TV Review: ESPN’s ‘Brian and The Boz’

"Brian and The Boz" "30 for
Courtesy of ESPN Films

With apologies to “My Way,” “Regrets, I’ve had a few” turns out to be an understatement in regard to Brian Bosworth, who parlayed his dominance as a college linebacker into a burst of media stardom and even a schlocky movie career, with the seemingly inevitable Icarus-like fall from those dazzling heights. Tearfully relating his story to his son, Bosworth is ripe fodder for ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentary banner, inasmuch as his alter ego, “The Boz,” in hindsight appears to have anticipated the coalescing sports-media nexus, as sportswriter Rick Reilly notes, in a manner about 30 years ahead of its time.

Bosworth grew up with the familiar demanding taskmaster for a father, whose approval he struggled to gain. Eventually, his athletic skills led him to the University of Oklahoma, where he became the de facto on-field persona of Coach Barry Switzer, adopting an attention-getting buzz cut and giving provocative quotes to the media, who of course ate up his shtick.

For football fans, the footage of Bosworth wreaking havoc on the opposition is pretty jaw-dropping, with one former teammate describing his first game as a “Release the Kracken moment.” Still, Bosworth became defined more by his flair and outlandishness than his 22 tackles against Miami, before a suspension for steroid use and thumbing his nose at the NCAA prompted Switzer to push him toward the NFL.

For those with shady memories, the coverage of Bosworth’s pro career is especially interesting, since so much of it anticipates media trends that came later. Indeed, one can only imagine what Brian Bosworth, circa 1987, would have been like transported into 2014, with a million or so Twitter followers and the inevitable celebrity reality show, as he called out rival stars like Bo Jackson and John Elway.

Injuries shortened Bosworth’s playing days — leaving the impression he was an NFL washout — with the strong implication that his attempts to mask injuries or hasten his recovery from them via performance-enhancing drugs contributed to that process. That was followed by a bridge-burning book that helped trigger sanctions against Oklahoma, answering Hollywood’s siren song for tough-guy roles and the aforementioned regrets, with Bosworth likening the way his “Boz” persona took over to “scripted reality” — again, a term that didn’t come into vogue, in media terms, until the 21st century.

As entertaining as “Brian and The Boz” is, director Thaddeus D. Matula makes it all feel a bit too stagey in the fuzzy sequences between Bosworth and his kid and a reunion between the linebacker and former coach Switzer, which feels more like “Aw come on” than “Aw shucks.”

Overall, though, this fast-moving doc falls squarely into the wheelhouse of the “30 for 30” franchise, weaving together sports and a touch of nostalgia while also provoking thought about the evolving relationship between athletes and celebrity. From that perspective, whether Brian Bosworth was Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde, his self-taught, intuitive ability to blitz the media suggests there was a lot more to him than just a flashy haircut.

TV Review: ESPN's 'Brian and The Boz'

(Documentary; ESPN, Tue. Oct. 28, 9 p.m. ET)

Production

Produced by Texas Crew Prods. and Double Life Films.

Crew

Executive producers, Chip Rives, Parker Douglass, Wallis Marsh, Peter Rawlinson, John Dahl, Connor Schell, Bill Simmons; producers, David Karabinas, Erin Leyden; director, Thaddeus D. Matula; camera, Terry Stewart; lead editor, Christos Pathiakis. 90 MIN.

Cast

Featuring: Brian Bosworth

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