Leland Stein III

Bo Jackson: The greatest athlete ever?

In sports column on January 13, 2013 at 11:27 pm

Pic cutline: BO JACKSON the great two-sport star.



By Leland Stein III

ESPN has done it once again! Its noteworthy ‘30 for 30: You Don’t Know Bo’ documentary hit the mark and jogged my memories and senses. The film examined the truths and tall tales that surround Bo Jackson, and how his seemingly impossible feats captured our collective imagination for an all-too-brief moment in time.

Two sport star Bo Jackson and his famous Nike commericals.

Two sport star Bo Jackson and his famous Nike commericals.

Vincent Edward “Bo” Jackson’s run (1986 to 1994) on the national sporting stage was indeed brief, but left a lasting memory for all sports aficionados.

As a neophyte reporter in Los Angeles, I just so happen to have been starting my journalistic journey when Bo came to town. What a ride it was scribing about this one-of-a-kind athlete.

Bo, a 1985 Heisman Trophy winner while at Auburn, became the first and only athlete to be named an All-Star in two major American sports (football [1990] and baseball [1989]).

In football, he played running back for the Los Angeles Raiders of the National Football League. In baseball, he played left field and was a designated hitter for the Kansas City Royals, the Chicago White Sox and the California Angels of the American League in Major League Baseball

For me one of the most memorial things about Bo was that he recorded the fastest 40-yard dash (4.12 seconds – hand-timed) ever recorded at any NFL Combine. His electrifying time is still the fastest verifiable 40-yard dash time in NFL history.

At 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, Bo is the only athlete to measure up in size and speed to the great Jim Brown. Indeed his football stats are Brown-like. At Auburn in his senior year (1985), Bo rushed for 1786 yards which was the second best single-season performance in SEC history, and, his 6.4 yards per rush averaged, at the time, was the best single-season average in SEC history. For his performance in 1985, Bo was awarded the Heisman Trophy.

Leland Stein III

Leland Stein III

It did not stop there as Bo took the NFL by storm. The amazing thing is he never joined the Raiders until his baseball season with Kansas City was completed. He never played more than 11 NFL games in a season, never went to training camp, but in 173 carries, Bo gained and astounding 950 yard and averaged 5.5 yard per carry

In baseball Bo hit over 20 homeruns in four consecutive seasons. In 1989 he had his best season clocking 32 dingers, with 105 RBI’s and 26 stolen bases and an All-Star appearance.

In both sports Bo seemed to deliver on the big stage. On Monday Night Football in 1987 Jackson turned in a 221 yard rushing performance against the Seattle Seahawks. During this game, he ran over Seahawks linebacker Brian Bosworth, who had insulted Jackson and promised in a media event before the game to contain Jackson. He also unleashed a 91 yard run where he disappeared through the entrance to the field tunnel to the dressing rooms with teammates soon following. Jackson scored two rushing touchdowns and one receiving touchdown in the game. His 221 yards 29 days after his first NFL carry, is still a Monday Night Football record.

Bo Jackson win the Heisman.

Bo Jackson win the Heisman.

In the 1989 baseball All-Star game Bo was named the game’s MVP for his play on both offense and defense. In the top of the first inning, he caught Pedro Guerrero’s 2-out line drive to left-center field to save two runs. Then he led off the bottom of the first—his first All-star plate appearance—with a monstrous 448-foot home run. In the 2nd inning, he beat out the throw on a potential double play to drive in the eventual winning run. He then stole 2nd base, making him one of two players in All-Star Game history to hit a home run and steal a base in the same game (the other is Willie Mays). Bo finished the game with two hits in four at-bats, one run scored and two RBI.

Those are only a snippet of what Bo did as the greatest two sport athlete ever. He was perhaps the most dominant football player of his era. He ran through arm tackles like wet toilet paper and punished would-be tacklers like no other. In baseball he was the fastest and strongest player in the league.

Bo Jackson was one of the brightest-shining sports stars the world has ever known. Like a magnificent comet streaking through the sky it shines bright then is gone just as quickly. During the 1991 playoffs versus Cincinnati Bo suffered a serious hip injury that ended his football career. Amazingly after sitting out the entire 1992 baseball season Jackson was able to return to the Chicago White Sox in 1993.

His sports accolades led to Bo being the first international Nike spokesperson. The famous “Bo Knows” campaign was ground breaking and changed the face of athlete and shoe advertisement.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or Twitter @LelandSteinIII

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