' Cinema Romantico: 30 for 30: Brian and The Boz

Thursday, November 20, 2014

30 for 30: Brian and The Boz

Early in director Thaddeus D. Matula's exploration of mid-80's college football superstar Brian Bosworth, he offers behind-the-scenes footage of what went into creating a gloriously cheesy Me Decade athletic "hero" poster - in this case, one re-casting Bosworth himself as existing in The Land Of The Boz. The perfectitude of this indescribably silly bit of wall hanging merchandise, however, had never so forcefully occurred to me. And it finally did occur to me because the theme of this ESPN "30 for 30" documentary, hammered home again and again, is that Brian Bosworth and The Boz were two different people, not unlike The Great and Powerful Oz and his more mild-mannered Professor counterpart. To be sure, Brian was not mild-mannered. As a linebacker at the University of Oklahoma he was arguably the best player in the nation, yet being the best player in the nation was insignificant next to the power of The Boz.


Though I first became a college football fan in the 1980's right as Bosworth was coming to prominence, I confess that I knew him almost exclusively as The Boz. I knew the haircut and the bandana and the sunglasses. I remember seeing him standing on the sideline in the 1987 Orange Bowl for which he had been suspended for taking steroids with the infamous t-shirt that read: "National Communists Against Athletes." I'm pretty certain that as a nine year old the full force of that shirt went flying over my head but still.....the image that I had of him as a player wasn't as a player but as that guy standing on the sideline in that shirt. As such, the film seeks to remedy that memory, or at least balance it out with a more intimate portrait of the man who brought The Boz to life.

The problems of Brian, the film argues, can be traced, as they so often are, directly to the son's father. It is made clear that while Foster Bosworth's incredibly tough love cultivated his son's football playing skills, it was the Oklahoma Sooners football coach, Barry Switzer, who showed up at Bosworth's high school in a beaver coat like a Great Plains Big Daddy Kane to recruit him that cultivated The Boz. In fact, several times, Brian reflects that Coach Switzer became his real father figure, an admittance that plays both as loving and tragic. And clearly the film's framing device of Brian and his son going through old memorabilia, while maudlin and somewhat circumspect since every confession comes with the knowledge the camera is right there, evokes the sensation of attempting to ensure he is the father figure to his own son.

At the same, "Brian and The Boz" contends this self-professed "extremist" was the birth of the modern athlete, one in which marketing a public image plays as big a role as feats of strength. It's not inaccurate, and the film makes clear that in a very real way his "National Communists Against Athletes" t-shirt was ahead of its time, the opening salvo fired against the oppressive NCAA in a war between them and the athletes they care for take advantage of that continues to this day.

The film's subject seems genuinely contrite about his actions, including a tell-all book co-authored with Rick Reilly in his early twenties that helped level the boom on the football program, even if the boom likely would have been leveled with or without him. Still, it's not difficult to detect a wistful yearning for those halcyon days he essentially threw away. In repose, the aged Mr. Bosworth sometimes recalls the aged Mickey Rourke, and parallels to Rourke's "The Wrestler" become more and more evident as the film progresses.

Yes, he tells his son, as he removes that "Communist" Orange Bowl t-shirt from a box and holds it up, that this bit of fabric was the beginning of the end and his one true regret. But......he still has the shirt. He still holds onto it. The Boz may have tarnished Brian, but Brian can't let The Boz go. Hell, who could?

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