Cleveland Browns fans haven’t had much to cheer about over the years. But if there was one shining star for the sad NFL franchise, it was Bernie Kosar. The big-armed quarterback with an even bigger personality became a franchise icon after taking a unique path to the NFL.
Kosar spent 12 years in the NFL before retiring after the 1996 season. The one-time Pro Bowler also managed to make millions as a savvy businessman. Then, he lost it all. And by the time he filed for bankruptcy in 2009, his checking account showed a shockingly low balance of just $44. Here’s the story of how Bernie Kosar went from being a multi-millionaire athlete to going broke.
Bernie Kosar’s unique path to the Browns
A decorated multi-sport athlete, Bernie Kosar was a picture-perfect fit for the Miami Hurricanes. After redshirting as a true freshman, he led the Hurricanes to a national title in 1983 as a first-year starter. The following year, he finished fourth in the Heisman voting after throwing for 3,642 yards and 25 touchdowns. However, the highly intelligent quarterback wanted to take his talents to the NFL despite having two years of eligibility remaining.
In one of the most unique NFL draft stories of all time, Kosar made it clear he wanted to play for his hometown team, the Cleveland Browns. He got his wish, as Cleveland selected him in the 1985 supplemental draft.
As a rookie, the former national champion looked ordinary. But he took incremental steps forward, culminating in his only Pro Bowl selection in 1987. However, injuries took a toll on the 6-foot-5, 215-pound signal-caller. The local hero spent nine years in orange and brown before a young Bill Belichick famously benched Kosar for Vinny Testaverde. The Browns cut their long-time starter in the middle of the 1993 season after he went 3-3 with five touchdowns and three picks.
Super Bowl champion got paid well during NFL career
Bernie Kosar finished the ’93 season in Dallas before latching on with the Miami Dolphins. He started just two games in South Florida and lost both of them. Kosar retired after his age-33 season with a disappointing career record of 53-54-1. He threw 124 touchdowns, but his 87 interceptions and 51 career fumbles played a major role in his lack of NFL success. OF course, he didn’t have the best supporting casts, either.
Despite his relatively disappointing NFL career, Kosar did well from a financial standpoint. His rookie contract totaled $5.2 million over five years. In the summer of 1989, the Browns then handed Kosar a lucrative $15 million extension that made him one of the league’s highest-paid players. That contract included a $3 million signing bonus—a major coup that put him in elite company with Joe Montana and Warren Moon.
By the time he retired, Kosar had earned nearly $20 million and even earned a Super Bowl ring with the Cowboys. He utilized those career earnings to make millions more in a variety of business ventures. Unfortunately, his financial luck would run out.
Kosar’s shocking bankruptcy files
A noted investor in a variety of different sectors, Bernie Kosar’s world came crashing to a halt in 2009. The former NFL star filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Miami, and some of the figures on his paperwork were stunning:
Kosar owes almost $1.5 million in “unsecured debt” to the Cleveland Browns, who he played for from 1985 to 1993. Kosar also owes his ex-wife Babette $3 million and $725,000 (from a personal loan) to the owner of the Cleveland Gladiators of the Arena Football League. He owes a bank more than $9 million for bad real estate deals.
As for the most surprising (and saddening) figure on Kosar’s file? His checking account balance totaled just $44. That raised more than a few eyebrows considering he once was a part-owner of the Florida Panthers hockey franchise, as well as an arena football league team. He detailed his personal and financial downfalls in the “Broke” episode of ESPN’s 30 for 30.
According to Celebrity Net Worth, Bernie Kosar is worth about $100,000. Sadly, he’s just one of many former NFL players who went broke after earning millions.