The expectation of a response to the former Steelers quarterback calling the current Steelers coach a “cheerleader guy” turned Tomlin's weekly news conference Tuesday on Root Sports into must-see TV.
Tomlin didn't disappoint, crafting a rebuttal that was self-deprecating, defiant and delivered with a dagger. He called Bradshaw's comments "disrespectful and unprofessional."
Then Tomlin added: “But what do I know? I grew up a Dallas fan. Particularly a Hollywood Henderson fan.”
In the lead-up to Super Bowl XIII between the Cowboys and Steelers in January 1979, Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson told reporters of Bradshaw, “He is so dumb, he couldn't spell cat if you spotted him a C and an A.”
What was so entertaining is just as sad, that Tomlin didn't heed his own advice and turn a deaf ear to the outside noise of criticism he often calls elevator music.
Where Tomlin is typically thick-skinned, he obviously took Bradshaw's cheap-shot critique personally.
For one, it was friendly fire by a Steelers Hall of Famer, one who provided four of the six Lombardis that Tomlin loves to talk about walking past every day in the trophy case at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
More pointedly, it is the one review that really rankles Tomlin. He doesn't like to be considered a player's coach — even when it's meant as a compliment — and certainly doesn't want to be called a cheerleader.
Hint of truth: What had to bother Tomlin was the hint of truth in Bradshaw's words, even if he went way overboard.
Tomlin isn't regarded as a strategist, like Chuck Noll, and did inherit a recent Super Bowl champion from Bill Cowher. Tomlin can't escape those truths, no matter how inconvenient they are.
Tomlin, however, is a master motivator who has the ear of everyone in his locker room. Coach T's messages are oft-repeated by his players, whether it's the next-man-up “standard” or Sunday's “don't blink.”
That's no small feat with today's pro athletes, who are faster to tune out an ineffective coach than Tomlin is to turn deaf to elevator music.
But don't shortchange Tomlin, either. At a time when the NFL's coaching carousel is about to go full spin, talking about Bradshaw overshadowed Tomlin's most prominent point.
“Football's our game,” Tomlin said. “Our business is winning.”
Tomlin doesn't need defending: That's where it's not necessary to defend Tomlin. Not when he has reached 100 wins faster than either Noll or Cowher. Not when Tomlin has led the Steelers to the playoffs seven times in 10 seasons and to the Super Bowl twice, becoming the youngest coach in NFL history to win a world title.
When asked about the safety of stability in the Steelers' organization, Tomlin was even more direct.
“I don't view that stability as a function that comes with this job. I view that as a function of winning, so I stay focused on winning,” Tomlin said. “If I don't win, I'd imagine you'd be looking at me packing boxes like everyone else. That's the nature of this job at this level, and I respect it as such.”
It's a shame that Bradshaw doesn't respect Tomlin as such, instead creating controversy amid a Steelers' winning streak and just two days prior to a critical game against their archrivals.
Tomlin should have treated Bradshaw's words as nothing but noise and allowed the Steelers' Christmas Comeback in the 31-27 win over the Baltimore Ravens to speak for itself.
Tomlin can treat this as one of his teachable moments, in which he learned a lesson while dishing one out to a cat named Bradshaw: If Hollywood Henderson spots you the C and the A, don't mess with T.