LOS ANGELES — I collected posters as a kid. I did a lot of things as a kid, but posters were my thing (and baseball/basketball cards; remember those days?). Whenever my family would head out to K-Mart or Roses or any place I knew sold them, the rack was the first place I went. I’d flip past at rocket speed until something caught my eye and stopped me dead in my tracks; usually it was a fast-looking car or a girl in a bikini but if there was one of Michael Jordan or Ken Griffey, Jr. they’d get my admiration, too. But hands down my favorite poster of all-time is of Bo Jackson.
You know the one. Bo standing there in a blue and black locker room. It’s just him surrounded by his equipment: helmet, bat, shoulder pads, glove, cleats, balls, jackets. There’s even a guitar and hockey stick, leftover from the Nike “Bo Knows” commercial, no doubt. It’s dark, there’s some smoke at the bottom and just the perfect amount of light shining on his Adonis physique. “BLACK & BLUE” the title read. I still have it at my mom’s house. Somewhere. Packed away. Of another generation, it seems. Much like Bo’s playing days.
Late November, Bo Jackson turned 50-years old. He last tore up the gridiron with his God-like power and speed nearly 22 years ago. People I work with don’t remember ever watching him play, only knowing him from throwback Tecmo Bowl games and stories of his freak-like strength and power. A super hero for the 8-bit generation. Last Friday, ESPN aired its latest “30 for 30” and profiled the man, myth and legend that was Bo Jackson. The athlete and the human, and it did not disappoint. For me, it was an amazing trip down memory lane. A time when I still viewed athletes as mythical beings who could do no wrong; statues of muscle and brawn who mashed home runs and scored touchdowns with ease, men who I wanted to be and replicated their every movements in my back yard.
“You Don’t Know Bo” starts from the beginning, at Bo’s home in Bessemer, Alabama and continues chronologically from high school, through Auburn and to the Royals and Raiders, his tragic hip injury, the comeback and then skips to now, with Bo in his man cave making arrows (like for a compound bow) and showing off his big game taxidermy.
The hour-long doc was filled with people from Bo’s past telling stories about what they remembered about him, from his high school football and baseball coaches, former Auburn head coach Pat Dye, Royals teammates George Brett and Mark Gubicza, Raiders teammate Howie Long and various sports journalists, including pop culture writer Chuck Klosterman. Of course, Jackson himself was prevalent in the doc, recalling the moments as they were presented.
A few of my favorite stories in no particular order: Bo saying as a kid he used to have crab apple fights with the other children in his neighborhood and he always won, even one time throwing the apples through screen doors at kids who thought just because they went inside the house they were safe from his wrath; Bo’s high school football coach on the day he was hired asking about the “maintenance man” by the field who turned out to be Bo; him choosing to go to Auburn because Dye went himself rather than sending his assistants and called him Vincent; his college baseball coach talking about hitting a ball over the center field green monster and to the base of a building 150 feet away; Bo recalling why exactly he ran into the tunnel at the Kingdome after his 91-yd touchdown run (he didn’t want to pull a hamstring trying to stop before the wall); Bo’s lead-off homerun in the 1989 All-Star Game and the great footage of him running up the wall and breaking a bat over his knee; remembering all the Nike commercials and, of course, the Tecmo Bowl montage.
I was so jacked up for the Bo doc last week, I nearly bought a pair of his old cross trainers on eBay, except I’m probably the only person in 2012 who has never used the other-people’s-trash collecting site so I wasn’t quite sure how to procure them. It also got me thinking about the time when I was 10-years old, paying something like $12 for the Score baseball card of Bo shirtless wearing shoulder pads and a baseball bat. It was one of my most prized sports card possessions back in the day. I think it’s worth 75 cents now.
Alas, the most interesting part of the doc turned out to be the conclusion most of the journalists made that Bo is the ultimate “What If?” athlete. It’s a tough notion to argue with. Can you think of anyone who had more natural ability than Bo? More strength? More speed? He ran a 4.12 40-yard dash at the Combine!!?! Do you know how incredibly fast that is? He legged out singles on balls hit a couple steps to the left of the 2nd baseman. He tracked down balls in the outfield with ease. He’s the only player in NFL history with two touchdown runs of 90-plus yards. He once said that anything he did outside of baseball season was a hobby; meaning, his entire football career was a HOBBY. What kind of hobbies do you have? Knitting? Stamp collecting? Halo?
It’s crazy to think what could have been for him. His 162-game averages of 33 homers, 97 RBI and 19 steals suggest an outside Hall of Fame career stretched out over 15-plus seasons; though his .250 average and 196 strikeout pace might say otherwise. But Bo never played more than 135 games (in 1989) in his brief 8-year career. His NFL numbers are even more suggestive, especially his 5.4 career yards-per-carry average, which is better than Barry Sanders (5.0), Adrian Peterson (5.0), Tony Dorsett (4.3), Emmitt Smith (4.2) and the man he replaced in Oakland, Marcus Allen (4.1), to name a few. However, Bo’s career high in games played is only 11 in 1989; hey, he had a good year.
Jeremy Schapp brought up an interesting idea late in the doc, and in a way, he’s right. What if (there’s that statement again) Bo had came around 10-12 years later, looking like he did, hitting home runs like he did, running over Brian Bosworth like he did? What would we all be thinking? Naturally, we’d assume Bo was taking something to enhance his performance. No one is that big, that strong and that fast. But Bo was. He was country strong and he did everything with such ease that if it were during another era the cloud of suspicion would hang over him.
Thankfully, that’s not the case. Sure, we only got to enjoy Bo for really 3-4 years but those were pretty freakin’ awesome.
I do know that.