The idea that Terry Bradshaw lacked the brainpower to spell “cat” emerged in Miami in 1979, while the Steelers were preparing to play the Cowboys in Super Bowl XIII (that’s no. 13, Terry). Playing linebacker for Dallas that year was Hollywood Henderson (his mother named him Thomas but the son thought Hollywood more appropriate).
Hollywood Henderson liked to have fun. He was always talking. Some called him the NFL’s Muhammad Ali. “He’s the greatest, I’m the latest,” Hollywood said.
The Latest said Bradshaw was so dumb “he couldn’t spell ‘cat’ if you spotted him the c-a.”
Bradshaw’s response: “This isn’t nuclear physics, it’s a game. How smart do you have to be?”
This all came to mind last week, after Bradshaw called Steelers coach Mike Tomlin a good “cheerleader guy” but not a great coach. Tomlin suggested this comment was unprofessional and added, “But what do I know? I grew up a Dallas fan, particularly a Hollywood Henderson fan.”
Henderson was a trip. He stepped off the plane in Miami in January 1979 chanting, “Hey, hey, Hollywood is here.” He and his teammates stayed at a posh new hotel close to the beach. He and his teammates, including Ed “Too Tall” Jones, posed with bathing suit models and romped in the ocean waves. We have a picture in the archive of Henderson doing just this — splashing through the water, a big smile on his face.
The Steelers stayed at a Marriott by the Miami airport (pictures show a hotel that looks somewhat like a motor lodge). The closest body of water was the swimming pool. Players hung out with fans and local folks like Pittsburgh mayor Richard Caliguiri. Bradshaw was the most flamboyant Steeler. He ran around shirtless, mugging for a camera. A snakeskin belt held up his disco-era pants.
Newspapers made a big deal out of the contrasts between the two teams and their fans who’d made the trip to South Florida. It was kielbasa vs. escargot, said The Pittsburgh Press. Dallas fans were on an expense account; Steelers fans were blowing the rent money.
Pittsburghers took pride in these comments. It fit our image of the city as home to hard-working folks. And then we beat Dallas 35-31. Take that, Hollywood.
Actually, Henderson was considerably less biting in his remarks after the game. “Right now I’m on the verge of a heart attack,” he said. “I hurt. I gave it all I could, and the team gave it all.”
Henderson’s career ended in ‘81, when he broke his neck in a preseason game. He was playing for the Dolphins. Cowboys coach Tom Landry had fired him in ‘79. Henderson was mugging for the cameras on the sidelines, and that was too much for the conservative Landry.
Henderson developed a drug and alcohol habit, then got clean and sober in ‘84. He twice won the lottery, once for $28 million and then for $20,000. He’s now a motivational speaker. And he’s established a charity in Austin, Texas, called East Side Youth Services & Street Outreach.
Bradshaw, of course, is a football analyst on TV. Sometimes people still question his IQ. He once said of Denver quarterback John Elway, “Is he a great quarterback? Nope.”
To which Denver coach Dan Reeves responded, “Those TV commentators, they’re not quite as smart as they’re given credit for.”
— Steve Mellon