Death threats behind him, Bostick seeks redemption with Jets
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. >> Brandon Bostick tried to not let the death threats bother him.
All the hate mail and expletive-filled comments on social media also went unread for months.
The tight end was public enemy No. 1 in Green Bay during the winter of 2015 after he misplayed an onside kick in the NFC championship game that turned the game around and helped send Seattle to the Super Bowl. Frustrated fans blamed Bostick, whose name is still associated with one of the most disappointing days in the franchise's history.
"That was probably the lowest point of my life," Bostick told The Associated Press, "and probably one of the hardest things I've had to deal with."
Nineteen months later, Bostick is in training camp with the New York Jets, seeking redemption for a moment he hopes someday simply fades away.
"Since I've been here, no one's really asked me about that," he said. "I'll talk about it whenever, but they don't really talk about it here. So, I'd definitely say it's behind me. Hopefully I'll be here when the season starts, make a couple of plays and then it'll definitely be forgotten."
The path to this point, however, has been far from easy.
On Jan. 18, 2015, Bostick was largely unknown to casual fans, a special teams player who occasionally saw snaps on offense with the Packers. With Green Bay leading Seattle 19-14 and just over 2 minutes from a Super Bowl appearance, the Seahawks attempted an onside kick.
The ball popped off the turf at CenturyLink Field and came floating down to Bostick. But then, the football bounced through the tight end's hands and off his helmet and was recovered by Seattle's Chris Matthews. The Seahawks scored a touchdown and made a 2-point conversion to take a 22-19 lead. Green Bay tied it with 14 seconds left, but Seattle won 28-22 in overtime.
"It was kind of a blur, I would say," Bostick recalled. "I went through it, but I don't really know what happened. It was fast how everything happened."
Bostick, who said after the game that he was supposed to block to allow Jordy Nelson to recover the onside kick, bore the brunt of Packers fans' venom.
That included death threats, people so angered that they wished for Bostick to disappear — or worse.
"It's one of those things where you don't really take it seriously, but you should," he said. "But I didn't really take it seriously and I didn't really do anything about it."
The messages on social media were almost as bad. But it took Bostick several months to click on them.
He knew they were there, but was too ashamed to face them, embarrassed for himself and disappointed for letting his team and the fans down.
"As it went on, I just stopped running from it and just faced it," he said. "So, I read every Facebook and Instagram post, every Twitter message."
Bostick leaned on his agent Blake Baratz and his family and friends to help him through it all. He also found an ally in former NFL running back Earnest Byner, who saw the tight end being interviewed about the play and decided he needed to reach out to him.
Byner dealt with a similar situation while with Cleveland, when he fumbled what appeared would be a tying touchdown in the closing minute against Denver in the AFC championship game in 1988. It became known as "The Fumble" and drew the wrath of Browns fans who are still waiting for another shot at a Super Bowl.
"I saw that everyone was blaming Brandon and I saw all of the same symptoms of what I had gone through years ago," Byner said in a phone interview from Browns camp, where he's working as a guest running backs coach. "He said he felt like the weight of the world was on his shoulders, and I immediately recognized that feeling."
A few days later, Byner got in touch with Bostick and told him his story. The two haven't met yet in person, but have spoken frequently during the last several months.
"I told him that, yeah, it's his responsibility and he was supposed to do a certain thing, but you own up to it," said Byner, who wrote the inspirational book "Everybody Fumbles" in 2014 to help others recover from making mistakes in life. "I had to explain to him that, hey, it wasn't just him to blame. Also, the thing I wanted him to recognize was that he needed to take that situation, that play and the results of it, and use it to help somebody else.
"That, I told him, was part of his healing process."
A month after the game, Bostick was released by the Packers and claimed off waivers by Minnesota. He wrote a piece for Sports Illustrated's MMQB.com in which he detailed how the play affected his life.
"I just wanted to release everything, put it all out there and let everyone know what happened and get it off my back," Bostick said. "I just wanted to start fresh."
He was released by the Vikings last September and then signed to Arizona's practice squad before being released by the Cardinals twice last season.
Bostick wasn't ready to move on from his past at that point, saying he was still not confident in himself and not dedicated to the game. In December, the Jets signed him to their practice squad and he's in camp this summer trying to win a spot at the team's wide-open tight end position.
"I would say that I'm back to where I was when I left Green Bay," he said. "I feel my game back, I'm enjoying myself, laughing and joking again."
He still receives angry emails and comments, but Bostick says he can laugh at that stuff now. A few days ago, a young football player reached out to him asking for suggestions on how to overcome his own struggles.
Those are the moments Bostick cares about now, when he knows he can help make a difference for someone else — just as Byner has done for him. And, to continue to heal from his own past.
"I would definitely say that it has made me stronger," Bostick said. "I feel like I'm unbreakable. There's nothing you can say or do that could break me."
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