November 24, 1986 12:00 PM

Prayer to Knute Rockne, Walter Camp and all the other football gods: Please don’t let the Boz win the Heisman Trophy next month. True he’s a great linebacker—maybe the greatest since Butkus. And true he’s the leader of Oklahoma’s top-ranked defense. But golly, Knute, and you too, Walter, the Boz is 240 pounds of potential embarrassment. He’s a walking public relations disaster with 4.5 speed for the 40.

Remember how this 21-year-old provocateur in pads burst onto the scene? It was last season, in his sophomore year. A hands-down All-American, he led the team in tackles with 131 and walked away with the Butkus Award as the nation’s best linebacker. But more important, he had an image transplant. Onto his head he grafted a hideous, post-punk flattop with a 3-inch tail down the back and (this week) green-and-black highlights. Suddenly, salt-of-the-earth Brian Bosworth from Irving, Texas had transformed himself into the alien life-form known as the Boz. “The hair was definitely a shock,” says Foster Bosworth, Brian’s loyal but long-suffering daddy. “After his mom saw it during the Kansas State game she called him and said, ‘Well, Brian, at least you’re not wearing an earring.’ Next game he had the earring.”

Although the earring—with “44,” his number, writ large in gold—failed to catch on, the Boz’s hairdo was an immediate hit. Kids all across the football-crazy Southwest began asking for the “Boz cut” and, just like their hero, came away looking as if they spent much of their spare time listening to rock ‘n’ roll records played backward.

To match his outrageous new look, the Boz began making outrageous pronouncements. They ranged from Oklahoma crude (the colors of arch-rival Texas, he said, “remind me of puke”) to merely insulting (reportedly likening the Sooners’ game against the trouble-prone University of Miami Hurricanes to “playing the University of San Quentin”). Then the Boz attacked that polite fiction—reinforced by artsy highlight films—that football is actually a branch of ballet. “Football is war!” he thundered. “It’s medieval! Barbaric!” Indeed the barbarism quotient seemed to soar out of sight every time the Boz stepped on the field. He approaches the game with a joyous fury, flattening ball carriers and dancing triumphant Bozanovas over his fallen victims. “I don’t know what it is,” he says. “But when I get a guy in a vulnerable position, I like to get him in a headlock, twist him down to the ground and pull his helmet off.”

The Bozwells of the sporting press were enchanted by this sort of Grand Guignol. Which brings us to the Great Expectorations incident. In a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED cover story the Boz claimed that, in addition to his well-publicized eye gouging and head twisting, “I like to spit a loogie in a guy’s face after I tackle him.” He went on to catalog a number of other youthful peccadilloes—including hiding loose screws in the doors of new cars while working one summer at the General Motors plant in Oklahoma City, thus to drive their new owners crazy. GM was irked, the car-buying public was stunned, and Oklahoma City autoworkers wanted to stage an auto-da-fé with the Boz as guest of honor. Sooner Coach Barry Switzer issued an abject apology to the plant manager. “It was a story he fabricated,” Switzer explained later. “It was an immature mistake. He’s sorry it ever happened.”

It all reached a nationally televised crescendo when Oklahoma played the University of Miami in the Orange Bowl. At stake was the No. 1 ranking in college football, yet the game was hyped as a Heisman Trophy shootout between the Boz and Miami quarterback Vinny Testaverde. The Hurricanes’ star proved top gun, strafing Oklahoma for four touchdowns, passing en route to a 28-16 victory. Still, the Boz has fond memories of that game. Looking up into the stands, he saw himself being hung in effigy, and he was moved by the sight. “I thought I established a new record for the Guinness Book of World Records in people hating me,” he chortles. “If they had guns, 75 percent of ’em would have pulled the trigger.”

So Knute and Walter—and Vince, if you’re listening—we personally went down to Norman, Okla. to check out this Boz. And what we found was that all this time the man has been a carefully constructed sham—a sort of Wizard of Boz. In person, Brian Bosworth—you don’t even have to smile when you call him that—is bright, funny, even charming. In fact when he talks about the Boz it sounds as if he might be having some kind of out-of-body experience. “The Boz is a character I created,” he says, ruefully. “A shadow image who’s there to spice things up. To make fun of the norm.” Who was to know that the norm would get so worked up about it? Observes Brian, sounding sadder but wiser: “I didn’t expect it to explode like this.”

Miss Manners will be relieved to know, for one thing, that Brian never loogied anyone on a first-strike basis. “The Boz is not going to be that crude,” says his alter ego. “But if someone does it to me, I’ll retaliate.” As for the loose-screw contretemps, Brian now claims he only saw such auto-plant sabotage. If it sounds as if the Boz is becoming wimpish, well, that’s what a lot of people around Norman are saying, and Brian doesn’t like it one bit. “I have not ‘mellowed out,’ ” he insists. “I’ll continue to say the things that come to mind. I just don’t want to hurt the image of Brian Bosworth or OU football.” In fact Coach Switzer has been telling him to turn the volume way down on the Boz, and it seems obvious now that what started out as a campaign to “turn some heads, have some fun” and maybe win the Heisman for Oklahoma’s scariest linebacker has backfired. The Boz made himself so overwhelmingly obnoxious, so Frankensteinian, he may have deep-sixed whatever chances he had of winning college football’s most coveted prize.

So what is Bosworth like minus the fangs? A good student for one thing. Majoring in management information systems, he has a 3.2 grade point average. He has been as one with his live-in girlfriend, the beauteous Katherine Nicastro, ever since high school, and she seems to have no intention of making him one less. “Brian is more thoughtful than the Boz,” she says. “We have a master-slave relationship and I’m not the slave.” Brian even does his share of the housework. “I’m a homebody,” he admits sheepishly. He watches cartoons, preferring the elegant simplicity of the Roadrunner above all else. Kids? He loves them. Ditto for dogs. He always has a friendly grunt for autograph seekers, and—this is a point of honor—he never turns one down. “I just can’t disappoint them,” he says. “Football players are entertainers on and off the field.”

So, Knute and Walter, give the Heisman Trophy to Vinny Testaverde. He’s done plenty to earn it, and we know you really want to anyhow. After all, no full-time defensive player has ever laid hands on the Heisman. But maybe you should give the Boz—or Brian or whoever he is—a little something too. An Oscar would be just about right.

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