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Bradley's legend starts new chapter at Baylor

Sept. 24, 2004

By MATT RICHARDS, sports writer

When most Baylor fans look down the sidelines, they think more about the hustle and bustle of the game rather than the coaches wearing headsets. Lost in the hectic nature of football are the legendary lives of the coaches occupying the offices at Floyd Casey Stadium.

Baylor defensive coordinator Bill Bradley is one of those coaching legends. Know as "Super Bill" nationwide, Bradley has lived an extraordinary life full of countless football stories.

And it's the stories, not just record-setting statistics, which define this football legend.

Beginnings of a legend

Bradley was born in 1947 in what was then the tiny town of Palestine, Texas. The son of a baseball coach, Bradley's genetics initially led him to the diamond rather than the gridiron. Throughout high school, he excelled in baseball and was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the fifth round in 1965.

Throughout his high school career, Bradley pulled double duty as a baseball and football player, leading Palestine to the 1965 state title. That same year, he was named a high school All-American as a quarterback.

Few fans in Palestine have forgotten his play against Kilgore High School to win the next to last game of the season.

In the previous week against Carthage, Bradley deeply bruised his right hand, his throwing hand, when he was hit by a defender. Against Kilgore, he aggravated the injury when his same hand was caught between an oncoming defender and his shoulder pad.

The injury left him unable to throw. Unwilling to come out of the game, Bradley did the incredible -- he started throwing left-handed.

In fact, according to Bradley, he threw a 16-yard touchdown pass on the final drive to win the game with his left hand.

"It was very much an end-over end-pass," he said. "It wasn't a dart, bullet or anything like that but it got there and we scored. I've had coaches who had to rewind the film. They wondered if I really threw it or were they just seeing things."

'Super Bill' is born

The legend grew when Bradley was invited to play a game against the Pennsylvania high school all-stars in 1965.

Upset with the play of his team's quarterback, the head coach singled out Bradley, who had practiced as a defensive back, to play quarterback.

Bradley agreed. In the second half, the Texas all-stars made a triumphant comeback and won the game thanks to him.

Doak Walker, a future NFL Hall of Famer, was so impressed by Bradley's play, he decided to endow him with a new nickname.

"He happened to say, 'Ol' Bradley had a heck of a game,'" Bradley said. "'I bet if you go over there and tear that jersey off his chest, you'll see a big, red "S."'"

The name "Super Bill," has stuck , though Bradley said he prefers not to be called by his nickname.

"It's great to be called 'Super Bill,' but it is tough to ever live up to," Bradley said.

With a nickname and a left-handed touchdown in tow, Bradley accepted a scholarship from The University of Texas the fall of 1966. He was tri-captain of head Coach Darryl K. Royal's 1968 Longhorns, the first collegiate team to run the infamous wishbone offense.

Texas used the wishbone to rattle off 30 consecutive victories from 1968 to 1970 and a national championship in 1969, according to The Texas Longhorn athletics Web site.

Change of pace leads to success

The first quarterback to execute Royal's new offense was Bradley. But after a 0-1-1 start in the 1968 season, Royal moved him out of the starting quarterback position to a backup receiver.

The change was the right move. The switch began the string of victories but meant Bradley was transformed from a leader to a role player.

Bradley remained committed to the team and eventually got his break in the final regular season game of the 1968 season. An illness on the team forced Bradley to the other side of the ball.

"I'd moved from backup wide receiver to defensive right cornerback," Bradley said. "In that game, in my second week as a [defense back], I got lucky and got four interceptions individually against Texas A&M University."

Bradley's four interceptions remains a UT and Southwest Conference record. His efforts helped Texas capture the co-SWC championship and a final No. 3 ranking in the national polls.

After his playing days in Austin, Bradley made a successful jump to the NFL.

He was drafted in 1969 in the third round by the Philadelphia Eagles where he earned three All-Pro awards as a safety. He led the NFL in interceptions in 1971 and 1972, a feat which has been matched only once. Bradley still holds the Eagles' single-season record for interceptions and return yardage.

Legend versus legends

But it's Bradley's first career interception in the NFL which brings a smile to his face.

Bradley said he always relished the chance to play the Dallas Cowboys. His first ever play from scrimmage came against the Cowboys in the 1969 season.

With the clock winding down and the game out of reach for the Eagles, Bradley went in as a safety against future hall of fame quarterback Roger Staubach. Because of the blitz package called by the Eagles coaches, Bradley knew his assignment was going to be future hall of fame tight end Mike Ditka.

What happened next was magical.

"We were blitzing to get the ball back because they were ahead of us," Bradley said. "I studied film so I knew what there blitz adjustments were. Staubach and Ditka missed there blitz check. I knew right where they were going to throw it to, so I ran right to that spot."

Staubach greeted Bradley with pass right at the numbers. He intercepted the pass on the Eagle 46-yard line and returned it 54 yards for a touchdown.

One legend beating another.

Eight seasons and three knee operations caught up with Bradley, forcing him to retire after 1977. After short stints in the entertainment and agent businesses, he decided to return to his passion.

In the 21 years since he began coaching, Bradley has been a member of 15 staffs that guided teams to winning records. Some wondered why Bradley turned down the NFL for a Baylor team which hasn't had a winning season since 1995. Tears well in his eyes as he explained the reason why he chose Waco.

Old friends reunite

He came because his friend, head Coach Guy Morriss, asked him to come.

Bradley and Morriss characterize their relationship as being lifelong friends. The two met in 1969 during the Collegiate All-Star Game.

Fresh out of Texas Christian University, Morriss was considering quitting football when Bradley paid a visit to him. He talked through Morriss' problems and encouraged him to stay with football. The talk forged a lasting bond.

"I'll never forget that," Morriss said. "I probably owe my career to him. We've been friends ever since."

Bradley is slow to accept such credits from Morriss.

"He saved his career," Bradley said. "He's giving me too much credit. I remember the meeting and we've been dear friends ever since."

Bradley said he loves bringing his pedigree and coaching style, along with a unique fashion sense of Hawaiian shirts to Baylor's coaching staff.

However, lurking just behind his Coke-bottle glasses and his 57-year-old frame is an incredible story from football's past.

And a legend still in the making.