On This Day in 1983: Steelers’ ‘Tom Brady’ Underwent Elbow Surgery

Terry Bradshaw with Tom Brady

Getty Images Terry Bradshaw interviewing Tom Brady after Super Bowl LI on February 5, 2017.

It’s worth considering whether former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw has a time machine and knew the pseudonym Tom Brady would be good for a chuckle, decades in the future. On March 3, 1983, the four-time Super Bowl champion—and future Pro Football Hall of Famer—checked into a Shreveport, La. hospital to have surgery on his throwing arm. In doing so, he used the alias ‘Thomas Brady.’

“Many times, we have to admit people under an assumed name or under no name to keep the press and the fans away,” explained hospital administrator Charles Boyd in an article subsequently published by United Press International (UPI). Boyd went on to say that a local orthopedic surgeon “repaired small muscle tears” in Bradshaw’s right elbow—describing the injury as “the same thing as tennis elbow”—and that the quarterback was discharged from Doctor’s Hospital two days later.

The article also claims that “Dr. [William] Burdick was in consultation with the surgeon for the Pittsburgh Steelers” and that Bradshaw “was ‘a super patient’ who made rounds one morning in the hospital to visit ill children.” It also advises that a Steelers spokesman in Pittsburgh indicated that the procedure “was a ‘relatively minor thing caused by wear and tear’ and the team made no mention of it because it never publicizes such off-season minor surgery to players.”

The Injury Ended Terry Bradshaw’s Career

As it turns out, Bradshaw’s elbow injury was anything but ‘relatively minor.’ He didn’t play until Week 15 of the 1983 regular season, a 34-7 win over the New York Jets at Shea Stadium in New York.

He completed five of eight passes that day for two touchdowns before aggravating his elbow injury on a touchdown pass to wide receiver Calvin Sweeney, seen here at the 36:30 mark.

Years later, Bradshaw recounted how he knew his career was over the moment he threw his last pass.

In hindsight, the Steelers no doubt wish they were more involved with Bradshaw’s surgery and treatment. Less than two months later, the Steelers passed on quarterback Dan Marino in the 1983 NFL Draft, a Pittsburgh native who played his college football at Pitt and went on to become a Pro Football Hall of Famer for the Miami Dolphins.

Ben Roethlisberger’s Elbow Surgery, By Way of Comparison

Almost four decades later, it seems inconceivable that a star NFL quarterback would have surgery on his throwing arm at a local hospital in Shreveport, La.—and check in under an assumed name.

When Ben Roethlisberger had surgery on his right elbow in 2019, he took a cross-country flight to Los Angeles to have his procedure performed by a top specialist. Roethlisberger documented the process in a four-part Web miniseries titled ‘Bigger Than Ben.’ In episode two of that documentary—the most compelling of the four episodes—we see Roethlisberger being wheeled into the operating room, coming out of anesthesia, and at his follow-up doctor’s appointments.

We also get to see Steelers team doctor, Dr. Jim Bradley, removing the stitches from Roethlisberger’s elbow, an uncomfortable-to-watch procedure where we see Ben tear up from the pain and ask, half-jokingly, “Where’s my wooden stick?”

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