The curious case of Bo Jackson

Once in a generation, if not a lifetime, there comes a special one with extraordinary talents and skillset graced on our life and performed miracles that we have never seen before, only to disappear just as quickly as one arrives, and leaving us with only fleeting moments. In athletic competition, there have been many superstars who have done extraordinary well with multiple sports in their youths, only to find themselves prioritize and narrowing their choices, only a handful, if not only one, who went against such wisdom and made an impact in two different sports within the same year for a handful of years, only to abruptly suffer a severe injury that forced him into early retirement.  In spite of his short on-field athletic tenures, he sparked a generation of marketing campaign to feature athletes for endorsement that have become the most significant revenues in history, and the famous catchphrase has also become synonymous to his persona born from it.  Even though I have only been able to watch his glory days for maybe one year, if not two, but that Nike commercial that featured multiple version of himself was priceless, and his feats could only be described as natural as the likes of Samson from the Old Testament (Judges 13-16), Achilles or Hercules from Greek mythology, which was even more remarkable that he could have been one of the all-time greats alongside Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds, and Pete Rose, let alone Hank Aaron and Ted Williams in baseball, Barry Sanders, Eric Dickerson, Larry Csonka, Walter Payton, John Riggs, and Earl Campbell in American football.  So who is this protagonist I have been referring to? There can be only one, Vincent Edward Jackson, but better known as “Bo” Jackson.

When I watched an episode of ESPN’s documentary series “30 for 30” about our protagonist, I realized that I didn’t really know of him that well, and let’s be honest, I was a toddler living in Hong Kong when Jackson built his reputations, and I have only glanced on what he had done from 1990 to his last game on January 13, 1991 on television, which meant that I saw a pebble-sized of his sporting life.  But one of the few things I’ve noticed is that Bo’s personality mirrors my own in many ways, we both got teased by those who have belittled me in our youth, which we had bottled so much anger and frustration that had a tendency of having blowups from time to time, and we barely made a sentence or two when family gathering came along,  However, I was and still am nowhere as fit as him by a long shot, and athletic competition wasn’t even on my radar unless I am watching television when sports are broadcasting live.  Bo, on the other hand, took all of his anger and channeled them into sports.  Unlike myself, he has 7 siblings in his family and grew up in a small little town at the outskirt of Birmingham, Alabama, and his achievements in athletic was beyond extraordinary, to the point that some of those records may be considered as mythical as McLaren MP4-4 challenger in Formula One a full decade later, give and take an extra year or two.  Still, his childhood was rather troublesome, but can be frightening as Bo himself described an incident involving crab apple tree tossing with rock that ended up with his neighborhood kids went into hiding their homes to avoid being hit by him, but some of them still managed to pierce through the windscreen when they assumed their homes were safe from him.  During his high school days, he set and crushed multiple records so commanding, that not even the scout the New York Yankees could believe what he saw in Jackson; however, Bo opted to become a college student instead of signing for George Steinbrenner, as they didn’t mind being poor and “his family was doing fine without his (Steinbrenner) money”.  Absolutely MENTAL!!

Since his family and Bo were unwilling to leave the state of Alabama, there were two major colleges who wanted to recruit him.  But, when he was told that he might not be playing in his freshman and sophomore year (known as redshirted) with the Crimson Tides of University of Alabama, Jackson ended up with Alabama’s biggest rival, University of Auburn when told by Tigers’ head coach Pat Dye that he would ensure Jackson received every opportunity to play as a freshman.  Immediately, Dye knew that Bo was that special, and so was the college baseball team that he also played for, even though his later venture suffered a bit due to his injury during sophomore year after football season.  Still, he was so herculean that, according to Bo, then-owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Hugh Culverhouse flew him for an illegal team visit (as the Auburn baseball coach told him that his visit did not received clearance from NCAA) just to get him to be declared ineligible for any more collegiate involvement as a player.  When the Bucs drafted Bo, who he told the team previously that he would be refused to sign with them out of spite for the screw job Culverhouse had orchestrated and instead signed with Kansas City Royals to play baseball when drafted in the fourth round with a three-year contract that worth just over $1 million., forcing Tampa Bay to forfeit the draft pick.  Meanwhile, he was called up into the main roster from Double-A level after playing there for merely a month, and though he wasn’t exactly the most disciplined hitter upon the call-up, he showed a lot of potential to be a great baseball player.  

Having been screwed over by Tampa Bay, Bo thought that he would never become a football player, however, upon hearing that then-owner of the Los Angeles Raiders, late Al Davis, was a fan of him and was receptive to the idea of Bo playing both baseball and football, he was drafted in the 7th round in the 1987 NFL Draft, and his NFL contract allowed him to join the team while continue playing baseball until season’s end. Meanwhile, his batting practice and his first career home run had also became his mythos as he had smashed the ball so far that led to the late legendary Buck O’Neill stated that “he had seen the ball traveling that far three times, first was Babe Ruth, second was his contemporary in Negro League player Josh Gibson, and Bo was the third”, with one of those, according to the former general manager at the time, hit top of the crown of the center field display, while his first home run reached 500 feet at now-known as Kaufman Stadium. To further amaze the curiosity was his scoring against Seattle Seahawks with Brian Bosworth, who was drafted as a supplemental in the same draft that brought Bo in, in the then-Kingdom, which as since been demolished and rebuilt as an outdoor stadium called CenturyLink Field. On his first scoring, Bo busted through the gap and ran all the way to score then and continued running until reaching the end of the stadium, and brought him back in by his teammates, to the amazements to everyone who was watching it in person and television. The next scoring, though, was setup by Bosworth, whose “The Boz” persona had influenced him by saying quite a few things about stopping Bo, except Jackson had other ideas as he bulldozed his way into the end zone – with Boz went backwards instead, ending Boz’s hype machine at its tracks, and he retired at season’s end. Bo’s ascension with the Raiders came at the hefty expense of playing time for Marcus Allen, Los Angeles native who had enjoyed playing at Los Angeles Coliseum since he was a graduate of University of Southern California that just so happens that their football team played at the same place where the Raiders were, and the souring relationship with Al Davis eventually led to him signing with the divisional rival Kansas City Chiefs by 1992.

After a “better than expected” season in 1988, he was elected to the 1989 All-Star Game as a member of the American League. Tony LaRussa, who led Oakland Athletics to the World Series in an losing effort to Los Angeles Dodgers in 5 games, installed Jackson in, of all places, leadoff spot. Until that moment in time, Bo has been battling anywhere else except leadoff, he took the second sinking fastball (two-seamer) and, in Bo’s own words, golfed it deep to center field of the Anaheim Stadium, where unlike the current configuration as a baseball-only stadium nowadays, was a dual-purpose stadium similar to Candlestick Park, into the covered seating. Vin Scully, longtime voice of not only the Dodgers and also baseball itself, was speaking with former President Ronald Reagan at the time, noticed the home run and heralded “Bo Jackson said, ‘Hello’!” The unfortunate victim who served that home run was Rick Reuschel, who was a starting pitcher for the San Francisco Giants headed to the infamous World Series three months later and was never the same after that game as he didn’t last long with the team during the following season, also served a home run by Boston Red Sox legend Wade Boggs for the back-to-back home run, first in that game’s history. Meanwhile, with a blazing success in both sports, he transcended to another medium with an endorsement deal with Nike, marked the beginning of an era of athletes likes Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and David Robinson joined in later in that decade, with Jordan soon became the de-facto figure after Jackson suffered a devastating career-ending dislocated hip injury during 1990 AFC Divisional playoff game after a below waist tackle from that torn his hip completely off the socket losing all of the cartilage. Jackson know his football career was over after the hip replacement surgery, and though he showed flashes of mobility in baseball upon signing to the Chicago White Sox, he was a shadow of what he was.

Although Bo Jackson played for an incredibly short time, one cannot argue that he had made a huge impact in sports. Unlike other players who have gotten into trouble with the law and other legal matters, he has relatively kept a low profile and continues to find other things to do such as hunting with bow and arrows, unless it’s for various reunions. But whether we would see another athlete who would ever be allowed to accomplish the same thing, while I would not discount the skills of Deion Sanders, whom like Bo, was a two-sport athlete himself with a different skillset in football under the persona of “Prime Time”, perhaps it may happen … in another lifetime, or sooner.