Bernie Kosar has no back teeth, and each gap has a name attached. Jets defensive tackle Joe Klecko once hit Kosar so hard it knocked out a molar. Lawrence Taylor knocked out another molar. Derrick Brooks, yet another.
Either Mark Gastineau’s hit or the frozen AstroTurf of the Meadowlands Kosar landed on took yet another back tooth. Kosar isn’t exactly sure. He just remembers blood bubbling from him after that play. Mouth. Nose. All of it.
“I take forever to eat a steak with no back teeth,” Kosar says.
Maybe reading how his mouth was mangled by 13 years as a NFL quarterback, you can comprehend what happened to a more significant part of him you can’t see. Maybe you can understand how hard his brain was hit.
Maybe you can see why he’s suffered from, “constant ringing headaches, buzzing in my head and insomnia for eight years,” he says. Maybe you can see why in recent years he says he’s tried, “the best hospitals, the best wellness programs, acupuncture, all sorts of medication.
“Sleeping pills weren’t really sleeping pills,” he said, “All the medication was just a numbing band aid for me.”
All this is background to the good news that Kosar thinks he’s found an answer to what’s ailed him. Some of it is obvious. He lost 40 pounds. He’s not 49 looking 69. And his speech, which for years has made him sound ...
“Drunk,” he says.
Or if not drunk ...
“Like my mouth was full of marbles,” he says.
His speech is clear for this interview. Understandable.
“There’s a big change in me,” he says.
In early December, Kosar’s search for help took him to the Tampa area to meet Rick Sponaugle, founder of the Florida Detox and Wellness Institute which, as its site says, “specializes in optimizing brain chemistry to stop pain and addiction ... through the integration of quality spiritual counseling and the application of sound scientific principles.”
Or, as Sponaugle says, “It’s holistic healing.”
Kosar and Sponaugle says there’s no addiction involved. They say chemical imbalances caused bruising and lack of blood flow to the brain caused pain and other problems.
Sponaugle said he treated Kosar twice for a few days each in the last couple of months. He intravenously gave Kosar chemicals to help. He straightened out the diet.
“I feel I’m 20 years younger,” Kosar says.
It’s been a rough ride in retirement for Kosar. He looked like one of the easy transitions. He’s one of the smart guys. He graduated from Miami in 2 years, then started working on his masters in business.
He broke down NFL defenses more with his mind than his body. He started businesses, even as a player. But after three final years with the Dolphins, he retired in 1996 and, at some point, started a descent that left him divorced, then bankrupt and increasingly depressed.
“Athletes are told to be tough, to suck it up, to deal with pain all their careers,” Kosar said. “So here was I and countless other players dealing with pain after their careers in the same way we’d done it all his life.”
Kosar then mentions Dave Duerson and Junior Seau, two former players whose lives became so dark they committed suicide. Just this week, research results of Seau’s brain showed he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease that follow multiple hits to the head and leads to dementia, memory loss and depression.
“I have lots of friends who have some issues from playing,” Kosar said. “That’s the thing that is really exciting to me about where I am. I feel like I can help some people.”
Kosar has made a list of players to contact. He called NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and expressed his avenue of hope.
“I’m not preaching to anyone,” he said. “But over the holidays, I took a break and looked at myself. I sat back and said, ‘Wow, I feel great.’ I’m sleeping. I’m not in pain. I don’t have that thumping in my head anymore.”
It has been under two months since this treatment began. This needs more time, more analysis, more results. But for the last several years Kosar hasn’t always been the Kosar you know and cheered for.
In November, I bumped into him at a Broward soccer field where our children played. We talked. We laughed. But I couldn’t understand him. Talking with him for a half-hour now, he sounded lucid.
“I love where this is going,” he said.
If you rooted for Kosar as a player, root harder for it to keep going like that.