The first time I really remember seeing him, Bernie Kosar
was about to be on the wrong side of history. As a kid, I had watched the 1984
Orange Bowl, but I didn’t really know who the QB was. It seemed to be more team
on team than man on man.
When I saw the lithe 6-foot-5 man taking on the 5-foot-9 elf
from Boston College on the day after Thanksgiving, the midget in me pulled for
I watched practically weeping as they showed Kosar on the
sideline smiling and accepting congratulations from guys with bad mustaches and
“I want the short guy to win,” I wailed to my father. “Not
this Bernie guy.”
My father tried to explain reality to me and how six seconds
wasn’t enough time to do anything and so forth and so on…
For the next 30 years of my life, I pulled for that short
guy but also for the tall one. Kosar found a way to finagle his passage to his
hometown Cleveland Browns. I had loved the team for years, for reasons that
still escape my family, and I watched him grow the team from weak roots to
I remember that cold-as-shit weekend in 1987 where he
whipped the ball through an icy wind on the banks of Lake Erie for 489 yards,
bringing his team back against the Jets for a 23-20 double OT win. He was down
10 with less than three minutes to go and he managed to make it happen for the
I also remember suffering with him as John Elway made the
Browns his personal bitch. The Drive. The Drive II. The Fumble. Every year,
Kosar would pull them to within an inch of the Super Bowl. Every year Elway
would keep them an inch away.
It also seemed like every year, Kosar arrived in the
playoffs made of nothing but duct tape and glue. He would be beaten, battered
and nearly crippled.
He had the mobility of your average Greek statue and the
escape ability of the passengers on the Titanic. In the days of Mark Gastineau,
Lawrence Taylor, Mike Singletary and other rabid defenders, Kosar essentially
wore a “Sack Me” sign every Sunday. Over 16 weeks, they would crush him
repeatedly and mercilessly.
During one playoff game, I remember seeing a sideline report
on Kosar’s hand. Turns out he had torn a tendon or something in the index
finger of his throwing hand. To make sure he could play, the trainer built this
thing out of a rubber band and epoxy.
They lost anyway.
Finally, I remember that one horrible fall in 1993 when Bill
Belichick (before he was “Miracle Bill” of the Patriots), called a press
conference and cut Kosar in mid-season without a viable backup to injured Vinny
Testaverde. Belichick muttered the line “diminishing skills” and with that, he
The only good thing about that was seeing Kosar getting
scooped up by the Cowboys, who were en route to a Super Bowl.When Troy Aikman
got one of his patented concussions, Kosar stepped in and helped push the team
into the Big Show.
(Over the years, I seemed to have remembered Bernie throwing a ridiculously good pass to Alvin Harper for a touchdown. Found it in that link. It’s like finding a memory of your first kiss.)
The last snap of that Super Bowl win? All Kosar, who knelt
to the ground to run out the clock.
I only got to see him play live once. It was in 1994 or 1995
when the Dolphins (his last stop) played the Packers in the pre-season Shrine
Game at County Stadium. He led the Dolphins’ second unit down the field with
ridiculous precision. Of course, he wasn’t going to supplant Hall of Famer to
be Dan Marino, but I could dream.
Eventually he retired and became one of the few success
stories in post-game life. He had a business degree and a good mind for running
things. He invested in real estate, restaurants and greeting card businesses.
He was doing exceptionally well.
Then, everything broke again.
The market turned, his wife left, his health began
deteriorating. His fortune turned to dust and his fans started to wonder about
The Browns brought him back to do color on their broadcasts,
only to find that fans believed him to be drunk or drugged up on TV. The
slurred speech and the lapses in thought had them thinking the worst of the man
who gave them his very best.
As it turns out, Kosar was dealing with serious
post-concussion syndrome, much like many of his other mid-1980s NFL brethren.
No one knew to ask for a while and when they did, Kosar wasn’t willing to
As of this writing, Kosar has finally come to grips with
some of these issues. He’s still trying to rebuild his life. He’s speaking out
on issues of finance, as witnessed in Billy Corben’s classic “30 for 30″ film
“Broke.” He also appears to be getting healthier.
Kosar recently spoke out in favor of an experimental treatment he’s
been receiving for concussions. He said the pain has subsided, the ringing in
his head has stopped and he feels healthier than he has since his 20s.
concern is in the minor details of the story (shown here) that refer to his
doctor as a “pioneer” and the treatment
as “groundbreaking.” In both cases, the quotes are directly from the source material,
leaving me curious as to why the writer chose that path. My hope is that this
isn’t some sort of snake oil salesman, glomming onto a downtrodden player in
hopes of a fast buck. My cynicism leads me to think this to be the case, in
spite of hoping against it.
Still, I’ll be keeping an eye on ol’ Number 19, watching him
get back off the turf one more time.
If anyone deserves a winning outcome, it’s Kosar.