Senior College Football Columnist

'The Boz' still being punished for being ... a college kid


The Boz watches from the sidelines as Oklahoma takes on Florida State in 2010. (US Presswire)  
The Boz watches from the sidelines as Oklahoma takes on Florida State in 2010. (US Presswire)  

Before everything else that defined his life, Brian Bosworth was a just a college kid.

That's what I'll remember about first meeting Oklahoma's great linebacker. It was the mid-1980s. I had gone to Norman to report his story for the Kansas City Star. This brash kid from Irving, Texas was making news with his hits and his mouth.

The Boz was just being born. It was a different time. Imagine today a reporter interviewing a star player -- any player -- in his dorm room. That's when we were allowed to actually get to know our subjects. I distinctly remember two things from that dorm room almost 30 years ago that were unremarkable then, but would have been a social media feed bag today.

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An unkempt room and a rebel flag on the wall.

Trending: #insensitive boz doesn't make his bed?

It was an era when college football was just discovering itself. A Supreme Court ruling had allowed the game to go viral on TV in a landmark decision against the NCAA. Dynasties were established. Nicknames flourished. Alter egos evolved. College football's revolution was definitely being televised.

Boz was its William Wallace, a wild-eyed rebel among a growing number of athletes who woofed, preened and hit like mothers. Miami had a team full of Bozzes -- wild, cocky, smack-talking rogues. Oklahoma wasn't far behind.

We loved it. Fans, media, the cameras. It was even better when those loud-mouthed louts could play. Bosworth definitely could. He remains today the only two-time winner of the Butkus Award as the nation's best linebacker. A two-time All-American, Sports Illustrated named him a member of its all-century team.

If you don't remember one of the greatest defensive forces in the game's history you're not alone. Neither does the College Football Hall of Fame.

The hall will announce its latest class Tuesday. This is the 13th year Bosworth will be eligible. Don't bet your tailgate guacamole dip he will make it.

"I don't need to be part of some club," he said Monday sounding very Boznian. "To me, the last thing I want to do is be reminded I'm not playing anymore. It crushes me."

It crushed Bosworth to the point that he wasn't pain-free until around 2002 when both shoulders were replaced. He saw a psychologist "well after I should have." It crushed Bosworth to see Junior Seau commit suicide but in a strange way, he understood.

"We've all been on that cliff," Bosworth said. "Some of us step off it."

It's been 23 years since he last made a tackle but Bosworth still longs for football like a junkie longs for a drug. Only a sensitive stomach allowed him to avoid further misery when those shoulders ached. Bosworth was able to stay away from potentially addicting painkillers.

At times, his life has been one of NFL and personal disappointment. The first-round draft choice's NFL career lasted only three years. There has been a divorce, surgery and a land deal gone bad. To know Boz today, is to know him as a straight-to-DVD action hero.

"If they call me tomorrow and say, 'Hey dude, you're in,' it's not going to make me any happier," Bosworth said. "It won't give me any more fulfillment. I think I've spent enough time living in my past about things I did when I was young."

Those are not the stories any Hall of Fame wants to hear. But every sport contains rogues, criminals and in the case of the college hall, an alleged murderer. It makes no sense, then, to leave Bosworth out based on some nebulous definition of "character."

"It's the negative stuff [why] he's not in the hall," Barry Switzer said with indignation.

One man's negative is another man's revolution. The "stuff" included a wacked-out hairdo that, these days, Nicki Minaj would consider conservative.

Boz's two favorite things in college were "Domino's Pizza and The Three Stooges." He once said he puked at the site of burnt orange, referring to hated Texas.

Bosworth was most infamously known for being suspended prior to the 1987 Orange Bowl after testing positive for steroids. The then-21 year old reacted by wearing a homemade T-shirt on the sidelines that read: "National Communists Against Athletes."

Even that was too much for Switzer.

"I didn't see it until I looked at the film," Oklahoma's former coach said. "I said, 'Boz you need to plan on playing pro football because your ass ain't going to play for me anymore. It wasn't the T-shirt. I told him not to do anything that would embarrass himself, the team or this university. He did. That's why I kicked his ass off the team."

But the same lug who consumed pizzas and the Three Stooges in equal amounts, also graduated in 3 ½ years with a GPA north of 3.0. Burnt orange made him sick, mostly because his girlfriend had just dumped him for a Longhorn. If smack talk and steroids are reasons not to honor one of the greatest linebackers ever, you haven't been reading the headlines. In fact, you might as well shut down the College Football Hall of Fame.

"Bobby Bowden called me unsolicited," Switzer said. "He said, 'Barry I want to tell you something. Brian Bosworth is the most dominant defensive force in college football today.' I said, 'You're right.' He could destroy offenses."

And really that's all that should matter this week for a 74-year-old former coach and a middle-aged 'backer-turned-actor. Their legacy is in the balance but so is the hall's. O.J. Simpson remains in the Hall of Fame. LSU's Billy Canon did time for counterfeiting. He's also in the hall.

Yes, The Boz is guilty -- of being a college kid. We're essentially talking about that kid drinking beer and raising a little hell.

"When you're 20, we all make stupid and impulsive decisions," he said.

Held to that standard, a lot of us wouldn't have our jobs today. If it matters, and it should, The Boz is sorry. Check out this nine-year old YouTube video. In it, Bosworth apologizes for any and all his transgressions. The setting was a gathering of former Oklahoma greats. Bosworth comes close to crying.

"I think I've shamed the program in a lot of ways," he says. "I want to apologize to each and every one of you guys for the things I did."

"He was embarrassed," Switzer said. "There were five decades of players in that room. Boz, he bared his soul somewhat."

And that should be enough. A quarter century after Bosworth played, Switzer still believes he, his linebacker and Oklahoma are paying a price. It took Switzer 10 years to get in the hall. A great coaching career was disgraced at the end when OU went on NCAA probation in 1989. Quarterback Charles Thompson made the cover of SI for allegedly dealing cocaine to an undercover agent.

"That," Switzer said of those lawless end days, "was obviously was what -- I really believe -- kept me [out]."

Among the criteria for eligibility into the hall is, "[the candidate] must have proven himself worthy as a citizen, carrying the ideals of football forward into his relations with his community and his fellow man with love of his country."

With the likes of Simpson and Canon enshrined, those criteria are a bit confusing, if not misleading. Hall voters remain undecided on Bosworth's candidacy. From 2000-2008 he did not make the ballot. Since 2009, he has. Maybe that has something to do with Bosworth gradually becoming a member of the establishment he once ridiculed.

He got married and was eventually divorced. It happens. Over the years, Badass Boz settled down and sold real estate. He helped rescue a woman who rolled her SUV. In 2009, he gave CPR to a man who had collapsed in a parking lot. At the time he was reportedly on his way home from doing community service for a DUI.

That happens, too.

"They called him a bust," Switzer said of Bosworth's brief pro career. "The guy is drafted in the first round … How can that be a bust? Ryan Leaf is a bust."

The years have taught us there is only one Boz. Deion Sanders once said Bosworth's antics paved the way for "Prime Time." An all-century linebacker should be a slam dunk. But 13 years later there is little reason to believe anything will change on Tuesday.

Why? Who knows? The NFF election process is arcane and confusing. Based on current rules, Notre Dame's Joe Montana will never be in the College Football Hall of Fame. He was never an All-American on a team recognized by the NCAA. If that sounds outrageous, consider that at one time hall of famers had to actually graduate.

Unfortunately, what most of the world remembers is that Seattle's top draft choice flew to his first professional practice in helicopter. They remember a Monday Night Football game in which Bo Jackson trucked Bosworth on the way to a touchdown. That was back when Monday Night Football mattered. Suddenly, it seemed, Bosworth didn't.

And that's OK, too. Bosworth is remarried. There are still the movies. There is a documentary in the works that features those great Oklahoma teams. No doubt The Boz will be featured.

But as a man nearing 50, Brian Bosworth is trying to get away from his alter ego. The problem is that soon, preferably Tuesday, the hall needs to embrace it, celebrate it, honor it. It probably won't. Bosworth won't be waiting by the phone.

"I don't think I'll ever mentally heal," he said. "The saddest day of my life was the day I didn't get to play football anymore."

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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