I walked into Owen’s Field almost 30 years ago to attend my very first Oklahoma Sooners’ game. As I entered the stadium, I was awestruck by its size and the brightly colored green grass. All around me, people chanted, yelled, and shouted food orders. The Sooners ran onto the field to take on Kansas State and the place was electric with excitement. As the Sooners made their way to the sidelines, I quickly began scanning all the players to find my favorite player in the world. It wasn’t hard to find him – strutting to the bench and holding a helmet in one hand as his blond Mohawk blew in the Oklahoma breeze, Number 44 was ready to put on a show.
The “Boz,” as Brian Bosworth was called, was an impressive football player who always seemed to be in the middle of the action. Even though he played middle linebacker, he was everywhere. He could quickly get into the opponent’s backfield or he created a ruckus for any receiver that dared to come across the middle. If you were going to label a football player as “awesome,” The Boz fit the bill.
What was equally impressive was how The Boz marketed himself. If you were a kid growing up in Oklahoma, you idolized him. My friends and I all watched every move he made on TV and listened closely to everything he said. He acted as though he was 50 parts football player, 40 parts pro wrestler, and 10 parts rock star. We even tried to imitate him. My friends and I copied his hairstyles, attitude, and the way he carried himself. We loved when he wrote the names of opposing players on his shoes. And if you went to a high school football game during this time, you would find that the toughest player on the team probably wore number 44, just like The Boz.
Unfortunately for the Boz and his fans, Brian Bosworth’s football career at OU fell apart. He tested positive for steroids right before the Orange Bowl during his junior season and was not permitted to play in the game. He still showed up, however, and was famously turned away from the coin toss. And then, shortly after the start of the game, he put on a shirt that solidified his downward spiral. Across his front, the NCAA letters spelled out “National Communists Against Athletes.” Eventually, Barry Switzer, the coach of the Sooners, kicked him off the team.
Bosworth went on to play in the NFL for the Seattle Seahawks, even though he initially declared that he would never play for them and they should trade his rights. But money talks and he played, but only one year. He gave his old fashioned promos before games about opposing players and soon learned that things were different in the NFL. He made the mistake about talking smack about Bo Jackson (who is probably the greatest athlete to ever play football). In one game, Bo Jackson ran over the Boz, causing an injury to his shoulder. The doctor told him that he had the shoulders of a 60 year old man and just like that, Brian Bosworth’s playing days were over. Many called him one of the biggest busts of all time. And he doesn’t disagree that his career was a bust.
When I look back at my childhood, The Boz was a huge part of it. I loved watching that guy. And so when I saw his ESPN 30 for 30 documentary advertised, I couldn’t wait to watch. The title of the documentary, called Brian and the Boz, suggested that they would showcase the dual personalities of the man. While they did that, the documentary covered so much more than just football and The Boz’s crazy personality. A poignant theme was the father-son relationships.
During the documentary, Brian described his life to his own son as he combed through his own father’s keepsakes. At one point, Brian began thumbing through notes that his father made about him during his playing days. He read the notes to his son, and his voice cracked a bit as he wondered aloud, “why didn’t he just enjoy the game?”
Brian’s father had always pushed him hard, and in doing so, pushed him away. Brian showed no love in recollecting those early years. While Brian’s father praised some boys with whom Brian played, he pointed out the mistakes that his son made in the game, even though his own son was the best player on the field. Brian also spoke about fights that he would have with his father throughout adolescence.
When he arrived at Oklahoma, he was looking for a father figure. Coach Switzer came along and quickly swooped him up into the Switzer family; a/k/a, Oklahoma football. Brian mentioned many times during the documentary that Coach Switzer became the father to him that he always dreamed of. And still to this day, Brian looks at his old coach as a father.
What was clear from the documentary is that The Boz screwed everything up for Brian. The Boz was uncontrollable and outlandish. He said crazy things that disappointed Coach Switzer. And then, The Boz burned all the bridges he made at Oklahoma by writing a book that told secrets and fictional occurrences within the Oklahoma locker room. That book eventually led to an investigation into the Sooners sports program, and ultimately Coach Switzer was fired and the University program suffered for many, many years.
Today though, you can find Brian Bosworth on the Oklahoma sidelines discussing fondly his Oklahoma Sooners. And you might even see Coach Switzer standing next to him during some games. Coach Switzer has every right to hold a big grudge against The Boz, but he doesn’t. It appeared during the documentary that Bosworth didn’t just look at Switzer like a father, but Switzer also looked at Bosworth like a son. The Boz harmed Switzer and all that he loved, but Switzer forgave Brian. Brian Bosworth epitomizes the concept of the Prodigal Son returning home.
I’ve run on long enough now, and so here’s this post in a nutshell. The life of Brian Bosworth is a good tale for all of us fathers. Don’t push your kids too hard, or you might shove them right out of your life. It was obvious that Brian’s dad loved his son, or he wouldn’t have kept all the memorabilia. He was proud of his son, but didn’t show it in the ways that his son needed. We must show our children love in the way they respond to and be the father they need. If we are not good fathers to our children, they will seek a fatherly figure elsewhere. But when kids screw up (because they will), we have to open our arms and always welcome them home. I can’t help but wonder how Bosworth would have turned out if, when the time came for him to seek forgiveness, he had found a closed door. Because of forgiveness, Brian has gone on with his life and is using the lessons learned to raise his own family.
The Boz is no longer my hero, but Brian Bosworth is someone I can once again look up to.
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