By Simon Gonzalez
Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw had an important message for the hundreds of people gathered at the Wilmington Convention Center on Friday, June 10, for Coastal Horizons Center’s annual fundraising luncheon.
“Service is the most important thing in the world,” he said. “You have to understand what your purpose is.”
Bradshaw’s primary purpose in Wilmington was to help the nonprofit group raise money for its mission of providing mental health and substance use services. He succeeded, if attendance is any gauge. Table sponsorships started at $1,250 and individual tickets were $125 each, and the grand ballroom was packed with nearly 700 people — the most ever for the luncheon, Coastal Horizons Center officials said.
Bradshaw, a Louisiana native, entertained with his folksy, down-home, self-deprecating humor. The former Pittsburgh Steelers great and current co-host of Fox NFL Sunday relayed tales from his glory days on the field. But mostly, he played the part of motivational speaker, encouraging his audience to make the most of life here on Earth.
“When you go to bed and put your head on the pillow, say one good thing happened to me today,” he said. “And if you can’t, shame on you. There is hope. Hope is awesome. Forget about depression. I want you filled with joy. That’s eternal.”
Bradshaw, 67, moved a little slowly when he ascended the steps to the podium after being introduced by Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo. He mentioned his health challenges this year: rheumatoid arthritis, a knee replacement and foot fusion surgery.
His medical chalenges almost kept him from attending. It was announced in February that he had to cancel the speaking engagement. He joked about Coastal Horizons’ president and CEO Margaret Weller Stargell’s powers of persuasion — “I tried to back out, but she wouldn’t take no for an answer,” he said — and he was determined to make it if at all possible.
“If this was my last day on Earth, I would still want to be here,” he said.
For one thing, the invitation was personal. He and Stargell’s late husband, baseball Hall of Famer Willie Stargell, were friends and fellow Pittsburgh sports icons. While Bradshaw was leading the Steelers to four Super Bowl victories in the ’70s, Stargell and the Pirates won two World Series. The two men each played their games at the multipurpose Three Rivers Stadium, and shared Sports Illustrated magazine’s “Sportsmen of the Year” award in 1979, following championships by both their teams.
For another, the cause was important. Bradshaw is well acquainted with mental health issues, having been diagnosed with and treated for clinical depression.
“I’m a depression guy,” he said. “They say your creative side comes from your dark side. I should be the most creative guy in the world.”
But that was all he said about his own struggles. Instead, he focused on humor and his positive message.
He made fun of his reputation of not always being the smartest guy in the room, saying he “failed the ACT” in high school. He said that carries over to his role on Fox NFL Sunday.
“I don’t have the answers, don’t know the answers, don’t care about the answers,” he said. “When I’m on Fox, I’m making stuff up. Detroit at Buffalo? Who cares?”
He may or may not have the inside scoop on every game, but one thing is certain during the telecasts: whenever the camera is on him, he’ll be smiling.
“I’m always smiling,” he said. “Whatever you’re dealing with, you’ve got to find a way to smile. I am a person that honestly loves to smile. I love life. I’m not going to allow anything or anybody or anything I read mess up my attitude. Every morning when I wake up, I sit on the edge of my bed, draw in some air, and say this is a great day. I’m alive. You can’t get nothing done if you’re dead.”
Bradshaw also liberally sprinkled in references to his faith.
“I want nothing for you but God’s grace and God’s forgiveness,” he said.
Faith, he suggested, can be the catalyst to taking action to help a world in need.
“I don’t like to have people hurting,” he said. “I can’t stand to see people in pain. We have become self-centered. We have got to where we only care about us. The Bible says you’ve got to be still and listen. God will speak. Be still. Listen. Obey. Act. Respond.”
Whether they came to hear Bradshaw or to support the work of Coastal Horizons Center, the money raised will help the organization augment the efforts of facilities like the New Hanover Regional Medical Center.
“The stigma that used to be associated with mental health is gone,” said Jack Barto, the retiring president CEO of NHRMC. “These are people rich and poor, young and old, racially diverse. This disease doesn’t come with obvious wounds. But the pain is as deep. We can’t wait for the state of North Carolina to fix this issue. We have to take care of this in our own community. We have to find the solution. Be generous today. This is our issue, this is our problem.”