Bo Jackson: What Could Have Been
When people hear the name Bo Jackson, they think of an incredible two-sport athlete. They think of a man with electrifying speed and the strength of an ox.
And then they think what could have been.
Vincent Edward Jackson was born on November 30, 1962 in Bessemer, Alabama. He was the eighth of ten children, and did not have a father. The first time he met his dad was when he 10 years old.
He was named after his mother’s favorite actor, but because of his unruly and rambunctious behavior, his family referred to him as the “wild boar”. This was eventually shortened to “Bo”, which is what we have called him ever since.
Bo attended to McAdory High School, in McCalla, Alabama. He was a multi-sport athlete while there, dominating on the gridiron, diamond, and track.
As a senior in football, Jackson rushed 108 times for 1,173 yards, which comes out to 10.9 yards per carry, and 17 touchdowns.
In the ensuing spring Jackson moved on to baseball, hitting 20 home runs, which tied the national record.
He was also fantastic in track. As a senior, he won state titles in multiple dashes, hurdles, the high-jump, and the long-jump.
He was even a two-time decathlon state champion.
All of this led to him being drafted in the second round of the 1982 MLB Draft by the New York Yankees, directly out of high school. But Bo turned down their offer to go to college.
Obviously, Jackson was very heavily recruited coming out of high school. Ultimately, he decided to attend Auburn University. The day he committed himself to Auburn marked the beginning of one the most prolific careers in college sports history.
As a freshman, Jackson was the Tigers’ starting running back. He proved to be an immediate difference maker, scoring the game-winning touchdown against hated rival Alabama, which gave Auburn their first win in the series in over a decade.
He was also a key contributor in their 33-26 Tangerine Bowl victory over Boston College.
In his sophomore year, Bo rushed 158 times for 1,213 yards, and a 7.7 average. He led the team to an 11-1 record that season. His best performance of the year came against Alabama, when he carried the ball 20 times, going for 256 yards, which is a 12.4 average.
They ended up facing Michigan in the Sugar Bowl that year. They would win that game 9-7, and Jackson was named the Most Valuable Player. Bo was also a consensus All-American that season.
In 1984, as a junior, Jackson missed a big portion of the season with a separated shoulder. But he was able to return late in the year and lead Auburn to the Liberty Bowl, where they would defeat Arkansas 22-15, with Jackson being the MVP.
As a senior in 1985, he set school records with 1,786 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground. He also had 6.4 yards per run.
Once again, he had his best performance in the Iron Bowl, the annual rivalry game between Alabama and Auburn. This time, Jackson had 142 rushing yards and a pair of scores. And he did it all with two cracked ribs.
In his last college football game, he was named the 1986 Cotton Bowl’s Most Outstanding Offensive Player.
That year he was again a Consensus All-American. In addition to this, he was the recipient of the Walter Camp Award, the Chic Harley Award, and was named the UPI Player of the Year, as well as the Sporting News Player of the Year.
Oh yeah, and he the Heisman Trophy, too. He won the vote over Iowa quarterback Chuck Long by just 45 points, which is still the closest outcome in Heisman history.
He concluded his collegiate career with 4,303 rushing yards, a 6.6 average, and 43 TDs.
In baseball, he found great success as the Tigers’ center fielder. Although his baseball stats and performances are not as well documented as they were for football, he was a top-notch player in both sports.
His best season was in 1985, when he hit 17 homers, had 43 RBI, 55 runs, and a batting average of .401. He was declared ineligible to play as a senior because he accepted a free plane ride to Tampa Bay to undergo a physical for the Buccaneers of the NFL.
In track, he qualified for the 100-meter dash as a freshman and sophomore, with his best time being 10.4.
He even considered running for the United States Olympic Team, but eventually decided to stick with his other sports.
At the 1986 NFL Combine, Bo ran a 4.12 in the 40-yard dash, the fastest time ever recorded at the event. This led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to select him with the first pick overall of the 1986 NFL Draft.
Jackson would decline this offer, and instead enter the 1986 MLB Draft, where he picked in the fourth round by the Kansas City Royals. Since he did not sign with the Buccaneers, they were forced to forfeit his draft rights.
But before we get into his baseball career, we should talk about his days as a football professional football player.
Although Jackson was committed to playing baseball, he adopted football as his “offseason hobby.”
He signed with the Los Angeles Raiders in 1987 after they drafted him in the seventh round of the draft, 183rd overall. Owner Al Davis allowed him to miss the beginning of each season to finish up with baseball and join the team midseason.
Unfortunately, his NFL career only lasted four years, because, in a playoff game in 1991, he suffered a serious hip injury that ended his time as a football player.
But his career was remarkable while it lasted. He never played more than 11 games in a season, but there are tons of memorable moments and performances from the Wild Boar’s career.
In Jackson’s first appearance on Monday Night Football , he had what may be his greatest game ever and signature performance.
That night, Bo ran wild for 221 yards and three touchdowns against the Seattle Seahawks. One of them was an electrifying 91-yard run, and another ended with Jackson literally trampling Seahawks’ linebacker Brian Bosworth. His 221 yards remain a Monday Night Football record.
Other notable plays from Jackson’s career include slipping a tackle from New York Giants’ Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor, and running over hard-hitting, Hall of Fame inductee Ronnie Lott of the San Francisco 49ers.
Bo is the only player in NFL history to have two rushes of at least 90 yards. The longest runs of his career were 92, 91, and 88 yards apiece.
At the conclusion of the 1990 regular season, Jackson was selected to the Pro Bowl. However, he was unable to actually play in the game due to a severe hip injury he suffered on Jan. 13, 1991, in a playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
This injury caused the joint in his hip to deteriorate and prevented him from every putting on the pads again.
In his four-year career, Jackson racked up carried the ball 515 times for 2,872 rushing yards, giving him a 5.4 average, and scored 16 touchdowns. In addition, he caught 40 passes for 352 yards, which is 8.8 yards per catch, and two more scores. And he did this all while in the same backfield as Hall of Fame halfback Marcus Allen.
As a baseball player, the injury did not end his career, but did put it in jeopardy.
His professional baseball career began in 1986 when he was drafted by the Kansas City Royals as was said before.
That year, he spent most of his time in the Royals’ farm system, where he played right field and designated hitter for the Memphis Chicks. He was called up to play for Kansas City on a couple occasions, put saw most of his time in the minors that year.
Then, in 1987, he was promoted to the organizations big league roster. He would play very well for the Royals for the next four years, and was even voted a 1989 All-Star, representing the American League.
Jackson became the first player selected to an All-Star game in two different sports when he made the Pro Bowl in the ensuing football season.
Just a few months later, Jackson went down with the aforementioned hip injury. When he did not respond well to his treatment, things were not looking bright for him.
Jackson was a very valuable member of the Royals in his years there. He was able to play in all three outfield spots, although he normally a left fielder and could play DH.
However, after he went down, the Royals no longer felt this way about him, and he was consequently released by the team following the 1990 season.
Jackson by then had given up football and was focused on salvaging his baseball career.
He was able to sign with the Chicago White Sox in 1991 and played in the minor leagues for most of the year. He played outfield and designated hitter for the Sarasota White Sox and the Birmingham Barons.
His injury worsened in 1992, and he was forced to sit out for the entire season. It had gotten so bad that he was forced have to have surgery and get an artificial hip.
Bo vowed to his mom that he would hit a home run on his first at bat when he was able to come back. Although his mother died before the 1993 season, Bo held true to his word.
On opening day of the 1993 season, Jackson made his first appearance at the plate since 1991. By this time, he was on the White Sox and out of the minors. In his first at bat, Jackson hit a home run in honor of his mom. That ball is now engraved in her tombstone.
Jackson would play with the White Sox for just three years, signing with the California Angels following the 1993 season. Still, in his time in Chicago, Bo did make his one and only playoff appearance, when the Sox were knocked off by the Blue Jays in six games.
He then moved on to the Angels, where, again, he played both left and right field, as well as designated hitter. After playing the 1994 season, Jackson retired. The combination of his injury and the infamous 1994-1995 MLB Strike were enough to make him call it quits.
However, just because he retired early does not mean he did not have his fair share of spectacular moments.
In addition to being named to the 1989 MLB All-Star Game, Jackson was also named the MVP of the game.
He started off the game with a towering 448 foot lead-off home run. He followed that with a steal, which made him the second player ever to record a home run and a steal in an All-Star game, and a single.
He even played well on defense, snagging a line-drive hit by Pedro Guerrero which would have scored a couple runs.
In 1993, Jackson was named the American League Comeback Player of the Year and won the Tony Conigliaro Award, which goes to the player who had to overcome the toughest obstacles, whether they be injury, illness, disability, or emotional issues, while still having a productive year.
He also is tied with multiple players for the most home runs in consecutive at bats with four. Three were hit in the same game, which was against the Yankees. He got hurt during the game and went on the DL.
In his first time up after coming back, Jackson homered off of Randy Johnson to make it four in a row.
One of the most notable plays of Bo’s career came on June 5, 1989. The Royals, Jackson’s team at the time, were playing Seattle Mariners.
Harold Reynolds was on first base for the Mariners when Scott Bradley stepped up to the plate. Bradley knocked the ball deep into left-center field.
Jackson was playing left field that day. As Reynolds was rounding third base, Jackson got to the ball and, from the warning track, threw a bullet to home plate, barely robbing the Mariners of a run that they easily would have gotten against other teams.
Another example of Jackson’s remarkable athleticism occurred July, 11, 1989, when Kansas City was playing the Baltimore Orioles. Bo was once again out in left field.
When a ball was hit into the warning track, he made an incredible overhead grab. Being that he was still going full speed toward the wall when he caught it, it seemed that a collision was bound to happen. But rather than slamming into the wall, Jackson literally ran up the wall, jumping down once he reached the top.
In his career, Jackson tallied 598 hits, 341 runs, 415 RBI, and 141 home runs, and had a batting average of .250.
What makes all of this so incredible is that he had very little time to train and sometimes even none. Once baseball ended, football began, and once that was over, he only had a couple of months to train for baseball, and no time for football.
Now 46, Bo has been out of professional sports for the past 15 years. But he has still been given a few more honors in more recent years.
On Oct. 31, 1992, Jackson’s number 34 jersey was officially retired by the Auburn Tigers football time during halftime of a game. In 2007, ESPN had Bo at No. 8 on their “Top 25 Players In College Football History” list. Jackson has even been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
With all of this being said, it is clear that Bo is one of the greatest athletes of all-time.
Other fantastic multi-sport athletes from history are Jim Thorpe, Michael Jordan, Otto Graham, and Deion Sanders. All of these men are fantastic athletes, but I feel that it is safe to say that Jackson ranks above them all.
But don’t think this gets to his head. “When people tell me I could be the best athlete there is, I just let it go in one ear and out the other. There is always somebody out there that is better than you are.”
His sincere humbleness and modesty is just another thing that makes him one of the most beloved athletes in history.
His famous “Bo Knows” commercials and video games “Bo Jackson Baseball” and “Bo Jackson’s Hit and Run” have only added to the legend that is Bo.
So the next time you think of Bo Jackson, you should think of a man who was driven by virtues and morals on and off the field. You should think of a phenomenal athlete whose all-around ability may have been unparalleled by all others.
And then, you should ask yourself just how good Bo Jackson could have been.
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