June 19, 2009
He wasn't the most spectacular athlete, but Bernie Kosar is probably underrated as a quarterback: In college, he did as much as any single figure to turn Miami from a football backwater into "The U," where he led the 'Canes to their first national championship in 1983, formed one half of the slowest duo to ever grace the cover of Sports Illustrated, finished fourth in Heisman voting in 1984 and had NFL teams falling all over themselves for the chance to draft him in '85. He took the Browns from the bottom of the league to within a few minutes of the Super Bowl in 1986, 1987 and 1989 and is still among the most popular players ever in Cleveland.
Consider also, though, how many times Bernie was on the wrong side of history. He was on the losing sideline when Frank Reich led Maryland to the greatest comeback in NCAA history, bringing the Terps back from a 31-0 hole at the half for a 42-40 stunner over Miami in 1984, and when Doug Flutie launched his famous, Heisman-clinching Hail Mary to push Boston College past the 'Canes in the Orange Bowl later that year. Kosar was on the losing sideline when John Elway took the Broncos 98 yards on "The Drive" to win the '86 AFC Championship, and handed Ernest Byner the ball he would infamously lose three yards shy of the tying touchdown at the end of the '87 AFC Championship. The Browns trailed Denver by a field goal at the start of the fourth quarter before falling short again in '89. The man has known his share of disappointment.
Now the 45-year-old restauranteur and Arena League football CEO finds himself opposite the worst economy of his lifetime, and it's tougher than Elway: Kosar filed for bankruptcy today, listing a staggering $19.5 million debt to creditors including his ex-wife; a Tampa bank that financed some bad real estate deals; his old boss, the owner of the Arena League's Cleveland Gladiators; and his old franchise, the Browns themselves, to whom he owes $1.5 million. His steakhouse in Miami went out of business last year.
So presumably this will not be a great Father's Day for Bernie Kosar. For a guy who's been on the business end of so many dramatic comebacks, though, this would be the ideal time to cash in that karma.