Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Whatever happened to...Bo Jackson? 

Whatever happened to Bo Jackson?

Well, he's suing a newspaper for saying he used steroids.

I have to say, I find it a lot more believeable that Bo was clean, given that he's gone so far as to sue and demand that a retraction be printed.

When Jose Canseco's book came out, with the lurid tales of injecting teammates, I figured that he would get hit with libel suits. None arose. Jackson's, in fact, is the only suit I recall having seen recently around this issue.

The article says that Jackson is a businessman in the Chicago area. He's one of those former players I think about from time to time, and marvel at how they just completely fell off the face of the earth.

I don't think anyone under the age of 25 or so can truly understand the phenomenon that was Bo Jackson. A Heisman Trophy winner, the #1 overall pick in the NFL draft, who decides to forego millions in the NFL because he'd rather play baseball. A guy who becomes one of the most dynamic blends of speed and power that baseball has ever seen, one of those rare players who you'd pay to watch strike out, just because he was such a mesmerizing presence. A guy who then decided to play football as a "hobby", who went to the Raiders and was a part-time running back whose flashes of brilliance couldn't help but make you fantasize about how great he would have been if he had been a full-time player, a guy who had the same devastating package on the football field -- speed and power -- as he did on the baseball field. He was a storybook character come to life.

And then, in a 1991 playoff game against the Bengals, Jackson was tackled by linebacker Kevin Walker. That tackle broke Jackson's hip, and ultimately ended his career. Like that, he was gone.

In looking at Jackson's stats at Pro Football Reference, I'm struck by the following lines near the top of the page:

Bo Jackson never finished in the top 10 in any major category.

Bo Jackson is not in the all-time top 50 in any major category.

Both true, of course. He never came close to the top 10 or top 50. But I find it almost offensive, to see those words leaping off the page, as if to minimize or diminish who Bo Jackson was. I feel like I can identify with those old-timers who talk about how, for a few brief moments, Gale Sayers electrified the football world in a way no one has done since. I never saw Sayers, of course...but I watched Bo Jackson, and while his numbers in the NFL are pedestrian -- 515 carries, 2782 yards -- it is simply circumstance that caused that, because he was simply as great a runner as I have ever seen.

His baseball numbers are better, of course, but still not overwhelming. One top-10 finish in slugging, 3 in homers. His baseball reference stat page includes a most comparable player list, and the guys matched up with Jackson are plebian...Ron Kittle, Bob Cerv, Nick Esasky, Dan Pasqua. Twenty years from now, I'm sure someone will flip through those pages, look at Jackson's production, and wonder what all that fuss was about. A guy who, from 1988 through 1990, was right up there with Mike Tyson and Michael Jordan as the most recognized, most captivating, most riveting athletes in the world...but his on-the-field credentials evoke the likes of Kal Daniels and Barry Word (to name a couple of contemporaries), and his career spanned only a half-decade of meaningful play.

Certain players see their legend grow after they depart. Others, for reasons unknown, see their reputations fade over time...Stan Musial, Pistol Pete Maravich, and Eric Dickerson come to mind. Bo Jackson seems to fall in this category, as well...he's someone who has slipped almost entirely out of mind, despite being such an integral part of the zeitgeist of his time, coining a catchphrase ("Bo Knows...") that was as ubiquitous as "Where's the Beef" and "I'm Rick James, Bitch!!!" in their times and being the embodiment, at least for a few years, of the late 20th century athlete, the man for whom there were no limits to what he could achieve.

And to a certain extent, it is reassuring, since Jackson has slipped from the public eye in part because of his desire to do so. If anything, this suit appears to be motivated by Jackson's very desire to protect his good name, to keep the reputation he has guarded so closely since he returned. He isn't hosting "The Best Damn Sports Show, Period", or hocking grills on TV, or auctioning off weekends with himself on Ebay. He's moved on, disappeared from the public eye with dignity and grace, the way Sandy Koufax did, the way Bob Cousy did.

And like every good showman, he left his audience wanting more. And wondering what might have been...

nothing pedestrian about a 5.40 rushing average.
everyone who grew up watching Bo will never forget him. you failed to mention his famous running over the Boz.
It always burned me that Deion Sanders seemed to be put up on the pedastal for being a 2 sport star. In my mind, Deion could never measure up to the greatness of Bo.
And the best part of Bo Jackson? He admitted that the first time he touched weights was when he was recovering from the hip injury, just makes me jealous to think all the amazing stunts he pulled in football/baseball was done without the benefit of lifting weights.

I saw Bo's interview about this case - he's given permission for anyone to review his pasts tests, from high school to his final game. Said he is that confident a steroid never entered his body.

What a guy...

I'm not even sure that Deion was as good as Bo was at either sport. And Deion is a first-ballot football HOF'er.

I loved that run in the Kingdome when Bo took it something like 90 yards for a TD and then just kept right on trucking all the way through the service tunnel.
I have three indelible sports memories. They are all "repetitive" images of an individual who simply transcends everyone else in his time and place. (1) Gayle Sayers running with the football. (2) Bo Jackson's power and speed at anything he did in either sport. (3) Nolan Ryan's late career strikeout surge.

I guess four, if you'd count Michael Jordan's dominance on the court or five if you like the work ethic that propelled Larry Bird to the heights. In any case, Bo Jackson stands alone as possibly the greatest 'total' athlete I've ever had the pleasure to see. Sprinter, running back, outfielder. I wasn't around for Jim Thorpe, but ..........
You also have to consider that he never played a full season because he was playing baseball and would have to miss the first 4-5 games of the season. Without the aid of training camp he came in and averaged over 5.5 yards a carry in 3 of his 4 years. Not pedestrian at all.
Let me clarify...

His numbers -- particularly his total yards -- are pedestrian for your run of the mill NFL running back.

Given the circumstances, though, his limited playing time, the fact that he was doing this with no training camp, after baseball season, on a part-time basis, obviously they are great.

In context, his numbers are terrific. If you compare him to other NFL runners, though, without regard to the context in which he was doing this, you would wonder what the fuss was about.
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i am a 28 year old dude from iowa so the fact that the oakland then la raiders is my fav team is like football blasphemy here and its cuzz of bo. all these young kids dont even know of his greatness on the diamond and the gridiorn sure they know of prime time and they all think he was so awsome two sport guy they should look up the footage of auburn vs fsu and watch bo literly trample prime time not to mention he had a cartoon called pro stars were he was teamed with two other greats from there sports mr jordan and mr gretzkey the pro starrs i like to see that people havent forgotten his awsomeness
iam 28 i live in desmoines iowa i know iowa right but bo is my hero i am a raiders fan and a white sox fan i just wanted to throw in a not well known fact remeber when auburn played fsu and a certain two sport player for fsu mr prime time got ran straight over by bo that by far is awsome not to mention if his hip wouldnt have been shattered we would be talkin about his all time rushing record
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