Thank You Bo Jackson
Thank you Bo Jackson.
While I watched the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “You Don’t Know Bo” about you Saturday, I was taken back to my teenage years in the late 1980s when I saw an athletic prowess the likes I haven’t seen since.
You could throw a baseball faster than a speeding bullet, run over linebackers (sorry Brian Bosworth) with the power of a locomotive, and scale outfield walls in a single bound; you were a real life, modern day, Superman of sport.
If Jim Thorpe is the greatest athlete of the 20th century, then you Bo Jackson are right on his heels. And, for those of us who saw you in action, we’re left to wonder “what could’ve been?” had a hip injury not cut short your career. And, it was on sheer, unadulterated, natural God-given talent. No artificial flavors needed.
How great were you?
You’re still the only athlete ever to make the all-star teams in both Major League Baseball, and the N.F.L. You were an M.L.B all-star in 1989, when you had a .256 average, 32 home runs, and 105 runs batted in. You made the N.F.L. Pro Bowl in 1990 when you rushed for 698 yards in 10 games, and averaged 5.6 yards-per-carry. And for good measure, you homered to lead off that M.L.B all-star game, and won the Most Valuable Player award.
I watched a good portion of your N.F.L. career from 1987-1991 with the Oakland Raiders. And, I watched a good portion of your Major League career from 1986-1991 with the Kansas City Royals, and from 1993-1994 with both the Chicago White Sox, and the, then, California Angels.
Your combination of speed and power were like watching Muhammad Ali in his prime.
You did things I’m going to tell my kids about, if I’m ever blessed to have any.
I’ll tell them about the game against the Seahawks back in ‘87. I still remember that one. The Monday Night game when you ran all over the Seattle Seahawks for 221 yards.
This is what I’ll say:
“First, Bo displayed the speed. In the second quarter, he took a pitch left. He stiff-armed one defender. And, like a gazelle, he glided down the sideline for a 91-yard touchdown. He was so far ahead of the closest Seahawk, that from the 20-yard line to the end zone, he was the only player in the TV screen.”
Then I’ll let them know: When Bo got into open field he didn’t just run past defenders, he pulled away from them.
(By the way, your 4.1 40-yard dash time is still the fastest ever recorded at an N.F.L. combine. That’s just stupid fast.)
“Then, Bo brought out the power. The Raiders were two yards from a touchdown in the third quarter. Again, he took a pitch left. He made a cut inside a blocker, where he met up Brian Bosworth who was supposed to be this biggest, baddest linebacker on the planet. It was one-on-one. Bo, and Bosworth at the goal line. Bo lowered his shoulder, and dragged Bosworth into the end zone. Touchdown!!! Bo was the man after that!”
“What about Bosworth, dad?”
“Well, he was never the same.”
Then I’ll let them know: When Bo hit you; you felt it, in your bones.
On the baseball diamond, you did things that were other-worldly.
I’m going to tell junior about “The Throw” back in ’89 against Harold Reynolds and the Seattle Mariners.
It’ll go something like this:
“Harold Reynolds didn’t know what hit him. Bo was in left field. Reynolds was at first, and took off on a hit-and-run. The batter hit a laser to left. It goes off the wall. It bounces right to Bo, who bare hands it with his right hand at the warning track, and it was 330 feet from home plate. Reynolds is flying around third, and he’s fast. Bo turns, and heaves the ball toward home. I don’t know how in the world it happened, but on the fly, the ball beats Reynolds to the plate. Bob Boone lays down the tag, and he’s out!”
Then I’ll tell him: When Bo pulled out the cannon, you got shot down.
When you hit a ball, it sounded like a lightning strike. In fact, former Negro League great “Buck” O’Neil once said Babe Ruth and Josh Gibson were the only two other players he’s ever seen who hit the ball as hard as you did.
Sadly, your football career ended in 1991 when, on a seemingly routine tackle during a playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals, you suffered a severe hip injury.
I remember that day watching you being helped off the field. And, then limp to the locker room with your kids. As a Raiders fan, that was a tough sight to see. But, I thought, no problem. Since we won the game you would be back the next week in the AFC Championship against the Bills. But, you weren’t, and we got trounced 51-3.
Who knew you would never play football again?!
You did manage to make it back to the major leagues, after missing the 1992 season recovering from hip surgery. And, even though you were never the same athlete (I think you would agree); you deserve all the credit in the world for coming back after having a hip completely replaced.
That showed what I think people most admired about you: the heights of your character.
I hope that sports fan mothers and fathers sat down with their sports playing sons and daughters to watch that documentary over the weekend. I hope they did, because, sadly, for today’s athletes you’ve become a mythical figure. Someone who was too good to be true.
I, for one, will just say thank you.
Thank you for telling us, though you career path, to not allow others to limit our opportunities in life.
Thank you for showing us that you can play within the rules, and still be the best.
Thank you for reminding us that at the end of the day, our character is what will define us.
I will say this: Bo may not know diddly, but Bo knows Greatness.
pic sources: Wikipedia & Google Images