Bo Jackson was so fast, he could be here and then gone in an instant.
Unfortunately, for Raider Nation and the rest of the sports world, that was the story of Jackson’s professional football and baseball careers, which were cut far too short by a hip injury.
Tom Flores was the Los Angeles Raiders coach when Managing General Partner Al Davis signed Jackson in 1987, and Flores already had the great Marcus Allen in the backfield.
“What am I going to do with him and Marcus both?” Flores recalled thinking when Jackson joined the team. “But the very moment he stepped on the practice field and showed what he had, the entire team just went, ‘Whoa!’
“He was awesome. There was nobody on that whole field who didn’t feel his presence. He was without a doubt an instant star. No question. He would not say much, but he would just smile as he ran over you ... 230 pounds that ran like lightning.”
The 6-foot-1, 227-pound Jackson was selected winner of the 1985 Heisman Trophy while playing for Auburn, and also was Sporting News Player of the Year, UPI Player of the Year in addition to winning the Walter Camp Award that season.
Jackson was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the first pick of the 1986 NFL Draft but refused to play for them because team officials didn’t tell him that visiting their facility it would cost him his remaining baseball eligibility as an outfielder at Auburn that spring.
When the Buccaneers wouldn’t trade his rights, Jackson turned down their $7.6 million, five-year contract in favor of a $1.07 million, three-year deal to play baseball for the Kansas City Royals.
During eight seasons in the major leagues, Jackson batted .250 with the Royals, Chicago White Sox, and California Angels, and hit 141 home runs, many of the tape-measure variety.
In his only All-Star Game appearance in 1989, he hit a 448-foot home run off Rick Reuschel of the San Francisco Giants while leading off the bottom of the first inning.
When the Buccaneers forfeited their rights to Jackson before the 1987 NFL Draft, the Raiders selected him in the seventh round and signed him to a five-year, $7.4-million contract.
Davis told Jackson he could play the entire baseball season before joining the Raiders, so he played only 38 games in four seasons with the Silver and Black, but they were memorable.
And Jackson became even more of a celebrity because of his popular “Bo Knows” television commercials as he starred in both sports.
“Bo was a very private guy, a very private person, family man,” Flores said. “Treated the game as a business. Very proud and I didn’t realize how great a competitor he was because he didn’t take mediocrity very well. I mean, he was Bo Jackson.”
In those 38 games, including 23 starts, Jackson rushed for 2,782 yards on 515 carries, a 5.4-yard average, with 16 touchdowns—including runs of 92, 91, and 88 yards. He also caught 40 passes for 352 yards, a 9.1-yard average, and two more scores.
Most notably, after linebacker Brian Bosworth of the Seattle Seahawks said he would shut down Bo in a Monday Night Football game in 1987, Jackson ran over Bosworth on a two-yard touchdown run, bolted 91 yards for another score, and caught a 14-yard TD pass while rushing for 221 yards in 37-14 Raiders victory.
On the long run, he never slowed down, famously running through the end zone and up the tunnel beneath the stands, where several teammates followed to celebrate with him.
“He just flat out ran my butt over,” Bosworth told reporters after the game. “My hat’s off to him.”
However, Jackson’s football career came to a sudden halt from a hip injury sustained at the end of a 34-yard run in a playoff game on Jan. 13, 1991, against the Cincinnati Bengals when he was tackled by linebacker Kevin Walker.
Bo missed the next baseball season, too, because of the injury and retired from sports for good after two more seasons.
“That’s all right, I’ve got no regrets,” Jackson said. “I still wouldn’t change a thing. The man upstairs had a plan of the way of working things out, and they did. I know Bo Jackson was good for professional sports at one time.
“I know pro sports was great for Bo Jackson, then and now.”
The people with regrets are fans who didn’t get to see even more of Bo.
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