As Bernie Kosar's life around him crumbles, the former QB's game plan is familiar: Emerge unscathed
Monday, July 13, 2009
By Dan Le Batard, The Miami Herald
MIAMI -- The IRS and the creditors and an angry ex-wife and an avalanche of attorneys are circling the chaos that used to be Bernie Kosar's glamorous life, but that's not the source of his anxiety at the moment.
He is doing a labored lap inside his Weston mansion, the one on the lake near the equestrian playpen for horses, because he wants to be sure there are no teenage boys hiding, attempting to get too close to his three daughters.
He shattered a Kid Rock-autographed guitar the other day while chasing one teenager out of his house because he doesn't mind all of the other boys within the area code thinking the Kosar girls have an unhinged dad.
"There are a million doors in this place," he says. "Too many ways to get in."
So up and down the spiral staircases he goes, a rumpled mess wearing a wrinkled golf shirt, disheveled graying hair, and the scars and weariness from a lifetime's worth of beatings.
He has no shoes on, just white socks with the NFL logo stitched on because he has never really been able to let go of who he used to be.
He is coughing up phlegm from a sickness he is certain arrived with all the recent stress of divorce and debt, and now he doesn't walk so much as wobble his way into one of the closets upstairs, where he happens upon some painful, wonderful memories he keeps sealed in a plastic cup.
His teeth are in there.
So is the surgical screw that finally broke through the skin in his ankle because of how crooked he walked for years. He broke that ankle in the first quarter of a game against the Miami Dolphins in 1992; he threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter anyway.
Don Shula called him the following day to salute him on being so tough, but Kosar is paying for it with every step he takes today on uneven footing. The old quarterback shakes the rattling cup, then grins.
There are about as many real teeth in the cup as there are in what remains of his smile.
"I never wore a mouthpiece," he says. "I had to live and die with my audibles. We played on pavement/AstroTurf back then. Getting hit by Lawrence Taylor was only the beginning of the problem."
So much pain in his life. He heads back downstairs gingerly.
"I need hip replacement."
He pulls his jeans down a bit to reveal the scar from the surgery to repair his broken back.
"Disks fused together."
"A lot," he says. "I don't know how many."
He holds out all 10 gnarled fingers. "All of these have been broken at least once," he says. "Most of them twice."
Broke both wrists, too.
The game was fast and muscled. He was neither. He was always the giraffe trying to survive among lions. Still is, really. He has merely traded one cutthroat arena in which people compete for big dollars for another, and today's is a hell of a lot less fun than the one that made him famous. More painful, too, oddly enough.
Kosar holds up his left arm and points to the scar on his elbow.
"Have a cadaver's ligament in there," he says.
And that's the good arm. He bends over and lets both arms hang in front of him. His throwing arm is as crooked as a boomerang.
The doorbell rings. It's his assistant with the papers he needs to autograph.
She puts all the legalese from four folders in front of him on a coffee table that is low to the ground.
A groaning Kosar, 45, gets down very slowly onto the rug until he is symbolically on his hands and knees at the center of what used to be his glamorous life. And then he signs the documents that begin the process of filing for bankruptcy.
"Let me tell you something, bro," he says. "It was all worth it."
Learning a new game
Brett Favre has made a spectacular public mess of his career punctuation because of how very hard it is for even the strongest among us to leave behind the applause for good.
It is difficult for any man to retire when so much of his identity and self-worth and validation is tied up in his job, what he does invariably becoming a lopsided amount of who he is.
But it is especially hard on quarterbacks because of how much of America's most popular game they literally hold in their hands. That kind of control -- over other strong men, over huddles, over winning, over entire swaying stadiums and their surrounding cities -- is just about impossible to let go ... as is the attendant attention, ego, importance, popularity, fun and life.
There's no preparing you for the silence that comes after all you've heard is cheering. A quarterback will never feel more alive anywhere than he does at the conquering center of everything in sports. His is by consensus the most difficult job in athletics, and it requires an obsessive-compulsive attention to detail.
But sometimes they sculpt their singular and all-consuming skill to the detriment of the balance needed for the rest of life's tacklers.
Bills? Errands? Adulthood?
Those things get handed off sometimes because, whether it is the offensive line or family and friends huddled around their income source, the quarterback must always be protected or everyone loses.
Kosar was one of the smart ones. He graduated from the University of Miami in 2 1/2 years. He was smart enough to go a record 308 pass attempts without an interception. Smart enough to help build several businesses after football, with a 6 percent interest in a customer-service outsourcing company that sold for more than $500 million. Smart enough to have a wing of the business school at the University of Miami named after him. But now that the maids and wife are gone, you know how he feels walking into a grocery store by himself for the first time?
"Overwhelmed," he says.