No, sir. No lessons," says the man who once wore Brian Bosworth on
his grille the way a Porsche wears a June bug. "I took half a
lesson one time. Guy was trying to teach me golf using football
terms. Golf. Football. I mean, you're talking to a college
graduate." ¬∂ Bo Jackson, Heisman Trophy winner, Auburn, 1985,
spanks the little white ball this early morning at Ruffled
Feathers Golf Course in Lemont, Ill. The thing stays spanked.
What would you do if you were clubbed by the only human to have
thrown a football that hit the scoreboard hanging from the roof
of the New Orleans Superdome, who broke a major league baseball
bat--hello--while checking his swing, who slid into home during a
spring training game on an artificial hip? ¬∂ Now, it's not as if
the 40-year-old Jackson, 6'1 1/2" and a biscuit or two over his
Los Angeles Raiders and American League playing weight of 230, is
going to join the PGA Tour anytime soon. He refuses to keep a
handicap, though he says he can shoot anywhere from "one over to
98." But who knows how well he could do if he really wanted to.
If he took instruction, for instance. ¬∂ "Nope," says the
former Nike cross-trainers pitchman almost in mid-swing, the sun
reflecting off his matching minihoop silver earrings. "Nothing I
can't learn from watching Tiger Woods or Davis Love III."
Ol' Bo Jackson--real name Vincent but dubbed Bo when he was a kid
in Bessemer, Ala., as wild and nasty as a bo' hog--always has had
a mind of his own. And he had a body that, in the beginning, let
his mind do most anything it conjured up. Such as throw an object
with such force and accuracy that he once chucked a piece of
brick up and over his backyard fence, high above a tree and over
an outbuilding, blindly, so that it traced the anticipated path
of a fleeing neighbor boy who had irritated nine-year-old Bo in
some fashion. Far away the brick and the kid's head came together
in a remarkable and predictably bloody fashion.
After that Bo went under his raised-at-the-back house and crawled
on forearms and knees, G.I. style, until he was wedged in
darkness at the front of the framed building. When finally
discovered, he had to be pulled out by a big brother who yanked
his ankles and a bigger sister who pulled that brother so that Bo
could take the front-yard whipping his mother, Bebe, was obliged
"I was the John Gotti of the neighborhood," says Jackson, who
with his wife, Linda, now has three children of his own, Garrett,
16, Nicholas, 14, and Morgan, 12. "Being a father, wanting
responsible kids, I ask, 'How could I have done that?' Well, I
had a reputation to uphold."
June 29, 2003
And that rep was tied to an almost supernatural athletic ability,
noticeable from the get-go. Jackson, who could properly be called
one of the greatest athletes the human race has produced, could
always do things others couldn't. And don't forget that mean
"We had crab-apple battles, and it would be five or six kids
against ... me," he recalls with a tone of dominance mixed with
near victimhood. The point of a crab-apple battle was, as in so
much of life, to pound the foe into submission. "I would throw
until there was nobody left to throw at," says Bo. "I'd throw it
right through your f-----' picture window if I saw you."
The arm was loaded. The brain was ornery. Years later, while
playing rightfield for the Chicago White Sox at Yankee Stadium,
Jackson caught a ball on the warning track, wheeled and threw to
third base to nail Mike Gallego, who had assumed, reasonably,
that he could advance from second on the long out. This, by the
way, was after Jackson had had his left hip socket replaced by
metal and polymers. "Who cut that?" Gallego asked third baseman
Robin Ventura. "Nobody," said Ventura. Gallego looked
incredulously toward Jackson some 300 feet away. Jackson pointed
an invisible pistol back at him and mouthed, Pow. Bo got a death
threat because of it. "Somebody called the stadium and said
they'd shoot me," he recalls. "My wife was there, and they sent
her home to Chicago, mad as a wet hen. I had to have a police
escort the rest of the series."
Jackson looks out at the pond on the right side of the fairway.
"Rat," he says, pointing. A muskrat nose plows the surface,
creating a ripple. The animal is carrying plant stalks in its
mouth. There are V's behind it.
"Two," says the golfer. "Three. Four of them. Building."
Bo has always liked wild critters. Likes to hunt them and fish
them and eat them. One of his great joys is being the owner with
12 other men of a private, 700-acre hunting preserve in northern
Indiana, where, as he says, "I can sit with the guys and cuss,
drink, scratch and fart, and nobody cares." Has he ever eaten
"Nope," he says. "Possum. As a kid."
"Hell, yeah. Rabbit, deer, turkey, alligator, elk, wild pig,
pheasant, ducks, geese, all of it. I'll eat anything, if it don't
A rifle and shotgun aficionado, Jackson begins a hunting story,
then interrupts himself to say, "I'm gonna do one thing I don't
like to do--look for a ball." In all the chatter he has mashed
one that could be anywhere. He looks for no more than eight
seconds. "That's it," he says. He drops a new ball. "So these
raccoons, it's a constant war at my house. But lately I believe I
have eradicated their asses. I shot one down the throat, he was
hissing at me. Shot a mom right between the eyes. With my .22
pellet pistol. Back when I was playing for the White Sox, I came
home after a night game, and Linda couldn't get to the garbage
can because one was hissing at her. I ran upstairs, got my gun,
cracked the window and peeked out and made a noise like"--and
here Jackson makes a sound that is impossible to put into
letters, but mimics, for those who are raccoon savvy, the
throaty, hungry noise the masked animals make on summer nights
when they fearlessly roam suburbia--"and he came around the
corner and put his head right in the crosshairs. I shot him, and
he did one of those Moe, Larry and Curly circle things."
This is pleasing to Jackson. Fair and just. Bo admits openly to
having been a mean kid--"Everybody in my town had me slated for
prison or the cemetery by 21, and I couldn't disagree"--but there
were reasons for it. His dad was absent. He was poor. He was the
eighth of 10 children, and sometimes he had to wear his sisters'
shoes because his were ruined. Sometimes, when he had no
underwear, he even wore their panties. "And I stuttered, and the
kids made fun of me," he says. "But I wouldn't take nothing off
nobody. Boy or girl, it didn't matter. I'm a peaceful guy, but
step on my foot, I'll stomp on yours."
Some respect, please? See, that's what Bo got when he shut down
his two-sport career for good eight years ago. Respect. He was 32
when he quit. He had played eight seasons in the majors, for the
Kansas City Royals, the White Sox and the California Angels, and
four partial seasons in the NFL, for the Raiders. He had left
Auburn as the school's alltime rushing leader. He had been timed
in an absurd 4.12 seconds in the 40. He had been named the MVP of
the 1989 All-Star Game, hitting a mammoth homer in the first
inning, reminding people why his teammate George Brett had vowed
he would "never miss a Bo Jackson at bat." He always joined the
Raiders late, after baseball, but in '89 he rushed for 950 yards
in only 11 games. The next season he made the Pro Bowl.
He was raw at everything, not what he could have been if he'd
chosen just one sport, but his talent was overwhelming. When he
ran over much-hyped Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bosworth during a
Monday-night game on Nov. 28, 1988, it was hard not to cover
one's face in sympathy for the Boz. It's certain Bo Jackson is
the strongest man ever to run so fast. Of that meeting Bo says
now, "The media were all saying Bosworth was going to rip my head
off. I will say this, he was smart. He said bad things about the
fans, then he had his company make BOSWORTH SUCKS T-shirts, and
he sold about 20,000 of them."
Nobody was supposed to play two pro sports. Not back then. That
was the juice behind the famous "Bo knows" cross-training shoe
commercials, which showed this muscular genius engaged in
everything from baseball to cycling to tennis to guitar-playing.
"Bo, you don't know diddly!" shouted Bo Diddley in one of the
ads, as a bowlered and undershirted Jackson abused a red,
box-style Diddley ax.
Then in a 1991 game against the Cincinnati Bengals, the
invincible Jackson had his hip dislocated on a tackle, and the
blood supply to the joint was impaired. He underwent replacement
surgery 15 months later, had a new socket built. For the first
time he was damaged. Mortal. But in April 1993, he came back to
play more baseball, even cranking a homer in his first at bat
after 19 months away from the game. Then the strike came in 1994,
and before the '95 season Jackson told Nike, "I'm probably done.
Let's just cut it clean."
He retired with a career .250 average to the Chicago suburb of
Burr Ridge, to a nice two-story place nestled in the woods and
hills sloping down to the Des Plaines River, became a full-time
dad, played golf, messed with some business ventures and, on most
people's radar, vanished. "I didn't see it as a dark day," he
says now. "I saw it as the end of an old career and the start of
a new one."
So here he is now, happy as a clam, snapping off fresh spinach
leaves and dropping them into a large bowl in his kitchen. "Most
people don't know how to make a good sauteed spinach," he says,
double-rinsing the vegetables in the sink before adding a pinch
or two of spices and starting the leaves simmering in olive oil.
Linda, his college sweetheart, has a Ph.D. in counseling
psychology--Bo majored in family child development--and has just
driven off to get him the fresh garlic cloves he requested. The
kids make appearances at various times, observe their dad doing
what he does, then disappear the way adolescents will.
Bo begins to peel 30 small potatoes. His hands are deft and
swift. He snaps paper towels with great precision. "I love golf,"
he says. "But what I love more than golf is cooking."
He's half owner now of a food-distribution company called
N'Genuity, based in Scottsdale, Ariz., and he travels often,
making sales pitches to government agencies that might be
interested in, say, a few tons of beef or a crate of his personal
nutrition bars or a hundred of his personal-recipe sweet-potato
pies. He just got back from several days in Norfolk, where he
visited a U.S. naval base, hawking his wares. "One of those ships
serves 20,000 meals a day," he says. "Freezer about the size of
two basketball courts." Bo knows potential.
Jackson is in the business with a Native American woman named
Valerie LittleChief, and as he notes cheerily, "We got the
minority thing nailed."
LittleChief's husband, Bub Owen, keeps the books for the company,
which will do more than $30 million in sales this year. "Bo works
his ass off," says Owen. "Out there sweet-talking, selling meat."
Says LittleChief, "The thing that impresses me most about Bo is
his cooking ability. When he comes here [to Scottsdale] and stays
with us, he cooks breakfast, lunch and dinner. Cooks pies,
everything. Does the dishes, cleans the kitchen. He's a joy."
As the spuds slowly become first fresh-boiled and then delicately
seasoned mashed potatoes, Jackson prattles on about his career,
gloriously amazing but sadly foreshortened. He never lifted
weights, but he was so strong he snapped bats over his leg,
shoulders, even his helmeted head. "I made a point never to break
any of my corked bats," he says. His soon-to-be diners look up.
Really? Bo grins. Dumb media.
In his basement he had earlier shown off the workroom where he
configures his hunting arrows for deer, bear, even fish. Jackson
hunts, he says, "because it's illegal to kill stupid people."
There are tools all around in the tidy room, and nearly a
thousand arrows. "A man can't have enough arrows," he pointed
out, "like a woman can't have enough shoes."
But could he make an authentic Sammy Sosa-style corked war club
"Sure," he said. "If I knew how."
A corked bat would be a joke for a guy like Jackson, the natural
who won the Alabama high school decathlon after teaching himself
to pole-vault in one day and after observing a kid throw the
discus, then tossing it more than 140 feet himself, without a
spin. Even now he has no limp from his thrice-repaired hip and
can sit cross-legged without a wince. "You don't even know which
one it is, do you?" he asks. "The doctor almost passed out when
he saw me slide on the left side." Bo chuckles, now swiftly
trimming fat from a dozen lamb chops.
Everybody likes Bo these days. You can see it down at the river
where he puts in his boat, at the golf course, at the grocery
store, on the neighborhood street where he goes out of his way to
flag down a mother and say nice things about her gurgling infant
in the shaded stroller. But there is always an edge to this huge
man--"Arms just like my mom," he says. "Ever seen my sisters?
Them, too"--and it's what made him tough enough and audacious
enough to hit baseballs and linebackers in the same years.
Once, when pushed too far, Jackson nearly laid out a Royals
teammate. After Bo struck out three times against the Yankees,
then tried to bunt for a hit in his last at bat, Hal McRae razzed
him for the inept display. He kept it up in the clubhouse, the
bus, the airplane.
"0-fer," he was saying. "Bo tried to lay down a bunt." Jackson
finally approached the veteran and said, "Enough is enough. I'm
serious." But McRae continued on. "He was playing cards in the
back with Frank White and some guys, and I said, 'If you say one
more word, I'm gonna knock your false teeth down your throat. I
swear to God. I promise you!'" Brett grabbed Bo, then walked him
up the airplane aisle, saying, "Bobo, what's going on?" Jackson
liked Brett, calls him "one of the cooler guys." And the moment
dissipated. But as Jackson says, "I am not to be played with."
That's all the raccoons needed to know. All that those animals
whose stuffed heads line his basement walls needed to know. All
anybody needs to know.
Bo doesn't like crowds. But he likes courteous folk. Adores
cooking for them. "When was the last time an athlete cooked you
dinner?" he asks a guest.
The answer is easy. Never. Jackson puts the chops on his
well-tended kettle smoker on the back deck. Nobody in his house
cooks but him.
He knows what he could have been, if he had specialized, if he'd
never been injured. A Hall of Famer in either sport, perhaps.
Maybe an Olympian. Maybe the Best Athlete Ever. "Ordinary people
shouldn't model their activities after Bo Jackson," warned one of
his orthopedic surgeons, Dr. James Andrews, after Bo returned to
baseball on his fake hip. Royals owner Ewing Kauffman once said
it was a pity Jackson risked injury in football, thus preventing
us from knowing how great he could have been in baseball.
"Life is about ifs," says Bo, shrugging. "I could have hurt my
hip sliding in baseball. Sure, it would be nice to be in the Hall
of Fame, but it would be nice to win the Powerball lotto, too."
Never mind that stuff just now. Bo grows happier and happier as
he cooks. He talks about his dream of opening a restaurant in
Chicago, calling it Bebe's Backyard Barbecue, in honor of his
beloved mother, who died three weeks after his first hip surgery,
in 1992, the strong lady who taught him that the No. 1 rule of
fine cooking is "do everything with love."
Soon the chops are done to perfection.
Who would be the chef at that new place? you ask, digging in.
"Me," answers Bo. Like there's any question at all.
"Sure, it would be nice to be IN THE HALL OF FAME," says Bo, "but
it would be nice to win the Powerball lotto, too."
"Most people don't know how to make a GOOD SAUTEED SPINACH," says
Jackson, double-rinsing the leaves in the sink.