Brian Bosworth played for the Oklahoma Sooners from 1984-86.

Brian Bosworth played for the Oklahoma Sooners from 1984-86. Credit: AP

Brian Bosworth initially did not plan to give himself a preview of "Brian and the Boz," the next ESPN "30 for 30" documentary, before attending a public screening in Manhattan on Thursday night.

At it turned out, he was glad he changed his mind and watched it two days earlier. He said his wife, Morgan, asked him three minutes into it whether he needed to stop.

"I already had started to cry, but I said, 'No, no, I'm good,' " he recalled after Thursday's screening. "But five or six minutes later I guess I stopped breathing, because she said, 'You have to stop holding your breath. You need to breathe.' "

It was no surprise that Bosworth reacted viscerally, given that he is an emotional man and that the film is full of harsh memories and harsh comments from people who were or are close to him -- and from Bosworth himself.

"It's hard to go back and watch it," he said.

The rest of the world will get to see it Tuesday night and recall a wild ride during the mid-1980s in which Bosworth became the best linebacker in college football at Oklahoma and an outsized, at times cartoonish, figure off the field.

His old coach, Barry Switzer, said Thursday that when Deion Sanders joined the Cowboys during Switzer's term there, he called Bosworth's flamboyance his inspiration. "That's when 'Prime Time' was born," Sanders told Switzer.

Bosworth is 49 now and living in Austin, Texas, of all places. He says he finally is at peace with his life after re-finding religion early in 2013.

Part of that process is seeking to be a better father to his three children than was his father, Foster, with whom he had a complicated relationship before Foster's death in 2009.

"I knew he wasn't good with me, his son, and he wasn't good with God; he wasn't good with anybody," Bosworth said. "And I could see that I was following in his footsteps, and I knew I had to break that chain."

That effort was evident in the most poignant element of the documentary: scenes of Bosworth and his 16-year-old son, Max, during eight hours of filming while they explored mementos Foster Bosworth had been storing for decades in his attic.

When the filmmakers learned Bosworth's mother was selling her home near Dallas and clearing out the old boxes, they urged Brian to open them on camera.

"It was very difficult to go back and pull those items out of the boxes," Bosworth said. "I'd seen them for years in my father's attic. Didn't want to touch it, didn't want to go through them, didn't know what he had kept."

Said Thaddeus Matula, the director, "That became the heart of the film . . . It was magical and gut-wrenching to be there and to be invited in."

The film contains ample footage of Bosworth's glory days -- on and off the field -- and naturally includes the most infamous moment of his injury- shortened NFL career with the Seahawks: when Bo Jackson outmuscled him into the end zone in a 1987 game.

Switzer said of that play, "I thought it was a pretty damn good tackle . . . If the ball had been up the field somewhere, it's about a 2- or 3-yard gain after he hit him. I've seen a hell of a lot worse."

In the film, Bosworth cries when Max finds a T-shirt he wore on the sideline during the 1987 Orange Bowl, from which he was barred because of a positive steroid test. That shirt attacked the NCAA, reading "National Communists Against Athletes." It is one of his greatest regrets.

That incident led Switzer to banish Bosworth to the NFL. After the screening, Bosworth said he should have returned to Oklahoma for his senior season.

"I just wish I would have been man enough to say I know who I am, I know where I'm supposed to be right now and I'm home and I'm going to stay here until the next thing happens naturally, organically," he said.

(His agent at the time was Gary Wichard, who grew up in Glen Cove and starred at quarterback for C.W. Post, now known as LIU Post. He died in 2011.)

Bosworth also wishes he had stuck more to being Brian and less "The Boz."

"I wasted it and squandered it because I thought I wasn't good enough, I needed to do something else, I needed to be 'The Boz,' " he said. "I didn't really need to do that. I was doing fine just being Brian Bosworth."

Among the guests at the screening was Pat Hanlon, the Giants' senior VP of communications, who in 1985 and '86 was on the sports information staff at Oklahoma and assigned to keep track of Bosworth's many media obligations.

"He coordinated all my off-the-field interviews, strange requests," Bosworth said. "He was kind of like my buddy that would say, 'Here's your football life, and when you're done with that, I have a whole litany of things we have to go through, and you tell me which ones you want to do.' "

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