a big hit to his jaw by Larry Cole. He stood in the pocket and ignored the rush and made the touchdown pass.

And he also called his own plays, which neither Montana nor Brady did. Coach Chuck Noll believed in the quarterbacks calling the plays.

Yes, Bradshaw had a contentious relationship with Noll. There was an insecure aspect to his personality (he once said he wanted to go into the stands and apologize after throwing a pick), and Noll wasn’t the kind of coach to pat him on the back.

And it took Bradshaw a while to develop coming out of Louisiana Tech, and a teammate once said he was like a rose blossoming in slow motion. Although the Steelers made the AFC title game in his third season, Bradshaw didn’t win the first Super Bowl until his fifth year (long story, but Noll benched him the first six games of the 1974 season for Joe Gilliam when Gilliam was spectacular in the rookie games during a veteran’s strike).

Still, if Bradshaw, Montana and Brady showed up at the scouting combine at the same time, the scouts would want Bradshaw because of his arm. Bradshaw was the first pick of the 1970 draft, Montana was a third-rounder in 1979 and Brady a sixth-rounder in 2000.

I could go on and on, but I know I’m not going to change any perceptions.

Let me just say this: If we ever chose up sides for the Great Mythical game, you would probably take Brady or Montana.

I would take Bradshaw, and I think I’d be on the winning side because he would make the big plays to make the difference.

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