BO JACKSON VS. BRIAN “THE BOZ” BOSWORTH – SIZZLE VS FIZZLE
Synopsis: Just like Dr. Jekyll had Mr. Hyde, Brian Bosworth had The Boz, an alter-ego who was a larger-than-life personality living inside a football player’s body. Unlike Jekyll and Hyde, however, Bosworth (the athlete) and Boz (the media sensation) weren’t split personalities but rather one and the same. As a marketing major in college, Bosworth understood the importance of building a brand and The Boz was his brand. The following post goes through the epic rise and fall of one of the most hyped superstars in college football history. By the end, you may not like him more than you currently do, but you should respect him more.
#10 NFL DRAFT BUST: BRIAN “THE BOZ” BOSWORTH
The official countdown of the Top 10 NFL Draft Busts begins with Brian “The Boz” Bosworth coming in at #10 on the list. Without the creation of his alter-ego, Bosworth just would have been another Trev Alberts (i.e. a winner of the Butkus Trophy as the best linebacker in college whose professional career fell short of expectations due to a history of injuries). Alberts was a college superstar, but Bosworth was in an echelon of his own. After almost 30 years, Bosworth still is the only two-time winner of the Butkus Trophy, which he received after his sophomore and junior seasons. You could say that Bosworth was like Alberts on steroids – literally. While suspended for the 1987 Orange Bowl for a positive steroids test, The Boz worked the sidelines with a T-shirt showing what he thought of the NCAA’s decision to suspend him.
Oklahoma head coach Barry Switzer had advised Bosworth to accept the punishment and avoid negative publicity, but The Boz couldn’t control himself when given such a large national audience to make a statement. Today, he only would have had to send a Tweet, but this happened before Al Gore had “invented” the internet. Even though Bosworth had one more year of eligibility, Switzer told him, “Boz, you need to plan on playing pro football because your ass ain’t going to play for me anymore.” According to the coach, “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.” Bosworth had no plan to stay at Oklahoma, but he begged his way back on to the team in order to give him leverage in the upcoming draft.
Perhaps, Bosworth overestimated his ability to emulate his marketing idol Jim McMahon. After all, McMahon and The Boz shared a cover of SI as two outspoken self-promoters.
During the Bears run to the 1986 Super Bowl, McMahon had gotten into trouble with NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle for wearing an Adidas headband during a playoff game. After getting fined $5,000 for his actions, McMahon figured out a way to get back at the Commish.
Financially, Bosworth was very comfortable in college (e.g. envelopes of cash, free use of a Corvette, getting paid to watch oil wells go up and down), but he certainly didn’t have the same opportunities that McMahon had as a professional athlete. Both McMahon and The Boz were ahead of their time in realizing that their bodies were mobile billboards attracting millions of eyeballs. Unfortunately for them (and all other football players), both the NFL owners and the NCAA have usurped that marketing opportunity. Perhaps someone should dust off Bosworth’s T-shirt to protest the NCAA’s monopolistic control over the earning potential of college players.
Bosworth may have been a lot of things (cheat, blowhard, and underperformer to only name a few), but he certainly wasn’t an idiot. By the time Bosworth needed to declare for the draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had announced their intention to sign Vinny Testaverde with the #1 overall pick in the 1987 Draft. Bosworth took a page out of John Elway’s playbook by telling the Colts, who had the #2 overall pick, that he wouldn’t play for them. Drafted four years earlier, Elway effectively created the false impression that he would play baseball for the Yankees instead of playing for the Colts. That impression resulted in a trade with the Broncos, which is still paying dividends in the Mile “High” City. In addition to leading the Broncos to two Super Bowl victories, Elway has been a very successful GM for the team. Unlike many others before him, Elway continues to elude the Peter Principle. It’ll catch up to him someday, but only after he becomes Governor of Colorado.
Without another sport to fall back on, Bosworth needed the false impression that he had a team to go back to in case he decided to forego the draft for one more year of college. Switzer provided that illusion by reinstating The Boz despite initially kicking him off the team. Hoping to avoid getting picked by the Colts, Bosworth skipped the regular draft and applied for the supplemental draft instead. With 37:1 odds against them, the Seattle Seahawks won the Bosworth lottery and gladly forfeited their 1st round pick in 1988 in order to try to sign him. Even though the Seahawks weren’t one of Bosworth’s desired teams, money talks and the largest rookie contact ever ($11 million over 10 years) spoke to Bosworth. Too bad, Bosworth couldn’t deliver on the advertised bill of goods.
The following table shows Bosworth’s production numbers along with other defensive players connected to him.
BRIAN BOSWORTH AND OTHER NOTABLE DEFENSIVE PLAYERS FROM 1987 AND 1988 NFL DRAFTS
|Draft (Pick)||Weighted Avg Value (WAV)||Games||Sacks||Forced Fumbles||Fumble Recoveries||
|Cornelius Bennett||1987 (#2)||89||206||72||31||27||
|Ken Norton||1988 (#41)||82||191||13||12||13||
* Supplemental draft. Bennett was drafted by the Colts with the 2nd overall pick (Vinny Testaverde was picked first) since Bosworth chose not to enter the regular draft. Bennett never signed with Indianapolis and was traded to Buffalo in a three-team deal that led to Eric Dickerson going to the Colts. Despite being selected in the 1988 Draft, Spielman and Norton are included in the table because they both would have been available for the pick Seattle surrendered by taking Bosworth in the 1987 supplemental draft.
Even though Bosworth didn’t deliver as a professional player, he delivered as a marketing force. Before his first NFL game against the Broncos, Bosworth’s media company flooded the Denver market with “Ban The Boz” T-shirts. With thousands of Broncos fans wearing the shirts to the game, Bosworth made a nice profit while continuing to build his brand. The Boz made another big media splash before the Raiders/Seahawks Monday Night Football game in Seattle. Before that game, the Boz proclaimed that he would shut down the Raiders’ Bo Jackson in a battle of two high profile rookies.
Unlike Elway before him and Bosworth after him, Jackson actually followed through on his threat not to play for the team that drafted him. Even though the Buccaneers had selected Jackson with the #1 overall draft pick in 1986, he refused to sign with the team because Bucs owner Hugh Culverhouse had lied to him during a recruiting trip. In particular, Culverhouse presumably duped Jackson into taking an unauthorized recruiting trip to Tampa Bay, which resulted in Jackson being declared ineligible to finish the college baseball season. As an unsigned 1986 Draft pick, Jackson’s name went back into the 1987 Draft.
Not a stranger to independent thinking, Raiders owner Al Davis drafted Jackson in the 7th round of the 1987 Draft purely as a crap shoot. Up to that point, Jackson seemed fully committed to playing professional baseball; however, his interest in football returned after he batted .235 with 21 HRs and 53 RBIs (yes, RBIs is plural for RBI) for the Kansas City Royals in 1987. By the fall of 1987, Davis’ crap shoot paid off when he was able to lure Jackson back to the gridiron. All Davis had to do was agree to let Bo finish out each baseball season before joining the Raiders mid-season. Offering Jackson a salary of $1.5 million per year for a little more than half of the team’s games also helped. As Bo said at the time, he needed a “hobby” during the baseball off-season.
By the time the Seahawks game occurred, Jackson had only two professional games under his belt. He had eight carries for 45 yards against the Chargers in his first game, and 13 carries for 98 yards and two touchdowns against the Broncos in his second. As the stage was set for Bo vs. the Boz, one sizzled and one fizzled right in front of our eyes.
In retrospect, that game was Bo’s coming out party. His stat line was incredible with 18 carries for 221 yards (still a MNF record) and three total touchdowns. While amassing those amazing numbers, Bo also showed a flair for greatness with a 91-run TD run and a goal-line run right through the Boz.
In the first clip, watch Bo run right by the Boz and the rest of the Seahawks on his way to running out of the stadium. In the second clip, watch Bo score after crashing into and sliding by the Boz. In either case, you’ll agree that Bo Knows Football.
As established at the beginning of this post, Bosworth very well could have earned the Steve Emtman Exemption (or Emtman could have earned the Brian Bosworth Exemption) due to career-ending injuries to his shoulders. However, this Top 10 Bust recognition was earned by “The Boz” who wasn’t just a bona fide college superstar but rather in the pantheon of college football greats. Bosworth may have been human and subject to injury, but The Boz was super-human and nothing could stop him. In today’s world of non-stop social media, The Boz would have been Johnny Football on steroids (literally). He would have been a good mouthpiece for all college football players looking to challenge the NCAA. Love him or hate him, we would all be paying attention to him. Unlike most athletes who dread being called an all-time bust, “The Boz” probably relishes it because the only thing worse than bad publicity for a celebrity is no publicity.