Brian Bosworth created a persona and pioneered a new age of slickly marketed superstars. Twenty years after The Boz was released by the Seahawks, reporter Danny O'Neil searches for Seattle's most polarizing sports figure.
MALIBU, Calif. — The gate is going to be a problem.
An ironclad barrier stands just off the Pacific Coast Highway, choking off public access to a California home as beautiful as it is exclusive. There is a guardhouse, but no guards. There is a call box, but no directory for the eight residences on this private road.
“No solicitors,” says the sign at La Mer Estates. “No trespassing.”
Definitely no reporters.
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Brian Bosworth’s house sits toward the top of the street. You can’t see it. Not from the gate, anyway. But it’s up there, a villa so impressive it was a setting in “The O.C.”
This house has consumed 10 years of Bosworth’s life and most of his money. He said so in a sworn statement in one of the many civil cases involving everyone from Warner Bros. Television to his ex-wife to the exclusive drug-rehabilitation program that leased the place.
Is Bosworth home right now? No, according to a text message sent earlier in the day: “I’m out of town.”
It’s his first response after multiple messages. It will take 10 more days before he responds again.
The search continues. For Bosworth. For his significance 20 years after he left Seattle and the NFL.
Far ahead of his time
He wasn’t just an athlete but a phenomenon. The Boz, a football player and businessman, except that doesn’t quite capture the magnitude of his presence. As Jay-Z would say, he was a business, man.
The Boz printed T-shirts and planned on selling jeans. Seattle’s first modern superstar was an American pioneer. The first NFL player to truly conceive himself as a brand. It has become so common now it’s hard to remember just how groundbreaking the concept was back in the mid-1980s.
Before Deion went neon or Ochocinco danced with the stars, there was The Boz.
He arrived in an era when the coaches were still the icons of professional football. The NFL was Tom Landry’s fedora, Mike Ditka’s glare. Chuck Knox was Seattle’s coach, a product of Pennsylvania coal country whose steely resolve was the backbone of the franchise.
The Boz was something else entirely. He appeared on MTV, “The Tonight Show” and “Good Morning America” — all in the same week in 1987.
He came into the NFL through a supplementary draft and had the gall to inform three-quarters of the teams they would be better off not drafting him. When the Seahawks picked him anyway, he landed an $11 million contract from a franchise originally purchased for $16 million.
The Boz has become a punchline in Seattle sports history. He’s the guy with the mohawk that Bo Jackson knocked into the end zone.
At the age of 23, Bosworth published an autobiography. At 24, he played his final NFL game, KO’d from the sport by a shoulder injury so severe he underwent a dozen operations and ultimately had the joint replaced.
Now, he is 45 years old, and lives in a house up behind a gate at the edge of the continent with a pool, a view of the ocean and four fireplaces. The home is as ambitious and bold as anything you would expect from The Boz. It looks fabulous, but only from a distance. That’s where the gate comes in. It’s tough to get behind that, and that’s by design.
That’s the way it has always been with Bosworth. He made millions with his image and identity. He taunted John Elway, walked down the red carpet, and when it was all over, he retreated behind a gate, leaving everyone scratching their heads trying to determine just what it all meant.
For 20 years, Gary Wichard was the gateway to Brian Bosworth, a logical starting point for my search. Bosworth’s agent, The Boz’s architect. He lined up Rick Reilly for the autobiography. He picked Bosworth’s movie agent. He even produced one of Bosworth’s movies. No, not “Stone Cold.” This one was called “Back in Business.” What, you missed that one?
But Bosworth filed a $2 million lawsuit against Wichard earlier this year. The gatekeeper is now a dead end. Wichard tells me he won’t comment on Bosworth.
Brian and the Boz
Who are we looking for? There are two people, you see.
Brian Bosworth graduated early at Oklahoma with a 3.3 grade-point average. The Boz donned a T-shirt in the Orange Bowl that read, “National Communists Against Athletes” after the NCAA suspended him for the 1987 bowl game because of a failed steroids test.
“He danced for the media, the extravaganza,” said Barry Switzer, Bosworth’s college coach at Oklahoma.
“Brian is still in touch today,” Switzer said. “He comes to Oklahoma. He was one of the great players that I coached. His pro career ended too short.”
Brian Bosworth lived next door to Dave Wyman, his teammate on the Seahawks.
They were an odd pair to be sure, Bosworth and Wyman. They played the same position and entered the league the same year.
Wyman was the naïve one from Stanford with a Pollyannaish belief the team would act in the players’ best interest. Bosworth was the product of Oklahoma’s football factory, someone who not only knew football was a business but had his own corporate game plan. His company trademarked 44 Blues before he played a down in the NFL. They were different right down to their dogs. Bosworth owned two Dobermans, Raider and Hades. Wyman adopted a pooch from the pound named Lefty.
“I was friends with Brian Bosworth,” Wyman said, “but when the Boz came on, I was like, ‘OK, I’ll talk to you later.’ “
Everything about The Boz was exaggerated, from his dyed hair to taking a helicopter from Sea-Tac Airport to Kirkland to sign his contract with the Seahawks.
“I always think of him being Vince McMahon,” Wyman said, comparing him to the pro-wrestling promoter.
Controversy sells. Bosworth knew that instinctively. In his autobiography, he mocked the length of Joe Paterno’s pants and the thickness of his glasses. He jeeringly called Switzer “The King.” He made fun of the size of John Elway’s teeth.
The Boz made sure everyone had an opinion about him, and those opinions were as unambiguous as a pregnancy test. Either positive or negative. And then he made money off both sides.
They sold shirts in Denver, “Boz Busters.” They featured his picture with a circle and a line through it. Check the tag, though: 44 Blues.
One day Seahawks teammate Bryan Millard walked through the locker room wearing an anti-Boz shirt and asked Bosworth how he liked the duds.
When Millard walked away, Bosworth turned to Wyman and said, “He just paid for the seat covers on my Corvette.”
Switzer was the coach of the Dallas Cowboys when the team signed a cornerback named Deion Sanders. He called himself “Prime Time,” and traced his nickname back to The Boz.
“When I saw a white linebacker at Oklahoma getting all that attention, that’s when ‘Prime Time’ was born,” Sanders said, according to Switzer.
Everyone knew the Boz. Who knows Brian?
Dave Wyman tells me he’s sure they’d still be buddies if Bosworth ever pops up again. But they haven’t spoken in years. Curt Warner, another Seahawks teammate who shared the same agent with Bosworth, calls back from his car dealership in Vancouver, Wash., but has no comment.
Keith Butler, whose starting job Bosworth took, declined an interview. Jacob Green? Didn’t return a phone message. Brian Blades? No dice.
Image wasn’t everything. There was an athlete in the middle of it all. He was a linebacker, one the Seahawks expected to be great.
“Initially all the players were very excited to have him on the team,” said Steve Largent, the Hall of Fame receiver, “because we felt he was going to be a standout player for us. Another Kenny Easley-type player, the way he promoted himself and was promoted.”
Any search for Bosworth’s significance has to ask whether he was any good, and who better to answer than his only NFL coach?
“I remember he had an excellent talent,” Knox said in a telephone interview. “He was one of the fastest guys on the team, and he had great ability to use when he wanted to do it.”
That means something because there wasn’t just a generation gap between this coach and player. It was more like a continental divide. Knox’s father was a mill worker, his mother a domestic. Recalling Bosworth, Knox sounds very much like the grandfather he is.
“He always was on the edge of doing something wrong,” Knox said, “and I think that he kind of liked that personality.”
But lob Knox a softball about Bosworth’s hype outweighing his ability, and the stoical coach won’t swing.
“He had great speed, great ability to do some things,” Knox said, “and he could make ’em happen.”
People forget that. The Seahawks beat the Broncos at the Kingdome in Bosworth’s rookie season, and he put a licking on Elway just like he promised.
But Bosworth wasn’t big by NFL standards. He stood 6 feet 2, and though he weighed the same as Wyman, they weren’t built the same.
“He had size 9, size 9 ½ feet,” Wyman said. “I have size 14s. His hands were like my son’s hands. You could just tell he wasn’t a very big guy so he wasn’t going to be super durable.”
It is impossible to discuss Bosworth’s size without mentioning steroids. He was suspended for testing positive while at Oklahoma. He admitted in his autobiography that he used them to recover from injury. In 1993, he stated under oath that he used steroids in two instances. That testimony was part of his lawsuit to receive the rest of his contract.
Bosworth arrived in court wearing a suit. His hair was cropped close and was beginning to backpedal the way quarterbacks once fled from The Boz. Bosworth weighed 215 pounds, a good 30 less than when he played.
Everything was bigger with the Boz, even the failures. No, especially the failures.
And 20 years after his professional career ended, it takes only two letters to summon up his most enduring moment in the NFL: Bo.
In Bosworth’s rookie season, 1987, a national TV audience watched the Seahawks face the Raiders at the Kingdome. Seattle was backed up to its own 2-yard line when Bo Jackson got the ball. Bosworth hit Jackson at the 1. When The Boz collided with Bo, an equally large persona, guess who ended up on his back in the end zone?
It is remembered as the moment everyone realized the emperor had no clothes. The Boz was stripped of all the hype and exposed.
Just one problem with that retelling.
“It wasn’t that bad,” Wyman said. “He didn’t get his helmet across Bo. This was kind of a sideways-he-lost-the-stalemate battle. He got a lot of heat for that.”
Bosworth played two more seasons, but that play is engraved on the tombstone of his career because it occurred on the big stage of “Monday Night Football.”
Two years later, Bosworth’s career ended on a third-quarter play that was nothing more than an arm tackle of Cardinals fullback Ron Wolfley. Bosworth returned to the game, but only briefly. It was Week 2 of Bosworth’s third season. He never played again.
Bosworth was released by Seattle on a Tuesday morning in July 1990 after failing several physicals. In three seasons, he played in 24 games and missed 23 because of injury.
He sued the insurance provider for the balance of his $11 million contract, winning a judgment in 1993. A deposit of $6,318,097.94 was made in his account on April 9, 1993. He purchased his property in Malibu four months later and married Katherine, his high-school girlfriend, that December. It was their daughter’s second birthday.
Football was finished. The Boz, however, was not. At age 28, he had an exclusive address in California, a movie role in Hollywood and the rest of his life ahead of him.
“Hi, this is Brian. You’ve reached my cellphone. Sorry I can’t take your call. Leave a message and I’ll call you back.”
The message isn’t entirely accurate. Bosworth doesn’t call me back. Not after repeated voice mails. Not after a text message. Only after I send one of his friends a text message does he respond with four words: “I’m out of town.” I leave voice mails, send texts and e-mail the man whose address begins “MaliBoz.”
Boz at the box office
Hollywood was to be The Boz’s second act. He was the ready-made action hero. He’d played the part for sports reporters; now he actually had a script to work off of.
“Stone Cold” was supposed to make him a star, a $25 million first step into Hollywood. Released in May 1991, it wasn’t a total dud, drawing $2.8 million its first week. It was most memorable for a stunt in which a motorcycle collided with a helicopter. Well, that and the fact Bosworth wore sunglasses at night.
Bosworth’s career pretty much went straight to video after that inaugural film. He still shows up occasionally, but you have to wait deep in the credits to see his name. He appeared in “Three Kings,” billed only as an “action star.” He was in “The Longest Yard” remake as a linebacker for the prison guards. Yeah, The Boz played for the authorities.
He was hired to be a commentator of the upstart XFL, the football league that lasted for all of one season. A few years after that, TBS hired him as a studio analyst for college football.
But while Hollywood might not have panned out, Southern California wasn’t a bad place to watch the sunset. Especially not from a house along Malibu’s rugged coastline. The home was incredible even by California’s inflated standards. The house has six bedrooms, eight bathrooms and more than 10,000 square feet of living area. The driveway alone covers 8,000 square feet. The mortgage payment was about $30,000 per month.
In 2007, he was listed as the real-estate agent when the house was on the market and received an offer of $10.7 million. He held out for $10.9 million. The prospective buyer walked, and Bosworth hiked the listing price to $12 million.
Two years later, his ex-wife wanted to accept an offer of $5.5 million.
“Can u submit ur ??’S” Yes, The Boz likes texticular shorthand. He won’t agree to an interview, but he is willing to look at questions. I consider this progress.
The paper trail
Finding Brian Bosworth is easy in the clerk’s office at Los Angeles County Superior Court.
The difficulty is distinguishing one civil case from another.
Perhaps that’s not all that surprising. The man once took the NFL to court over the right to wear No. 44.
Bosworth sued the man he hired to build his Malibu home in 1998, and that man — later his neighbor — filed claims against Bosworth for harassment and defamation. Bosworth took Warner Bros. Television to court over damage to his home during the filming of “The O.C.”
Bosworth also battled with the exclusive drug rehabilitation center he leased the house to for $40,000 a month beginning in 2007.
That’s just part of a decadelong paper trail across Southern California. A veterinarian filed a small-claims case in Malibu 10 years after Bosworth failed to pay a bill of $240 for a week’s worth of dog boarding. That case was dismissed when neither side showed up for a court appearance.
He sued his longtime accountants in New York, whom he claimed failed to file income-tax returns for him and also liquidated assets without his knowledge.
The biggest court file is also the saddest, the case regarding the dissolution of marital assets after his divorce. Married in 1993, Bosworth and his wife separated in October 2005. They were divorced July 30, 2007.
Their case is at six volumes and counting, the file so big it fills a box in the downtown courthouse.
The disputes range from payment of the Malibu mortgage to whether their daughter’s riding lessons and son’s tutoring bills are agreed-upon extracurricular activities. In October 2009, the court authorized the deduction of $5,000 from Bosworth’s account for unpaid child support.
It is jarringly sad, two parents with three children and folder after folder of acrimony.
In 2008, Bosworth listed assets included a 2006 Harley Davidson motorcycle and a 2005 Ford truck owned outright. He already had sold a 2005 Porsche. And in various legal filings Bosworth stated he had no direct source of income.
“I am not sure what the ‘many fields’ I am qualified in other than my professional football career, which is over due to injury, and the minimal film career that I have no control over,” Bosworth said in a sworn statement.
Not the bold and brazen attitude from the man who swaggered into Seattle. He was a self-made star whose career never quite measured up to the persona he created, and 20 years after his Seahawks career ended, the search for Brian Bosworth comes back to the central question of just what it all meant.
Some have stopped wondering.
“In truth, I don’t think a lot about it,” Largent said. “I think he is little more than a footnote in Seahawks history, and I truly mean this, I think that’s too bad, because we all had high hopes for him as a ballplayer.”
Months of searching and weeks of messages don’t produce any answers. So I e-mail Bosworth a list of five questions. Maybe those will get a response.
Twenty years after he ducked out of Seattle, even Brian Bosworth has no interest in discussing The Boz. My search stops at the gated entrance to a private road in Malibu. It still looks fabulous and exclusive, but only from the outside.
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org