Maybe that star-crossed 1985 football season did cost him millions of dollars, and maybe he would be in an NFL training camp this week instead of sitting here in his living room, between golf games, waiting for the college season to begin. And maybe there is reason to wonder: Whatever happened to Robbie Bosco's arm?
But you'd never know it to see Bosco now. Ten years after he quarterbacked BYU to a national championship during a brilliant junior season, Bosco has settled contentedly into family life and suburbia. He has a good life, he says, and he does.At the age of 31, he already has been a full-fledged assistant coach at BYU for four years, working with quarterbacks and receivers. He is a husband to the former Karen Holt and the father of three daughters, with one child on the way. He lives in a spacious two-story home in Provo, surrounded by family, friends, old teammates and former coaches. He plays golf when he can, shooting in the high 70s, and exercises regularly. He is thinner and leaner than he was in his playing days, if that's possible, but that isn't the biggest change.
The biggest change is the personality. A decade ago, Bosco, crushed by the pressure of being The Next BYU Quarterback Great, was sullen, humorless, tense and terse, particularly with anyone but a handful of his closest teammates. These days he is relaxed, talkative, humorous, anecdotal and personable.
"That wasn't me back then," he says.
Bosco was a reluctant star as a player, cast in a role where he had no choice but to accept a large measure of limelight. He was never comfortable with media or fame, and sometimes went out of his way to avoid both, at least in part because he genuinely didn't want to overshadow teammates.
"Look at our team," he says. "There were a lot of good players. The publicity wasn't that big a deal to me. I didn't need it."
And he really didn't, either. He got it anyway. It was his own fault. He was too good to ignore. So good that he probably would be suiting up for an NFL game this week if not for an arm gone bad. To this day, his quick demise remains something of a mystery.
Bosco was sensational during his junior season in 1984, taking the Cougars to a 13-0 record and leading them to a climactic win over Michigan in the Holiday Bowl while playing most of the game on one leg. He threw for 3,875 yards, 33 touchdowns just 11 interceptions that season and finished third in the Heisman Trophy balloting. Bosco, the preseason Heisman favorite in 1985, and possibly the Cougars figured only to get better the next year, what with the team returning virtually intact and Bosco a year more experienced.
It didn't happen. Bosco was never the same passer that he had been a year earlier, and BYU, perhaps not coincidentally, was not quite the same team, though the Cougars came close (they were 11-3, with 13 points separating them from another unbeaten season). Bosco's interceptions more than doubled that season, to 26, and his passes often fluttered or fell short of their target.
Some former teammates, such as cornerback Mark Allen, believe Bosco sacrificed his pro career by playing hurt in the 1984 Holiday Bowl against Michigan. "No one could tell me differently," he says. "He put it on the line for us to win the national championship. I always wanted to thank him for that."
Wide receiver Glen Kozlowski believes Bosco's arm was gone when he showed up for the season-opening Kickoff Classic against Boston College.
"That first game I had to fair catch everything," says Kozlowski. "I always told him I would have had 400 yards if he hadn't thrown everything short. He can say what he wants, but it was hurting before we went into that season. Temple was the final blow."
Wide receiver Mark Bellini says he began to notice a difference in Bosco's arm at midseason.
For his part, Bosco is convinced his problems began in the fourth game of the '85 season against Temple. His arm and shoulder were in their most vulnerable position - cocked and ready to pass - when he was hit by the pass rush, pulling his shoulder backward at an awkward angle. For the rest of the season, Bosco says, he experienced intense pain in the shoulder and was rarely able to practice.
As Deseret News columnist Lee Benson wrote in his BYU quarterback book, And They Came to Pass, "(Backup quarterback) Blaine Fowler would run the offense Monday through Friday. Then on Saturday Bosco would appear, like a Hollywood star who had left the dirty work to the stuntmen, and play until his arm dropped."
Bosco couldn't throw during warmups before a game, but once in a game, when the adrenalin was pumping, the pain was masked, if just barely. Even then, pain considerations aside, his arm was weak. "Once Bellini was wide open on a post pattern against Air Force, and I just couldn't get the ball to him. I threw 26 picks that second year after throwing only 11 as a junior. C'mon."
All along, doctors diagnosed the problem as bursitis, although it proved to be much more. Bosco continued to play. He refused to take painkillers before games, but afterward he received pain-killing injections in the shoulder.
"It got so that just sitting in a chair, it would throb," he recalls.
"I really didn't realize how bad it was," says Edwards. "I know people were commenting on it. I kept asking him, and he'd say, Well, it's sore. But we've always had guys with sore shoulders like that. He went down to the East-West Shrine Game, and a guy from Stanford checked him and came away with the same opinion (bursitis)."
BYU coaches say they didn't notice much of a difference in Bosco's arm strength, but they were the only ones. The 65,000 fans in Cougar Stadium were convinced something was wrong, as were teammates, the quarterback himself and the quarterback's father.
When Bosco made a midseason trip home to visit his parents in California, he threw a football with his father Lou in their back yard, as they often did. Lou had always worn golf gloves to protect his hands during these games of catch, but after a couple of throws he took them off and cast them aside. "I don't need these anymore," he said to Robbie. "What happened?"
Fullback Lakei Heimuli recalls, "Everybody noticed a difference in the strength of his arm and the timing of his ball. Before, he was right on the money and hard. In '85, the passes would get there late. I always watched his face in the huddle because it helped me to hear what he said above the crowd noise, and a few times I saw him grit his teeth. I could see he was in pain. A lot of those interceptions were because he would know he could throw those kinds of balls, but when he actually threw it it didn't get there on time."
Nevertheless, BYU officials continued to say Bosco's arm was merely sore and that he was fine. "That was one of the best-kept secrets of (the '85 season)," said then-BYU quarterback coach Mike Holmgren a few years ago. "It wasn't a CIA-type (secret). We just didn't know for sure."
What amazes Bosco in retrospect is that the seriousness of the injury and its debilitating effects continued to elude doctors, coaches and even pro scouts. At the scouting combines, he passed several physicals, enduring the pain as they pulled and bent his arm and shoulder.
"They never seemed to find out," he said. "I wasn't trying to hide (the injury) because I didn't know I was hiding anything. I still didn't know what it was. I was trying not to be in pain. I was trying to show the shoulder wasn't hurting."
He was taken in the third round of the NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers - not bad, all things considered - and signed a three-year contract reportedly worth $550,000. "Then I go to Green Bay, and they can see I can't throw," says Bosco. Then-Packer coach Forest Gregg wondered aloud if Bosco would ever play football again. Eventually, Bosco was sent to Dr. Frank Jobe, the famed Los Angeles-based orthopedic surgeons.
Says Bosco, "He pulled my arm back and the pain was there; then he pushed on my shoulder with his fingers like this and pulled the arm back again and the pain was gone. In minutes he figured out what the problem was."
According to Bosco, Jobe found torn ligaments and tendons. Bosco was actually relieved to learn that there was a reason for all that pain and those interceptions. "He told me every time I threw a pass my shoulder actually separated, and then when I brought my arm back down it would go back in place."
All of which makes it a marvel that Bosco threw as well and as often as he did, throwing a then-school record 511 times for 4,273 yards.
Bosco underwent surgery and spent his first two NFL seasons on injured reserve, which allowed him to draw a salary but cost him a good opportunity to play, given the Packers' unsettled quarterback position at the time. Jobe gave Bosco's comeback a 50-50 chance. He had performed similar surgery four times, all on Major League pitchers, and two were able to come back and two weren't.
In 1988, after completing his rehabilitation, Bosco reported to the Packer training camp. The pain in his shoulder was gone, but the strength and whip in his arm was, too.
"I could tell it wasn't the same," he recalls. "I couldn't throw like I did. But I figured I could get by, be a ball-control passer. But I was fooling myself. I couldn't get by with that in that league."
The Packers brought in a new coach, Lindy Infante, and six quarterbacks that year. The job was still up for grabs. Bosco played in one exhibition game, completing 2 of 4 passes for 8 yards. Then he was waived.
Edwards believes the shoulder injury cost Bosco a pro career. "He would've played in the NFL, no question, because he could make things happen," says the coach.
"There's no question he would have been a pro," says Kozlowski, an eight-year NFL veteran.
Bosco never tried to sign with another team. "I didn't want to be one of those guys who hung around on the fringe all the time, trying to make a team each fall," he says. "I wanted to get on with my life. Besides, my arm wasn't the same. I had had a good career. I wasn't that gung-ho about football anyway. For me, it wasn't like the end of my life. There were other things."
Who knows what further damage Bosco incurred by continuing to play in '85 after doctors failed to diagnose the problem, but Bosco holds no grudge. He was able to use his NFL salary to get a good start on life after football. Before the '85 season, Bosco's grandmother bought him a $500,000 insurance policy against a career-ending injury, but, says Bosco, "You practically have to have your arm cut off to collect. I did get a little out of it, but not much."
After a year as an assistant coach at Idaho State, Bosco came to BYU as a graduate assistant and was eventually hired as a full-time coach. "I just have always had a great fondness for him, the way he conducted himself and prepared himself," says Edwards. "I thought he could be a good coach."
"I love coaching," says Bosco. "Saturday afternoons are a blast."
It's perfect really. Bosco can participate in and enjoy the game and the autumn Saturday afternoons without the limelight and center stage. And then there are the summers with his family and golf and friends. Bum shoulder or not, how could it have been better than this?