We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Brian Bosworth, much like the football league that employs him, has been built up, then torn down. Memories of the latter experience have proved more enduring.
Bosworth provides the color for the XFL’s Sunday-night broadcasts, heard and seen locally on WDCA Channel 20. After a brief honeymoonreally more of a one-night standsomething in the relationship between the “He Hate Me” league and the media went horribly wrong. War criminals get more favorable editorials than those written about Vince McMahon, the wrestling genius who partnered with NBC to provide an alternative football source.
Bosworth might well be the biggest winner in the XFL’s rookie season, which ends with this weekend’s games. He’s not happy that longtime NFL reporters wouldn’t admit that they likereally likea game without coin flips, fair catches, and extra points unless they were hooked up to a lie detector. He’s peeved that the games being played and the guys who are playing them for a blue-collar wage are lesser stories, by a long shot, than the league’s overnight television ratings. He’s bothered that Bob Costas got off without a beating after his moronic ambushing of McMahon.
But he understands.
“The XFL has been great for me,” Bosworth tells me from his Malibu home. “This job has been a big part of the healing process, personally. But I’m not shocked to see people go after Vince with such venom, the mob mentality the media has when they get somebody down after propping them up. Or the dishonesty that goes into the reporting about the XFL. I know how things work in this country. I know what Vince is going through.”
He got his knowledge the hard way. Bosworth’s body won’t ever get over the beatings it took during his glorious playing days at the University of Oklahoma and the shorter, far-less-sweet ride he had as a pro. In a couple of weeks, he’ll have his 13th shoulder surgery. He hopes to come away from it able to zip up his pants with either hand.
Even after all these years away from the gridironthe character known as “the Boz” hasn’t suited up since 1989Bosworth can stomach the physical breakdowns. Football players have no more right to whine about joint failure than cigarette smokers have when their lungs give out. It’s all part of the package.
But the emotional wounds, he says, aren’t so easy to accept.
While playing for the Sooners, Bosworth became the highest-profile defensive player college football had ever seen. His off-the-field notoriety and game-day prowesshe is the only multiple winner of the Butkus Award, given annually to the best college linebackerplayed equal parts in creating his fame. After he and more than a dozen teammates were banned from the 1987 Orange Bowl by the NCAA because of steroid useBosworth said at the time he had taken the steroids to speed his recovery from a shoulder injuryhe roamed the sidelines sporting a bleached-blond buzz cut and a T-shirt that read “National Communists Against Athletes.”
“I had created a monster without even knowing it,” he says.
Even though Bosworth ended his college career in infamy, the Seahawks signed him to an $11 million contract, the biggest rookie deal in league history. But Bosworth remains convinced that the same folks who promoted the Boz in college couldn’t wait for him to trip up as a pro, especially after he mocked the sacred cow that is the NCAA. And his enemies got their revenge once he and the body he used up while attaining his college fame moved to Seattle.
Coaches, under pressure to play the highly compensated draft choice, threw Bosworth into the starting lineup . Things didn’t go well for the team or for the new kid on the chopping block.
The growing notoriety of the Boz as an off-field character made his on-field miscues even more glaring. After the rookie linebacker called Denver legend John Elway “Mr. Ed” and insinuated that he wanted to inflict injury on the rival quarterback, thousands of Broncos fans showed up in “Boz Buster” T-shirts when the teams met at Mile High Stadium. Bosworth ran out on the field for that game with the sleeves of his own jersey strategically tattered to call greater attention to himself. Elway passed for over 300 yards in the Broncos’ 40-17 blowout win.
It came out later that Bosworth’s agent, Gary Wichard, had produced the T-shirts sold in Denver with the player’s approval. Bosworth’s downhill roll picked up warp speed when fellow rookie Bo Jackson, then a running back with the Raiders, easily shed the Boz’s tackle attempt on his way to the end zone during a Monday Night Football telecast. Bosworth complimented Jackson after the game for winning the battle, but soon enough the legend of “Bo Runs Over the Boz” was so exaggerated that you’d have thought the linebacker’s limbs had been severed by Jackson’s cleats.
Shoulder injuries eliminated Bosworth’s chance to make fans forget that playand killed his career. At only 25, he retired. But the abuse from columnists and reporters went on long after he’d hung up his uniform.
“I was a kid who thought he was having fun playing a game and that everybody else was having fun with me,” Bosworth says. “Now, I see I had been brought to the mountain top and had to be brought back down. I’ve been ‘Brian Bosworth, the guy who took steroids and got run over by Bo Jackson,’ ever since. I was a failure.”
Bosworth disappeared from football. He made action movies, including the hilarious and underrated Stone Cold, which gave WWF star Steve Austin his ring handle, and a TV series (Lawless) that critics hacked to pieces.
But when McMahon approached him last year and asked if he’d take part in the XFL, Bosworth decided it was time to end his separation from the game. McMahon told him to not even try to be smooth in the booth, just to talk, or howl, as a knowledgeable fanatic would. And so he has. After watching a receiver drop a screen pass a few weeks ago, Bosworth became probably the first TV commentator ever to use “raggly ass” twice in the same sentence.
“A lot of critics have said, ‘Brian Bosworth doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing.’ And they’re absolutely right: I don’t know what the hell I’m doing,” he says. “Nobody has to tell me I have a lot to learn. But even now, while the way I’m saying something may not make much sense, what I’m saying usually does.”
And, though he’ll never be back in uniform, Bosworth is making peace with the game, and the spotlight, again.
“I’ve got a question for everybody,” says Wichard, when asked about the XFL’s impact on Bosworth’s career. “Where’s Bo Jackson now? Anybody know?” Dave McKenna