CLEVELAND -- Bernie Kosar spent more than 10 years in persistent pain, the effects of more than one dozen documented concussions he sustained in 13 years as an NFL quarterback.
There are hits he remembers. There were others, so many others with the Browns, he shook off with smelling salts tucked into the front of his pants on game day.
But the ringing and buzzing in his head never subsided. Kosar couldn't sleep. He slurred his words. His life, troubled by financial woes and a failed marriage, was almost unlivable. He was desperate, masking his misery with medication and trying to pretend things weren't as bad as they seemed.
Desperate for help after tapping into numerous medical resources with limited results, Kosar discovered Dr. Rick Sponaugle, a "pioneer" in brain therapies who runs a wellness institute in Palm Harbor, Fla. Kosar claims through Sponaugle's "groundbreaking" work that his symptoms have improved, his brain is healing and he's feeling better than he has in years.
"It was a gift from God to find this and feel like this," Kosar said Thursday, opening up publicly for the first time about his affliction. "I see all the symptoms going away."
Kosar is spreading the word about his improved condition and his goal is to get help for former teammates and other ex-NFL players dealing with onset dementia, depression and other symptoms caused by playing an inherently violent sport only now coming to terms with the physical toll it has taken on thousands.
Kosar contacted NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and told him about Sponaugle, whose complex treatments to improve blood flow in the brain include intravenous therapies along with dietary supplements.
"They are very interested," said Sponaugle, who has spoken to Dr. Elliot Pellman, a league medical advisor. "Why wouldn't they be?"
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello confirmed the discussions took place.
Kosar said at this news conference in Middleburg Heights, Ohio, that after first meeting Sponaugle, he was "a little skeptical" about getting any results. However, after five days of treatment, the 49-year-old was already feeling a difference.
"I feel 20 years younger," said Kosar, who has lost 40 pounds and is nearly at his playing weight.
Kosar has undergone 15 treatments with Sponaugle, who had him undergo a PET (positron emission tomography) scan to assess the damage to the quarterback's brain. Sponaugle said the majority of Kosar's damage has occurred to the frontal lobe of his brain, affecting his emotions and speech.
Sponaugle compared the trauma Kosar experienced on the football field to that of someone involved in a head-on, car collision.
"Bernie, in effect, put his head through the windshield every Sunday," he said.
While Kosar was receiving treatments last month, he made an appearance on a Cleveland sports talk radio show in which he became emotional and slurred his words. Kosar sounded intoxicated, and some Browns fans surmised he was either drunk or over-medicated.
Kosar said he "wasn't exactly cognizant" of how the appearance came across. Sponaugle, however, wasn't surprised by it after reviewing several scans of Kosar's brain, rattled by years of being hit by defenders and having the back of his helmet bounced off turf fields in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Houston he described as being as hard as "pavement."
"Once you get decreased blood flow," Sponaugle said, "you're in trouble. I knew why he was weepy. I've seen this in all kinds of people."
Sponaugle did not provide many details about his treatments, which he claims can reverse the effects of brain trauma. He has treated more than 8,000 patients, including those with Alzheimer's, war veterans and other NFL players, including an offensive lineman who came to him for help because he was unable to remember the play call between hearing it in the huddle and going to the line of scrimmage.
Kosar has no regrets about playing. He isn't upset with the medical treatment he received as a player or with the league, which has been proactive in recent years about player safety while also fighting lawsuits brought by retired pros looking for compensation.
When Kosar played, leading with the helmet was encouraged.
"The head-to-head contact was coached," he said. "That's the way you were taught to hit the quarterback."
Kosar made it clear he has no agenda other than to help others get well. His revelation came on the same day researchers from the National Institutes of Health said the late Junior Seau had a degenerative brain disease often linked with repeated blows to the head. Seau ended his life last year by shooting himself in the chest.
"I see friends of mine and I think a lot of them are losing hope," he said. "There are hundreds, if not thousands of guys who are dealing with issues and pain and stuff. I tried really hard to find it. I don't think a lot of people know there is hope for them. I hope if there are people and players out there suffering, they have an option and something that can genuinely help them get better in a short amount a time.
"You don't have to live the rest of your life in pain and agony."