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Welcome to Mr. Boz’s Neighborhood

Just saw where Orange County was ranked the eighth-best place to live in America by a national financial magazine. It obviously didn’t know about the Boz.

That’s right, he lives here--at least that’s what it said inside the cover jacket of his autobiography (at 23?), “The Boz: Confessions of a Modern Anti-Hero.” And word is he’ll return here again when the National Football League season ends. So let the thought do a complete tour of the mind: Brian Bosworth . . . in Newport Beach . . . unleashed.

Well, there goes the neighborhood. Stick the Boz factor in your ranking formula, and suddenly Orange County is 287th, between East St. Louis, Ill., and Fayetteville, N.C. And who knows how much lower good ol’ OC would have dropped had that new 4-H Club opened on time in Fayetteville.

I know Orange County isn’t Utopia. Son of Smog--that dank, hazy air that sits over the land at times, is a sight to behold, and then gag on. The closest thing we have to mass transit is the monorail system at Disneyland. And no problem buying a house here, just as long as you know the guy who works the Lotto quick-pick machine.

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Still, the weather is wonderful, the arts accessible, the leisure choices plentiful, the economy vibrant. But what to do about Boz? How do you counterbalance the effects of someone who gets his hair cut at The Last of the Mohicans Salon? A guy who derives pleasure from tearing chunks of skin from his hand? Who aims for the head when making a tackle, the better to cause a pinched nerve? Who cheats when he can? Who speaks his mind, but which one?

The answer is, you don’t about big Boz. The Boz is harmless. The Boz is Jim McMahon to the 10th power. The Boz is a creation.

It’s Brian Bosworth you wonder about.

Actually, the Boz phenomenon is whittled down to a single sentence on page 251 of the book. Says Bosworth: “I have a fear of being forgotten.”

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Fear? Try acute paranoia. But the words explain a lot. In his haste to accuse the National Collegiate Athletic Assn., the National Football League, the University of Oklahoma, Denver Bronco quarterback John Elway (Mr. Ed, he calls him) of hypocrisy, it turns out that The Sunglassed One should have maybe pointed a finger or two at himself.

Here’s a guy who tells his version of the truth, who thinks he has the market on honesty. He says what he wants because he wants to. He dresses the way he wants because he wants to. He wears his hair the way he wants because he wants to. But wait a second: Because he wants to, or because he’s afraid of becoming a footnote in someone’s memory?

Nor do I follow his reasoning when it comes to drugs. He wouldn’t touch the stuff, he says. Knocked a guy silly who kept offering him an illegal high. Good for him.

So what does the Boz do before a game? Takes eight concentrated caffeine pills, each one the equivalent of four cups of coffee, plus two more pills at halftime. Nothing against Boz and that 3.3 grade-point average he’s always bragging about in the book, but aren’t these pills the same thing as baby amphetamines, uppers? A local pharmacist says caffeine concentrates are artificial stimulants--legal, but stimulants nonetheless. And he’d never recommend taking eight at the same time, what with the effects they’d have on the central nervous system.

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And by the way, 3.3 out of what? 10?

And boy, did the Boz get mad when he happened to see some Oklahoma teammates freebasing cocaine the day of the big game. " . . . My thing is the individual,” he says in the book. “Whatever he wants to do is his decision. But freebasing on the day of the game really (ticked) me off. I teed off on them. I said, ‘At least come to the game with a clear head. There’s a lot riding on this season.’ ”

That Boz. What an anti-hero. He goes out of his way not to preach and, by doing so, ignores the health and well-being of his teammates. All he really cares about is winning a football game. Big deal if the stuff fries his teammates’ brains. He wants them to stop because the season’s at stake. I think maybe someone pierced the Boz’s mind, not his ear.

But here’s the strange thing: There’s so much to revile about the Boz and yet, you’re drawn to him. I guess it’s the same reason people buy pet rocks; no logical reason, except that it seems like the thing to do.

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Sure, the Boz is disgusting at times, the fly in everyone’s soup. If rules were a town, the Boz would live on the outskirts. But is he the guy you love to hate, or the guy you hate to love? Uh . . .

Read the book, and you think he uses one of those mini-warehouses to store his ego. But then, on occasion, he shows slivers of humility, of compassion, and you wonder if just maybe . . . nah, couldn’t be.

He tells of his friendship with a 10-year-old boy who battles a heart condition, who clutched a Boz hand towel during open-heart surgery four years ago. He reveals his love for his father, the same guy who pushed him into sports.

According to Rick Reilly, who shares the book’s byline with Bosworth, the two of them were in Winter Park, Colo., this past February gathering material for the project. It was late, another night’s worth of interviewing well on the way, when Bosworth noticed Reilly had a touch of the woebegones. Turns out Reilly’s 3-year-old son, Kellen, was celebrating a birthday that day back in Denver with the rest of the family.

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“Let’s go then,” said the un-Boz. “Let’s drive down and see him.”

So they did, creeping down the icy mountain road, making their way through typically awful Colorado winter weather, arriving in time to spend an hour with Kellen. Then it was back in the car for the same 1-hour and 45-minute drive into the Rockies. “He didn’t have to do it,” Reilly said.

So I guess I’m confused, which is maybe what Bosworth/Boz wants from us all along. Labels don’t stick to him. He is both intriguing and despicable at the same time. He subscribes to both Bon Appetit magazine and to the theory that the only good running back is an unconscious one. He is generally vilified by adults and loved by kids. He has said he doesn’t want to live past 40 and at this pace, he probably won’t.

“My whole thing was that Brian was going to be the Elvis of sports, he was going to be that big,” says Bosworth’s agent, Gary Wichard.

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Wichard isn’t kidding. One of the reasons Bosworth makes one of his winter homes out here is because of the movie scene. “Brian is very serious about that aspect of his career,” Wichard says. “The major people out there have talked to us in depth. We’re going to start the ball in motion sooner than people think.”

I can hardly wait. Just think of the plot possibilities:

Brian plays a tough, yet sensitive Afghan commando. With the help of his rocket launcher, he rescues a small village.

Fair enough. If Kurt Thomas can make “Gymkata,” the Boz can certainly give Hollywood a try.

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The thing is, he doesn’t need the money, just the attention. Even the autobiography wasn’t for bucks. “The money is always going to be there,” Wichard says. “That wasn’t the intention. This was one of the only players who had the forum to speak about subjects never addressed: the NCAA, what it’s like to be a superstar in college football.”

The Boz makes his points, especially about the NCAA’s steroid policy, the NFL’s muzzling techniques, the NFL’s many hypocrisies. For this, some applause is in order. And it was interesting to learn that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, not the Rams or the Raiders or the two New York teams, was his team of first choice.

But he also hurt people in this book, including himself. That’s OK, though; it says that the Boz loves pain, which may be the metaphor for his life.

As for not judging a book (and a part-time resident) by its cover, I tried. I decided I wouldn’t mind meeting Brian Bosworth, but I could do quite nicely without the Boz.

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But what do I know? I live in a county that finished eighth. The Boz is ranked sixth on the best-seller list.


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