Terry Bradshaw is standing astride the magic mountaintop of success and the sunny smile on his face shows he knows it.

He is a simple man with plain tastes. He jams his hands into his jacket pockets and hunches his shoulders as if to hide his well-known face with its deep-dimpled chin. But his grin reflects the delicious delight of a man who has met misfortune head-on and left it on a ledge below.

He wants to talk about what he calls his "dumb image," and the mischief in his eyes hints at a masterful prank played on the world. He laughs and slaps his thigh whenever he brings the subject up. His, after all, is the last laugh.

As if to put the academic stamp of approval on the qualities of Bradshaw's brain, Alderson-Broaddus College, a small Christian school in West Virginia, awarded him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree last spring.

"Not very many people call me 'doctor,' which is a real disappointment to me," Bradshaw jokes. "I didn't take it too seriously until I got there for the ceremony. Then I realized what it meant.

"I had to give a speech along with the other honorary degree candidates. Most of 'em -- the real doctors -- talked way over my head. So when it came my turn, I figured that since I had this image of being dumb that it would be on everyone's mind. So I told 'em a 'dumb' joke.

"I told 'em that I'd gotten a lot smarter since they gave me the Doctor of Laws degree. I said that I was now so smart that I had figured the occupations of the Three Wise Men. The Bible states very clearly, I told them, that the Wise Men were firemen. Then I cited the passage that says they 'came from a far."

Bradshaw gave 'a-far' his best Southern hick pronunciation and roared at his own joke. "The audience just hooted and hollered at that one. Let me tell you, I had fun! And that college is a real academic place. You should have seen the magnas and summas who came through that line."

The vicious rumor that Bradshaw was shortchanged when the Lord passed out brains began in 1970 when the big, lumbering, Joe Palooks-type quarterback from Louisiana Tech arrived as the Steelers' No. 1 draft choice. Pittsburgh is a tough town and previous Steeler quarterbacks -- Bobby Layne and Ed Brown -- had left as their legacy the expectation of two-fisted, street-smart leadership. The Pittsburgh press had difficulty adjusting to Bradshaw's Southern backwoods manners. He called reporters "sir."

"I was having growing pains and so was the football team," Bradshaw recalled, his blue eyes turning icy. "I was trying to make things happen. I was a big kid and I thought I could just run through people. I'd make stupid mistakes and I was a clean-shaven, Christian kid who just didn't fit in. The first chance they had, they nailed me. And what really shut the door on me was when I lost my starting job (in 1974) to Joe Gilliam."

Bradshaw regained his starting position six games into the 1974 season and his career has been an uphill stroll ever since. He threw an NFL high last year of 28 touchdown passes and set a Super Bowl record with 318 passing yards and four touchdowns. He was unanimous choice as the most valuable player in Super Bowl 13.

"I don't really think football has come close to peaking in this country," he said. "Compared to other sports, football has so much more versatility. You've got so many positions on the field that require different kinds of play. Scoring territory, goal lines, short yardage and long, the big blitz, the audible.

"You go to a baseball game and all you see is pitch, hit, field and throw. It's z-z-z-z-z-z-time, I tell you.

"And basketball is nothing but dribble, run and shoot. It takes them 25 games of playoffs to determine who gets to the finals. With our playoff system there's shock value to it. I mean, a team like Houston could have beat the Steelers last year in the playoffs.

"People talk about violence, but there's always violence when you have people padded up like that and getting mad. Heck, you play football so long that you just get caught up in it. And football players don't have any fear.

"I don't like cheap shots, clips and stuff like that, but as far as brute strength goes, heck, people like it. I used to be physically tough. I used to try to run over people. But I'm getting smarter in that, too. I'm mentally tough now.I've played nine years and I'd like to play a few more."

A shoulder injury in 1973 and wrist and neck injuries in 1976 have taken their toll on Bradshaw. His weight is down 18 pounds from his rookie year, when he reported to camp weighing 227 pounds. He says the loss is normal; he had to stop weightlifting because of the injuries. He figures he'll start the season (opening day is his 31st birthday) weighing 204.

"I'm feeling good. I'm relaxed throwing the ball. It always takes the offensive unit a little more time to groove."

Terry Bradshaw is the symbol of the new invincible Steeler team.

"Pittsburgh was always just a defensive team," he said. "It goes with the city; it's a tough, tough town. The saying was: 'You may beat us, but you're going to get a heck of a beating yourself.' But in the '70s Chuck Noll began drafting special types of talent and we started putting together a team."

He has a short, featherweight offensive line, he says, but "they're very quick and have good technique." With Bradshaw aboard, Noll, a former defensive coach, has allowed a more open offense.

"We're doing a lot of different things now in the passing game," Bradshaw said. "Crossings, slants and combinations. We throw equally to all three receivers, and if anybody has a complaint, it would be the backs. But Franco (Harris) has great hands and this season we've experimented throwing to the backs.

"Our offense is very multiple even though it sets up in one formation," he said. "I enjoy it a lot. I've been calling all the plays since my first year here. It's no big deal. I don't know why so many coaches around the league make such a thing about calling plays."

Bradshaw clearly enjoys his celebrity status. But he clings to his fundamentalist church upbringing and prefers simple pleasures over complex ones.

"If I were to start drinking and chasing girls and carousing, it wouldn't last long," he said, nodding sagely. "God'll always instruct his children."

Even Bradshaw's vanities are simple. He's nearsighted, but he won't wear glasses. "Heck, I might see something I wouldn't like," he laughs. His problem, he explains, is one of depth perception, but he can tell instantly if Lynn Swann is cutting a route 10 yards short and "messing me up on my throw."

Ask him about his hairpiece, the one he advertises in nationally distributed magazines, and he blushes beet-red. The hair on the top of his head is there; it's so blond, however, that it blends with his skin except when he's blushing. "I always wear that hairpiece when I'm in public," he says, stroking the short fuzz on his head."It's a real natural hairpiece; even when the wind blows it looks natural. It's not anything like Howard Cosell's. His is ridiculous.

"And, besides, every time I try to get out of that contract, the company doubles my salary. You know, there are some things a person will do out of pure greed."

Yes, Terry Bradshaw is on the top of the heap. He spends half his year playing pro football and the other half on his cattle ranch in Grand Cane, La., where he breeds Simmental cattle and quarterhorses.

He jokes that his ranch is called "NPO" for nonprofit organization, but he's not fooling when he talks about breeding patterns and how one colt out of his new quarterhorse, "Impressive Steeler," can repay his $20,000 investment.

Terry Bradshaw, dumb? In football circles, he's summa cum laude.