He never had to grow up, really, as anything but a quarterback.
Do you know how to wash clothes, Bernie?
"No," he says.
Iron a shirt?
"No," he says.
Start the dishwasher?
"No," he says.
When his new girlfriend came over recently and found him trying to cook with his daughters, she couldn't believe what was on the kitchen island to cut the French bread. A saw.
"I was 25 and everyone was telling me that I was the smartest; now I'm 45 and realize I'm an idiot," he says. "I'm 45 and immature. I don't like being 45."
The only post-quarterback jobs that have given him any sort of joy are the ones near football: broadcasting Cleveland Browns games; running a company that created football Web sites and magazines; buying an Arena Football League team. But it isn't the same. Not nearly. As he tries to reorganize his life in a dark period that leaves his mind racing and sleepless, the people he quotes aren't philosophers and poets. They are coaches.
Like when he was at Miami, for example. He was the weakest kid on the team. He was mortified when his statuesque competition, Vinny Testaverde, walked onto campus and bench-pressed 325 pounds a bunch of times. Kosar got 185 up just once, with arms shaking. So he went to coach Howard Schnellenberger and, sweating and trying not to tremble, told him he was going to transfer. And now he quotes the old pipe-smoking coach and applies those lessons from nearly three decades ago to today: "Son, I'm not going to lie. It doesn't look good for you. But wherever you go in life, there's competition. The guys who run home to mommy tend to be quitters their whole life."
Kosar won. Won huge. Won the job and the national championship in a flabbergasting upset of Nebraska to begin Miami's unprecedented football run through the next two decades.
As creditors close in and his divorce has gotten messy in public, Kosar has had some suicidal thoughts, but he says, "I couldn't quit on my kids. I'm not a quitter.
"I got here with hard work. I'll get out of this with hard work. No wallowing. No 'woe is me.' I'm great at making money. And, as we've found out, I'm great at spending it. What I'm not great at is managing it."
A house divided
It is hard to believe he filed a bankruptcy petition in June, but a bad economy, bad advice, a bad divorce and a bad habit of not being able to say "no" have ravaged him. He says financial advisers he loved and trusted mismanaged his funds, doing things like losing $15 million in one quick burst. There's a $4.2 million judgment against him from one bank. A failed real-estate project in Tampa involving multi-family properties. A steakhouse collapsing with a lawsuit. Tax trouble.
A recent Sports Illustrated article estimated that, within two years of leaving football, an astounding 78 percent of players are either bankrupt or in financial distress over joblessness and divorce. And through the years, a lot of those old teammates have asked Kosar to borrow a hundred grand here, a hundred-fifty grand there. He knew then that he wouldn't be getting it back. But, as the quarterback -- always the quarterback -- you help your teammates up.
How much has he lent teammates without being repaid?
"Eight figures," he says.
Friends and family?
"Eight figures," he says.
Charities, while putting nearly 100 kids through school on scholarships? "Well over eight figures."
Then there's the divorce. It has been a public disaster, with him being accused of several addictions, of erratic behavior and of giving away the couple's money. He speaks with a slur and admits there has been drinking and pain medication in his past, but says the only thing he's addicted to is football.
Drugs? Alcohol? "Would my kids be living with me if that were really the case?" he asks. "If I did 10 percent of things I'm accused of, I'd be dead."
He says the divorce has cost him between $4 and $5 million already.
"That's just fees," he says. "And they keep coming. Attorneys charge $600 an hour just to screw things up more."
And here's the worst part: "I don't want to get divorced," he says. "I'm Catholic, and I'm loyal, and I still love her."
He has poured himself into being dad, but it isn't easy. Kids listen more from 2 to 10 years old. But now there are the perpetual parental concerns of cars, driving, drinking, drugs, sex.
"I'm outnumbered now."
He has found therapy in learning how to clean the house with the kids and dealing with life's smaller headaches. Just the other day, while in a 10-hour bankruptcy meeting with 10 attorneys that left him "humbled and in pain and feeling betrayed" as he took a detailed inventory of his life, he excused himself with a smile because one of his daughters -- the oldest of his children lives with him full time, the others part time -- was calling with some sort of popularity crisis.
"The worst feeling in the world is being dad on Friday night at home at midnight and they haven't gotten home yet," he says.
"This other chaos is just stuff. Money. I'll make more. It feels bad. It sucks the life and energy out of you and is a relentless drain. But I'm going to come out of this fine. I always get up."
There are photos all over his mansion. Many of them are not up. They are on the floor, leaning against the walls. He'll learn how to hang them soon enough. He goes over and grabs the one by the fireplace.
In it, he is in the pocket with the Browns, and everything is collapsing all around him. You can see Kosar's offensive linemen either beaten or back-pedaling. His left tackle is on the ground, staring as his missed assignment blurs toward the quarterback's blind side.
But the ball is already in the air, frozen in flight, headed perfectly to the only teammate who has a step in a sea of Steelers. It is a work of art, that photo. You can see clearly that the play is going to work. And you can see just as clearly that Kosar is going to get crushed.
Kosar runs his fingers along the frame. This is what his life once was and what it is now -- a swirl of chaos and pain and danger surrounding a man who has to remain in control for the people around him as everything feels like it is falling apart.
"I just wanted to play football," the old quarterback says.
A laugh and a pause.
"Actually, I still do."
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