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Haugh: The Boz believes Notre Dame’s Te’o deserves Heisman chance

Published: Friday, Oct. 26, 2012 9:28 a.m. CST

(MCT) — To flamboyant former Oklahoma All-America linebacker Brian Bosworth, the Heisman Trophy sends college football a flawed message by design.

Literally.

“I wish it wasn’t holding the football,” Bosworth said of the famous 25-pound bronze statue of a running back extending a stiff-arm. “He’s sitting on a piece of granite. It’s not polished, it’s rough. It’s raw. It’s steel. It’s rock. It’s stone. It is the epitome of what the character of college football is.”

Sounds like Manti Te’o, perhaps America’s most hyped linebacker since “The Boz,” who leads Notre Dame’s elite defense into Oklahoma for a Saturday night showdown. Bosworth finished fourth in the Heisman voting in 1986 — the only modern-day linebacker besides Florida State’s Marvin Jones in 1992 to finish in the top five of a race Te’o can win this year if voters open their minds.

“To me the Heisman has lost credibility to a degree because it now looks like a stat or highlight award and I think there’s a great opportunity for the Heisman to redefine itself,” Bosworth, 47, said. “Don’t watch highlights, watch game film. Take away the pinball numbers and go back to what the award really embodies: A player who puts his personality stamp on a team. What team makes that player’s soul the tattoo on its arm?”

Like millions in the national television audience Sept. 22, Bosworth sensed that happening when Notre Dame beat Michigan a week after Te’o lost his girlfriend and grandmother back in Hawaii, and Irish fans wore leis in tribute. An inspirational narrative that powerful not only can increase a player’s exposure but, according to Bosworth, his intensity.

“Sometimes tragedy like Te’o experienced brings about a dark place that players can ironically use to their advantage because it gives them a place to release that energy of sadness and frustration,” Bosworth said. “They can use a football field for the aggressiveness, turn the volume up to a degree you didn’t know you had because you reach into a well that is volcanic. Now he’s using what has happened in his past, along with what he already knows, to focus that energy.”

Charles Woodson of Michigan in 1997 remains the only modern-day Heisman Trophy winner who played defense but, if Te’o maintains such a high level for a BCS-bound, TV-friendly Notre Dame team, history potentially beckons. One Las Vegas bookmaker, Bovada.com, made Te’o a 15-1 shot Thursday to win the Heisman but beating Oklahoma would increase those odds.

No clear front-runner exists in a wide-open field. No traditions in an ever-changing sport need preserving any longer, providing an overdue opportunity to recognize college football’s toughest position — only in the NFL is it all about the quarterback — with the game’s highest honor.

If ever there was a season a linebacker could distinguish himself from offensive playmakers, it’s this one. If ever there was a defensive player worthy of being the exception to an unwritten rule, it’s Te’o, the humble Hawaiian with 69 tackles and four interceptions.

“If I win the Heisman or even get invited to New York, I’ll be humbled and happy,” Te’o said after beating BYU. “But as long as I’m winning, I’ll enjoy that.”

Bosworth enjoys watching Te’o, who took the opposite approach “Boz” did back in 1987 by returning for his senior season. With a year of eligibility remaining after a bowl-game steroid suspension, the magnet for controversy left behind Oklahoma and the NCAA — which Bosworth called “National Communists Against Athletes,” — and entered the NFL supplemental draft. A shoulder injury forced early retirement from the Seahawks in 1989, making Bosworth a major bust who wished he knew then what he knows now.

“We run to get to a place in our lives, then you suddenly go, ‘Why did I run so fast to get here when the best time of your life is college?’” said Bosworth, who shared that message Tuesday with Oklahoma players. “My saddest memory is the day I decided to leave. I should have stayed. I tell these kids all the time: Slow down because every opportunity you get is a brick in your foundation. Take your time and let the mortar set.”

Settled now back home in Texas, Bosworth maximizes his connections working in the oil and gas business. He looks forward to seeing “a old-fashioned slugfest,” Saturday when Notre Dame visits Norman, Okla., for the first time in 46 years. The part-time actor who dabbled in Hollywood for two decades recently wrapped up a film about the Rapture.

“Brian Bosworth in a Christian film, how about that?” Bosworth asked.

Times change. People evolve. Maybe Heisman Trophy criteria finally can too.

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