Brian Bosworth played only three NFL seasons in the 1980s, and is still remembered as a rebel. No more. Now he's a new man in Christ.
It was a hot summer day on the farm outside Meeker, Oklahoma, and 12-year-old Brian waited restlessly for his grandma to return from town. This was another summer in the country—away from his family and his reputation for disruptive behavior. Doing chores sunup to sundown wasn’t his choice, but there was something he liked about getting out of Irving, Texas—and out of trouble.
He worked long days with his grandfather, listened while his grandmother talked to Jesus in the next room and, if he was lucky, went to town for a soda or over to the stream to fish. On the farm, the hurricane inside him calmed. Back home, trouble followed him. He disrupted church services by standing when others were sitting, and was unruly at school where he was met with paddlings from the principal. Trouble also lived in his house, where he earned daily beatings from his father.
But the farm was different. Here he was at peace—until today.
He walked the yard and cast an eye toward the distant field where his grandfather was working. The giant pine tree that shadowed the white clapboard farmhouse beckoned him to climb it. He knew he wasn’t supposed to, but it called his name. He glanced at the road and back at the big tree. He could almost hear his grandma’s voice once again telling him not to climb.
He swallowed hard. If he hurried, they wouldn’t know. He ran across the lawn to the tree trunk and looked up. The underside of the tree’s canopy was a mass of thick limbs and prickly stubs, but there was just enough room along the trunk to pick his way through the obstacles. A view from the top was worth the risk. Brian forced his athletic frame through every brushy barrier. When he reached the top, the branches cleared and he felt the summer breeze sweep through his hair and cool the sweat from his face. He smiled as far reaches of Oklahoma prairie and cropland stretched out before him. It was beautiful. Shades of green and pale gold formed a patchwork. The only thing moving was a cloud of dust coming toward the farm. What is that? A truck … a car? Grandma!
Fear bolted through his body as she turned into the driveway. Holding still, he watched and waited until he knew she was inside. Loosening his grip, he slid down the trunk, fireman-style. Crusty layers of bark and spearlike branches ripped clothes and bare skin all the way down. His feet hit the ground with a thud. Blood trickled down his arms; splashes of red soaked his T-shirt.
Sunken under the weight of guilt, he walked to the front porch and knocked. He could feel the spanking coming. The door opened, his grandmother’s face blanched and, for what seemed like an eternity, they stood there looking at each other.
“Where have you been?” she asked.
“Climbing up that tree,” he answered. Tears welled up in her eyes, leaked into the smile lines and ran down her weathered face.
“Doesn’t that hurt?” she asked.
“Yeah, it hurts.”
“Why aren’t you crying?” she questioned.
“Because I don’t want you to be mad at me.”
There would be no scolding or beatings, but rather loving first aid for wounds, of the flesh and the spirit.
The summer ended, and Brian returned to school that year with a new perspective. When the junior high football coach said his bad attitude ruined his shot to play, he asked for a chance to prove himself. He knew the storm raging inside needed to be controlled. He remembered his grandma’s faith and headed to his bedroom to pray. He was determined for something greater.
“I felt like that prayer that I said to Him in 1978 helped me calm down, gave me a purpose,” said Brian Bosworth, former University of Oklahoma All-American linebacker and 2015 College Football Hall of Fame inductee. That calming allowed Brian to turn into a dedicated athlete, student and person. He no longer battled against the hurricane inside him. He found his focus.
Throughout high school Brian played with unmatched determination and work ethic, instilled in him during those long summers on his grandparents’ farm. He wasn’t always the largest kid, but he learned to play with a combination of passion, attitude and trust, all of which led to individual achievement.
“I enjoyed being the standout. I felt like this is what I’m supposed to be doing. This is the gift I got. I’m faster than these guys. I’m smarter than these guys, when it comes to football.”
But Brian longed for deeper relationships that would build his self-confidence and give him reassurance. After his grandfather’s passing in 1978, he was left without a strong male role model. His rocky relationship with his father never allowed them to connect on anything more than a surface level, so Brian turned to his coaches.
“Those guys ended up being kind of the replacement for my grandfather. My father was always there to tell me what I did wrong. Those guys would tell me what I was doing right. The last thing I wanted to do was let them down.”
As Brian’s senior year of high school was ending, tension between him and his father reached a boiling point. Fed up with his father’s “tyranny” over the family, Brian remembers telling his father, “I don’t like the way you treat my mother. I don’t like the way you treat me, and I don’t want you to be my dad.”
Under these circumstances, Brian learned to use football as an outlet for his emotions and stress. With self-control he became known as a good kid who got good grades. His exceptional combination of speed and athleticism caught the attention of a host of football coaches, including that of the flashy football coach from The University of Oklahoma, Barry Switzer.
OU had been Brian’s grandfather’s favorite team, and he had grown up admiring the success of Switzer during the Sooners’ national dominance in the 1970s. He hadn’t had the confidence to apply to the school, thinking it was too big of a dream. Instead, the famous coach tracked down Brian, visiting his high school and finding him in a cafeteria packed with teenagers. Brian’s dream of donning the Crimson-and-Cream was about to come true.
Brian was on his way, but to succeed in the Big 8 Conference and reach his goal of starting linebacker would require sacrifice. “I went to Oklahoma on a mission. I went there for a purpose, and I didn’t want there to be a distraction. I put all the emphasis on what I wanted,” Brian said.
His singular mind-set wasn’t received well by his longtime girlfriend and future wife. The two dated off and on through junior high and high school, following each other to college. His lack of confidence and poor decision-making fed the problems of the relationship. “We abused each other all through college, and I knew more than anything, it was [because of] my insecurity,” Brian said. After redshirting his first year, Brian made the decision to train at OU in Norman over the summer and increase his chances of cracking the lineup. His girlfriend returned home. By fall Brian’s hard work paid off physically and he won the starting job. The 1984 season was on the verge of kicking off against Stanford. A few days before the game, his girlfriend broke up with him and told him she was engaged to a guy named Duke, a student at OU’s rival school, The University of Texas.
At the time Brian thought, “You gotta be kidding me! I hate The University of Texas more than anything else on this planet.”
The news upended him. His anger spun out of control. He was no longer playing football for fun, but trying to prove a point. If you had a problem with Brian, he had a problem with you.
“Now I’ve got this whole other motivating factor entering my first year at Oklahoma. One, I was scared, but two, there was this sense of hatred, meanness and ornery [attitude]. When I was out there I played so possessed and angry that I just wanted to prove not only to her—but to everybody—that this path that I’m on is the path that I’m supposed to be on, regardless of whatever happens.”
It was the first week of September 1984. “The Boz” was born.
Soon Brian found attention by using reporters and their microphones to disparage his opponents. Brian saw Coach Switzer as a father figure and liked the coach’s swagger and gutsy confidence. The young man quickly became famous for his own media personality, namely his ability to divide stadiums with a few harsh words. He was The Boz, the player Oklahoma fans loved and his competitors’ fans loved to hate.
The Boz was a trash-talking, brash linebacker. He was a quote-making machine and the media loved him. With newfound attention, Brian started trying to one-up himself. Each week became a game between him and his teammates to see what the out-of-control Boz could get away with.
Like many teens, he was looking for an outlet to show his rebellion, often wearing loud clothing and marking multicolored messages and designs on the side of his shaved head. When a friend got a wild new ’80s haircut, Brian headed to the same stylist.
Fans loved his new mohawk, edgy headbands, huge muscles and head-jarring hits. The Boz was larger than the game of football. He was larger than life. The coaches knew it, the fans knew it and more importantly, Brian knew it.
“First, The Boz thing was kind of fun, it was my outlet to get rid of the anger and aggression,” said Brian. “Anything in my past, I could blame it on The Boz. He was just angry and out of control.”
But the act soon turned on him. He became known as a troublemaker, finally bottoming out following an injury when he failed a steroid test. The NCAA suspended him from the 1986 Orange Bowl and there wasn’t enough time before the game to appeal. An angered Brian chose to make a statement by wearing a T-shirt on the sidelines that redefined the NCAA acronym as “National Communists Against Athletes.” To hype it even more, he added, “Welcome to Russia!” Broadcast on national television, the irreverent protest all but ended his chance of returning to OU for his senior year.
“In a matter of 10 seconds, I undid everything good. For what? A laugh … I knew at that point The Boz was just a clown and there was nothing to be proud of.”
With little choice, Brian left Oklahoma in a heap of controversy, announcing he’d be going pro. As a three-year-starter, two time All-American and the only two-time Butkus Award winner, he was a promising draft pick.
The Boz lived on. In a cocky attempt to dictate where he’d play, he wrote a letter to 23 National Football League teams, refusing to play for them if they chose to draft him. The Seattle Seahawks called his bluff. After a long contract dispute, he signed the largest deal an NFL rookie had ever signed up to that point.
He was the Seahawks’ new prize and they wanted to show him off. He flew into practice in a helicopter before even playing in a single game. His most calculated move came after criticizing Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway before their matchup. Brian then profited by having his own company sell thousands of anti-Boz T-shirts to Denver fans. The Boz became the villain everyone wanted him to be. Meanwhile, his play on the field was lacking because of injuries. After just three years, he retired from the NFL due to his lingering shoulder injuries.
“I let my pride make the decision for me, instead of taking the time off, having the surgery and giving it a chance to heal.”
Brian was now without a purpose and he blamed God for taking away the gifts he’d been given.
“I was still trying to find out what was going on with myself and I was disengaged with all, right in the middle of a grudge with God.”
At the suggestion of his manager, he moved to California and began acting in films and television. “The acting never really took off, because it wasn’t something I really put the effort into. It wasn’t really something I wanted to do.”
Brian’s personal life was also a mess. Shortly after he called it quits with his girlfriend, she called to tell him she was pregnant with his child. Brian recalled their conversation with regret. “The whole time my gut’s telling me, my world just ended. I don’t know what I’m doing. Just kind of a panic moment. You’re not even prepared for something like that. This is somebody you know you’re not supposed to be with ... I’m from the old school, so I’m like, OK. My fate is kind of sealed. I’m gonna be married to this situation forever, so deal with it.”
When they married two years after their daughter was born, Brian was still disheartened by his prospects. “The whole time I’m standing there, at the altar, I’m going, This is nuts. This isn’t the way I ever wanted it to be and I know this is the biggest mistake of my life, but what choice do I have? And I lived that way for 10 years. Trying to make it better. I’ll make it work. I’ll control it.”
They had two more children but the marriage deteriorated, ending in a lengthy divorce in 2006. Financially tapped out and with no ties to California, Brian planned to sell his mansion and move back south. Instead, the house became a burden. A drug rehab center moved into the neighborhood. He rented his house to a television show. He even decided to become a realtor in order to keep the commission if it sold. Though he received offers, none met his asking price and a few years later he found himself still struggling in California—now with a house that was near foreclosure.
Brian was furious at God and looking for a way out. To make money, he and some buddies were preparing to open a new barbecue joint in West Hollywood. After a long day of work, the group went out for a few celebratory drinks. Brian was picked up for D.U.I. and sent to jail on bond. Photos of his release the next morning hit the news.
“I was freaking out. I was right in the middle of a custody battle. [My daughter] Haley wanted to come live with me and her mother is fighting me for it. I’m feeling humiliated and I’m just so disappointed with myself.”
A week later, Coach Switzer’s wife called to let Brian know she’d met a man—an acquaintance of Brian’s—who wanted to pay for his attorney fees. When the two men spoke, Brian explained the situation and that things could be better. The man said, “Look. We really need you back here. Why don’t you come home?”
An emotional Brian responded, “I’ve been trying to get out of here for years. I just don’t know how.”
“What do you need?” asked the man.
Brian explained how he was facing foreclosure on his mansion and couldn’t afford the repairs needed to sell it. The man offered to buy the home and provide money for repairs. When it sold, Brian was able to repay him and was finally free to move home.
Brian returned to Texas, choosing to live outside of Austin. He was in the process of beginning a new life, planning a wedding with his fiancée, a woman he felt sure was right. Out of the blue, his agent called with news that Pure Flix Entertainment wanted him for a movie called Revelation Road. It had been years since he’d been in a movie. “I thought he butt dialed me, because I hadn’t seen this guy’s name pop up on my phone for five years,” said Brian. His agent gave a synopsis and sent over a script, with one last comment, “Oh, I got to warn you: It’s a Christian movie.”
At first Brian wrote off the film because of its religious ties, but after reading the script, he was moved to tears and accepted the offer. “All I could do was read between the lines of about the character of Hawg [his role] ... He was lost, vengeful, full of hatred, blamed the whole world ... And I knew that’s exactly who I was.”
He was up-front with the production company about his bad relationship with God, but they had no qualms about it. In 2013, Brian headed a tour, screening the film in small theaters. This took him to Oklahoma.
“The people of Oklahoma have always been so gracious, forgiving and loving toward me. It’s always amazed me, because, to me, I’ve done nothing but disappoint them.”
Before each showing, Brian would give an honest update about his life after football. He finished by encouraging the audience to heed the film’s message, and then would make an admission.
“If this event, the Rapture, were to happen today, next week, next month, next year, who knows, are you prepared to go? Has He punched your ticket? Because I can honestly say if that train was to go tomorrow, I’m not on it ... I know I’m not on it. That’s okay, but I think the film is important and I think you guys should watch it, whether or not you are [saved].”
A pastor from a small Oklahoma town asked Brian to show the film at his church. “You don’t want me to speak to your congregation, because I’m going to spill out all the anger and frustration that I’ve had with God,” Brian warned. The pastor insisted, so for the first time in 20 years, Brian found himself in a church. As the pastor spoke, verses were shown on a large screen. Brian noticed an unusual number of “44s” on the screen. That was his special number. It was the number he wore at OU!
At first Brian blew it off as coincidence, but it happened a second time and then a third time. Brian said, “All of a sudden my heart started to flutter. I looked up toward the top of the church and said, ‘What are You doing to me?’” After the sermon, Brian was invited up to the stage, where he shared his story and his anger toward God for taking away his dream.
“To me, I spent more time confused, fuming about my rage with God,” he recalled.
Brian opened the movie screening with his usual anecdote, then went to the lobby to organize merchandise after the film started. The pastor followed him. Taking a seat, the pastor said, “I’ve never had, in 38 years, anyone come to my congregation and speak to my people the way you did.” Brian thought, Oh, no. Here it comes. So he apologized and said he tried to warn the pastor.
“No, no, no. You misunderstood. I’ve never had anyone come into my church and speak with that much passion. I’ve never seen a man so lost, so desperate to be found.”
“Well, it’s funny you say that. I am lost,” said Brian.
“You don’t have to be,” the pastor replied.
Brian could sense what was going on, so he said, “You don’t understand. I’m already over. The door is closed. There’s not an exit strategy for me.”
“That’s OK. You think about it,” the pastor calmly replied.
Brian ended the show by telling the audience to make sure they’d “punched their tickets.” Then, for the first time in his life, he asked for prayer. “I know I’m not going, but someday I just think I’d like to—I just don’t know how. So maybe, if you guys would pray for me to know how, that would help.”
As Brian was packing up his truck, the pastor and three other men asked to speak with him. Each man reiterated how much pain they saw in Brian.
“I just thought, Man, all these things are not coincidences, they aren’t accidentally just lining up.”
The pastor asked, “Do you want to come home?”
“Sure. I’d love to come home,” Brian choked out.
The pastor replied, “Well, you can do it; you are home. Why don’t you set down your baggage? Set it down. Walk away from it. He’ll take it from there. You don’t have to carry it one step further.”
It was March 3, 2013.
“That was the moment I gave up,” said Brian. “Once you give up and take that first step, it’s better. It’s like, wow, how free do you feel? How strong do you feel? How much lighter do you feel? Where’d all that worry go? Where’s all this peace coming from? And really from that moment onward, every day has been brighter and better and with more clarity and understanding of what you’re really here for.”
Since coming to Christ, Brian has found purpose in life. Today, he lives in Austin with his wife, Morgan, and his son, Max.
“I’m a man of extreme peace and an extremely strong purpose. I use the acronym PATH. I’m on His path. The P is for ‘passion,’ A for ‘attitude,’ T for ‘trust’ and H for ‘honor’ or ‘humility,’ depending on the subject matter that I’m talking about. For many, many years, I was just doing PAT and I dropped off the honor and humility part and once you do that, in the equation, you don’t end up going anywhere but patting yourself on the top of the head or your own back, because it’s all about you ... . Instead of placing the honor back where it belonged, I took the honor and I inflated myself with it. That’s where this Boz thing kind of took off.”
Brian and his family attend Lake Hills Church, where Brian continues to grow in the Lord. Look for him in the Pure Flix Entertainment movie, Do You Believe? The film features 12 strangers who, like many, are struggling to accept the reality of God.
Brian Bosworth is one of the stars of the movie Do You Believe?, a follow-up to 2014’s hit God’s Not Dead.
The story follows diverse characters—some rich, some poor, but all desperate—whose lives intersect on the streets of Chicago. All are moving in different directions and all are longing for something more. Each discovers the power in the Cross of Christ, even those who don’t believe in it.
While God’s Not Dead explored and validated the existence of God, Do You Believe? focuses on the Cross. Producer David A. R. White of Pure Flix Entertainment says, “The Cross is critical, relevant and often debated in today’s culture. It has always incited passion, conviction and controversy, and—most of all—it changes lives.”
In addition to Bosworth, the movie stars Academy Award winner Mira Sorvino, Sean Astin, Cybill Shepherd and Lee Majors.
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