Jim Bradshaw, Steelers Safety, 1963-1967
First, can you let readers know what you are doing these days?
My wife, daughter and I are all in real estate together for the East side of Columbus, Ohio. My wife has had the business for over thirty years. I joined about ten years ago. I told her as long as she keeps working and I can keep golfing, we’re in great shape!
Tell us about being drafted out of Tennessee-Chattanooga College in 1963?
I was drafted by Pittsburgh and Boston of the AFL. It was an easy choice to go to Pittsburgh. I grew up sixty miles from Pittsburgh. My family and relatives lived in McKeesport. And training camp was at West Liberty State College, which was only ten minutes from home.
There was also the saying, that if you don’t make it in the NFL, you can always go down to the AFL…
Who took you in that rookie year and helped mentor you?
Well, Jack Butler helped me out a bit. He started the BLESTO scouting service and gave me pointers. But, being a rookie then, you got little help from veterans. Jackie Simpson was the guy whose job I took. He and Dick Haley were friends, so I didn’t get much help from Dick.
Brady Keys also helped me. He was a tough-nosed player.
How helpful were the coaches in getting you ready for the NFL game?
Buster Ramsey, the defensive coach at the time, helped me a lot with technique. Frankly, in college I was a quarterback. In college then, you played both ways. But, there was the one-man substitution rule, and I was the guy in college that they substituted for.
How did you end up as a defensive back in Pittsburgh?
Bill Nelsen was my roommate. He was drafted as a defensive back. Parker told coach Mike Nixon he could draft anyone he wanted in the later rounds so long as it wasn’t a quarterback. Well, Nelsen was quarterback, but Nixon drafted him as a defensive player. Of course he ended up at quarterback anyway (laughing).
In camp, your first day they left a yellow and black jersey in each of our lockers. They let us decide whether we wanted to play offense or defense. I took yellow – for defense. I was a running quarterback in college – I know what it was like to be hit! Bill took black for offense.
In those days, Pittsburgh was one of the first teams to draft athletes rather than positions. I remember listening to Jack Butler and Art Rooney Jr. going through the draft, talking about drafting athletes, not position players.
You played under coach Buddy Parker. How was Buddy to play for?
Buddy Parker was a great coach. He just had trouble controlling his emotions. He was a real master when it came to offenses and defenses, he just couldn’t stand to lose.
I remember playing in Yankee Stadium the final game of the season versus the Giants. We win, we go to the championship game. Well, of course we lost. Buddy went crazy. I remember he cut off his necktie on the airplane he was so mad at losing.
Who were the leaders on those teams and the guys that kept that team loose?
John Baker was a leader. Ernie Stautner was in his last year my rookie year. So were John Henry Johnson and Buddy Dial.
The team was just hysterical. The locker room was always loose. I remember Preston Carpenter ran out of the tunnel once time as the offense was being introduced. He was wearing Charlie Bradshaw’s size seventeen shoes – and his helmet – backwards. Well, he ran right into the goalpost and knocked it down. It fell backwards right on to the cameraman who was filming the game (laughing).
In Atlanta, Carpenter came running out of the dugout of Ponce de Leon field and did a perfect hook slide into second base!
Even Buddy got into the act. I remember him standing on the wooden benches we had in he locker room at the time, talking to the players. He was smoking those huge cigars he smoked, with a can of foot powder on the bench next to him. Well, every time he stamped his foot, the powder would puff up -he kept doing it to make it look like the smoke was pouring out of him – the room was hysterical.
Who were some of the toughest guys you faced in practice?
Dial at wide receiver ran a perfect post route. We all used to fight with receiver Red Mack. He was a feisty guy. We had several skirmishes in practice. Gary Ballman was pretty aggressive too.
They all made me much better. Coming out of college I didn’t play defense. It was an eye-opener. Dial’s routes and Red Mack’s speed…
How did it make you a better player?
It makes you learn early to rely on help. You study film in more depth – how to react and where your help was. That was most important in the NFL. In college you played your spot in the zone or played your man – in the NFL you needed to know much more.
How were the playing conditions then compared with today?
We played in Forbes Field my rookie year – that was a nice field. Then we moved to Pitt Stadium. The field was always good. Most of the time we played on baseball fields.
I remember playing the Giants my rookie year in mid-December. We practiced Saturday - did our walk-throughs as it was raining. The field would mush up as we ran through the infield and make footprints. That night it froze. It was like playing on knives. Me, being the dumb rookie, I cut the sleeves off of my jerseys and coach Parker would not allow anyone to wear anything under their uniform. I learned my lesson the hard way!
The next time I cut off my sleeves I kept them and sewed them on when I needed them!
What do you think of the rules behind the game today?
Well, the size, speed of today’s players…I mean, a 6’8″, 320 pound guy running a 5.5 40 is crazy. It’s all due to the workouts and diets. We didn’t even have a weight room when I was a Steeler. Can you believe that? Not in college either. Most guys lifted twelve ounces – that’s all (laughing).
I can see why they are trying to protect players. But a $40,000 fine, that’s a bit crazy. It’s a tough call. A wide receiver is ducking his head as you try to hit him in the chest to dislodge the ball. It’s your job – but you hit him in the head because he ducked. It’s a tough job…
Do you stay involved with the NFL and the Steelers?
I’m involved with the NFL alumni in Columbus. I just got a report recently actually from the NFLPA. It’s terrible – a shame how they’ve treated players.
The NFL or the NFLPA?
What the NFLPA has done is criminal. The owners tried to help players out and the NFLPA shot them down! I stopped my membership in the NFLPA. They only care about the active players – that’s who pays their salaries. Most retired players make $600 a month if they are vested – that was just increased. Baseball players for that same vesting period make $100,000 a year! They just haven’t done their job for older players.
There were thirty-five Hall of Fame players trying to get a petition going for older players in need of help. I get carried away with this stuff. It just makes me angry…
Any other thoughts of your time in Pittsburgh?
Here’s a funny story. My rookie contract was for $9,500. I went in after my rookie year to negotiate with Art Rooney Sr. and the business manager, Fran Fogerty. They were both sitting behind this one desk in the office at the Roosevelt Hotel.
Mr. Rooney said to me, “Jimmy, you had a pretty good rookie year. You said your contract was for $9,500 - $500 as a bonus. But if you read the contract, it was for $9,000 – the $500 wasn’t a bonus – it was an advance on your salary. If you didn’t make the team, you would have owed us $500!” He and Fran nearly fell of f their chairs they were laughing so hard (laughing).
The saddest day I remember was when I was traded away. But I had many happy days in Pittsburgh.
Any last thoughts for readers?
I enjoyed being in Pittsburgh. I still have good friends there – it’s a good town. I’m happy to be here in Columbus too. I remember my daughter was born at half-time of our Steelers-Eagles game and they announced it in the stadium.
I also remember Pitt Stadium. Art would round up 100-200 nuns to cheer us on during games. I still remember them all in their habits, cheering us on!