That’s what the public was told in a popular advertising campaign in the late 1980s.
The campaign highlighted the many athletic talents of Bo Jackson.
— NFL Classic! (@79_nfl) May 29, 2022
Jackson had arrived in the professional sports world from Auburn University where he was a highly successful running back, baseball player, and track star.
On the gridiron, his 6’1”, 230-pound frame was devastating to would-be tacklers leading Jackson to win the 1985 Heisman Trophy.
Jackson’s athleticism allowed him to become a two-sport star as a pro, playing baseball for the Kansas City Royals while also playing football for the Los Angeles Raiders.
His legacy and ability to play two professional sports served as an inspiration to athletes who came after him.
This is the story of Bo Jackson.
Born to Compete
Vincent Edward “Bo” Jackson was born on November 30, 1962 in Birmingham, Alabama.
Jackson was the eighth of ten kids to an essentially single mother.
His athletic ability was not so much borne on a ball field as it was a means of survival.
“We never had enough food. But at least I could beat on other kids and steal their lunch money and buy myself something to eat. But I couldn’t steal a father. I couldn’t steal a father’s hug when I needed one. I couldn’t steal a father’s whipping when I needed one,” said Jackson in his book, Bo Knows Bo.
Jackson was known to the locals and his family as a bit of a handful, and he got his nickname, “Bo,” for being as wild as a boar hog.
Bo didn’t slow down much in high school when he used his outstanding athleticism on the gridiron, baseball diamond, and track at McAdory High School in McCalla, Alabama.
His accomplishments were legendary.
As a high school senior at McAdory, @BoJackson set a national single season prep record with 21 homers. He did it in 25 games. He missed seven to compete in track. And, oh, he won the Alabama 3A state decathlon title. And was enough points ahead to skip running the mile. Yup. pic.twitter.com/v3fE5flPib
— Jeff Pearlman (@jeffpearlman) March 9, 2021
In addition to two state championships in the decathlon, Jackson also had 21 home runs his senior year along with 1,173 rushing yards for the McAdory football team.
Just for the fun of it, Jackson also set Alabama high school records in the triple and high jumps.
By the time Jackson was a junior in high school, both Alabama and Auburn knew who he was.
Conventional wisdom at the time said that Jackson would play for the Tide given the tradition of the program and the fact that the campus was located less than an hour from Jackson’s home.
There was also the fact that Jackson was an Alabama and Bear Bryant fan.
However, new Auburn coach Pat Dye was not going to allow his cross-state rival to get one of the biggest recruits in the state.
The Auburn community, and the nation lost a great man with the passing of Coach Pat Dye. He was a great father, great mentor, great coach and great man. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family. May he rest in peace. God Bless. pic.twitter.com/0KtJ17eilG
— Bo Jackson (@BoJackson) June 5, 2020
During his first year with the program in 1981, Dye and assistant coach Bobby Wallace pulled out all the stops to win over Jackson.
“Obviously, his talent just jumped out at you. So the spring of Bo’s junior year of high school, we invited him to the spring game and got a jump on everybody in recruiting him. His mom came, and they liked it. The real big thrill of recruitment was being able to watch him in all the different sports that he played: track, baseball and football in high school, and watch him do the miraculous things that he could do. It was unbelievable,” said Wallace.
One possible hiccup in the tug-of-war between the Tide and the Tigers was that the New York Yankees really wanted Jackson and selected him in the second round of the 1982 draft.
Both coaching staffs breathed a sigh of relief when Jackson made it clear that he wanted to attend college based on a promise he made to his mother.
Not publicly known at the time was that Bo had made up his mind which in-state school he wanted to attend.
On a recruiting visit to ‘Bama, an assistant coach told Jackson that, as talented as he was, he probably wouldn’t start for the Tide until his junior year.
That didn’t sit well with Jackson who then had a conversation with Dye to let the coach know he was heading to Auburn.
The Tigers had finished Dye’s first season at the school with a 5-6 record.
Now that they had Bo, Dye anticipated good things ahead.
Bo Over the Top
Jackson had a great introduction to SEC football as a freshman in 1982.
The Tigers got off to a hot start when they began the season 3-0.
After a crushing loss to Nebraska, Auburn won four of their next six games.
In the final game of the year, the Tigers faced Alabama for the annual Iron Bowl game.
Both programs were strong that season, and the ‘82 Iron Bowl proved to be a classic.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Tide was leading 22-17, and Auburn had the ball with just over four minutes to play.
The Tiger offense was methodical as it marched down the field and found itself on the ‘Bama one foot line.
With the crowd on its feet, Jackson took the handoff and dove over the scrum.
He was stopped but pulled his best aerobic routine and stretched the ball over the line for a touchdown.
Bo Over The Top
38 years ago today, Bo Jackson scores and Auburn beats Alabama 23-22 in Legion Field.
(Video via SEC Network)
— Auburn Gold Mine (@AUGoldMine) November 27, 2020
Alabama still had time to win, but the Tigers intercepted a pass to seal the game.
Bo had helped Auburn to a stunning 23-22 win, the first win over the Tide in nine years.
“When he went over the top, I did not know then that we would be talking about it 40 years later, but it was one of the most iconic and unbelievable scenes I have ever seen,” said broadcast legend Paul Finebaum. “The crowd poured onto the field and I really feared for my life. It was insane. You had to scramble to get away because fans were everywhere. Bo was already good, but that was the day Bo Jackson, the legend, was born.”
A month later, the Tigers played Boston College in the Tangerine Bowl and won 33-26.
For the season, Jackson had 829 rushing yards and nine touchdowns.
He also found time to return seven kicks for 154 yards.
Two-Time Bowl MVP
As a sophomore in 1983, Jackson continued to pound away on opponents and improved his previous year’s totals by netting 1,213 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns, two receiving touchdowns, and another seven kick returns for 163 yards.
Auburn, meanwhile, went 10-1 for the regular season and won their first conference title since 1957 after dispatching Alabama for the second year in a row.
In the Sugar Bowl against the University of Michigan, Tigers kicker Al Del Greco scored all the points in a slim 9-7 victory.
However, Jackson was named the game’s MVP after rushing for 130 yards, leading Auburn to its 11th win of the season.
1/2/1984: Bo Jackson, Lionel James and Chris Woods embrace after Auburn defeats Michigan 9-7 in the Sugar Bowl. pic.twitter.com/c8PiKkDvNi
— AU_History (@AU_History) January 2, 2016
Then, in 1984, Jackson was injured and missed part of the year.
He returned in time to finish the season with 475 yards and five touchdowns.
Auburn went 9-4 and defeated Arkansas in the Liberty Bowl 21-15.
During the contest, Jackson had 88 rushing yards, two rushing scores, and a catch for 25 yards and was named a bowl MVP for the second year in a row.
Jackson saved his best for last.
In his senior year, Auburn was 3-1 when they faced Florida State and its sizzling freshman, Deion Sanders.
Sanders was a burgeoning two-sport star himself and believed he could do his part to stop the great Bo Jackson.
During a play late in the game, Jackson took a pitch and sprinted to the left side of the field.
Sanders came from nowhere and attempted to tackle Jackson.
While still running full steam, Jackson held out an arm and pushed Sanders off of him and then tumbled into the end zone.
35 years ago, Bo Jackson breaks a tackle by freshman Deion Sanders 🏈
— TodayInSports Co. (@TodayInSportsCo) August 27, 2020
Auburn would win that day 59-27.
The Tigers lost to ‘Bama in the Iron Bowl for the second consecutive year and then lost to Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl 36-16.
Jackson finished his 1985 season with 1,786 yards and 17 touchdowns.
He then narrowly won the Heisman Trophy over second place finisher Chuck Long, quarterback at the University of Iowa.
Bo Jackson won the Heisman and then needed 53 games in the minors to be major league ready the next summer. Don’t you ever tell me there’s been a better athlete. pic.twitter.com/BrjahNGiAx
— Super 70s Sports (@Super70sSports) July 15, 2022
In four years at Auburn, Jackson rushed for 4,303 yards, 43 touchdowns, and caught 26 passes for 272 yards, and two more scores.
His number 34 was retired by the program in 1992.
Baseball and Track
Jackson was a dynamo on the gridiron while at Auburn, but his first love was baseball.
He played for the Tigers baseball team and also competed in track.
As a freshman in the 1982-83 school year, Jackson had a .279 batting average, 19 hits, 13 RBIs, and four home runs.
Jackson missed the 1984 season due to injuries, but returned in 1985 to a .401 batting average, 59 hits, 43 RBIs, and a whopping 17 home runs.
In 1986, Jackson had a .261 batting average, 18 hits, 14 RBIs, and seven homers.
Bo Jackson at Auburn running track in 1985. 6'1"..223 pounds
He ran a 10.4/100 Meters pic.twitter.com/Al0KfQPUu2
— BaseballHistoryNut (@nut_history) December 13, 2021
During his freshman and sophomore years, Jackson ran the 100 meter dash and advanced to the NCAA nationals both years.
Bo Stiff-Arms the NFL for Baseball
As the 1986 NFL Draft approached, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the first pick and sought an audience with Jackson.
Team owner, Hugh Culverhouse, flew in Jackson during the spring of his senior year for meetings and a tour of the facilities.
When Jackson returned to Alabama, he learned that the NCAA had ruled him ineligible to complete the remainder of his senior baseball season.
It turned out that the Buccaneers had not cleared their recruiting visit with Jackson through the NCAA first.
Therefore, the organization ruled that Jackson had violated his amateur status and received improper benefits from Tampa Bay.
The ruling upset Jackson greatly, and he believed that the Buccaneers had intentionally misled him so he would play professional football.
In truth, Jackson wasn’t sure if he wanted to play pro football, pro baseball, or both.
The NCAA’s ruling decided for him, and Jackson made it clear that he would not play in the NFL and especially not with the Bucs.
Since he was projected to be the first pick in the draft, Jackson declined to attend the NFL’s annual combine then known as the National Invitational Camp.
However, he did meet with pro personnel at a pro day which Auburn hosted.
Jackson initially ran a 4.3 40. When he ran it again, Jackson posted one of the fastest 40 times in history.
“They asked the guy that was running the electronic timer,” Jackson said. “They said, ‘The big-eye don’t lie; let me see what he got.’ The guy said, ‘There it is boys — go out and catch him if you can.’ It was 4.13.”
Tampa Bay ignored Jackson’s threat and made him the top pick anyway.
Today in 1986, the Buccaneers make Bo Jackson the #1 draft pick. They look silly, however, when Bo chooses baseball. pic.twitter.com/bpU7fk4Q9a
— Super 70s Sports (@Super70sSports) April 29, 2016
Around the same time, the Kansas City Royals drafted Jackson in the fourth round of the 1986 draft.
That was the perfect opportunity to stiff-arm Tampa Bay and play the sport he loved most. Jackson signed with the Royals.
“I was shocked,” said former Royals teammate Mark Gubicza. “You’re a Heisman Trophy winner, so everybody is just assuming the career path is football. For him to sign with our club, it was an immediate excitement around the whole organization. At the major league level, we just kept hoping and thinking about when we were going to see him. He transforms your franchise to a New York Yankees-type franchise. It became Bo Jackson, George Brett and the Royals.”
After signing a three-year deal with the defending champions, Jackson played part of the season in the Royals farm system before being promoted to the parent club late in the year.
Bo Jackson’s first career major league homer was a 475-foot shot that remains the longest blast ever recorded in a regular season game at Kauffman Stadium. This seems like a good time to mention it wasn’t even his best sport. pic.twitter.com/mrwTeE7DBD
— Super 70s Sports (@Super70sSports) July 5, 2022
That season, Jackson hit .207 with 17 hits, nine RBIs, and two home runs.
Jackson Signs With the Raiders While Still Playing with KC
In the spring of 1987, Jackson was playing in his second season with the Royals.
While Kansas City was progressing through an 83-79 season, Jackson had a .235 batting average, 93 hits, 53 RBIs, and 22 home runs.
There’s never been an athlete like Bo Jackson… pic.twitter.com/fCzuKmciOV
— 80s Sports N Stuff (@80sSportsNStuff) August 18, 2022
He was somewhat surprised to learn that the Los Angeles Raiders had drafted him in the seventh round of the 1987 draft, almost as an afterthought.
Jackson initially dismissed the idea of playing in the NFL.
That changed when team owner Al Davis reached out and told Jackson he was a huge fan.
Davis then told Jackson that he could play both sports and report to LA when the Royals’ season ended.
Jackson agreed and signed his name to a contract that would pay him $2.6 million over five years.
“I didn’t have the opportunity last year that I have now. I think I’ll only have this chance once in my life and I want to go after it,” said Jackson after his signing.
Jackson was then asked by the media if he would give up baseball to focus only on football.
“Not in this life,” responded Bo.
Bo Meets “the Boz”
With the Royals’ season behind him, Jackson joined a Raiders team that was in decline.
The organization already had super back Marcus Allen, and he openly wondered why the team had signed another tailback.
LA’s coaching staff tried to reassure Allen that Jackson would be the team’s fullback, but they weren’t fooling anyone.
Within his first month with the Raiders, Jackson was pushing Allen for playing time at tailback.
Tecmo Bowl was fun, but they made Bo Jackson way too goddamn good — hang on, being told this is NFL game footage. pic.twitter.com/ALtNqQdGMP
— Super 70s Sports (@Super70sSports) February 15, 2017
In addition to Allen and Jackson, the Raiders also had “Swervin’” Mervyn Fernandez and James Lofton at receiver, Todd Christianson at tight end, and a host of other big names.
Unfortunately, the team couldn’t put together any consistency and finished 5-10 in 1987, the worst record for the team since 1962.
One of the lone bright spots for the year was in Week 12 versus the Seattle Seahawks.
It was a Monday Night Football game, and the national audience was salivating over the matchup between Jackson and Seattle linebacker Brian Bosworth.
The Boz, as he was known, was a boisterous, flamboyant rookie from the University of Oklahoma.
In the days before the game, the Boz boasted to anyone who would listen that he would bottle up Jackson and make him suffer.
That notion ended miserably for Bosworth.
During the second quarter, Jackson collected a pass from quarterback Marc Wilson and rumbled 14 yards for a touchdown.
A few minutes later, Jackson took a pitch and sprinted 91 yards for a score to put the Raiders up 21-7.
— Old Time Football 🏈 (@Ol_TimeFootball) July 22, 2022
In the third quarter, Bosworth had his backside handed to him when Jackson ran over him on the way to a two-yard touchdown run.
“That one play, and a lot of people are going to disagree with me when I say it, pretty much ruined Bosworth’s career because he was never the same athlete after that,” said Jackson’s former Auburn teammate, Tommie Agee.
That evening, Jackson rushed for 221 yards and two touchdowns and caught one pass for 14 yards and another score for the 37-14 victory.
Jackson’s 221 yards set a franchise single-game record at the time.
In his first season as an NFL player, Jackson started seven games, rushed for 554 yards on 81 carries (6.8 yards per carry average), led the NFL with the longest carry of the season, and scored six touchdowns total rushing and receiving.
More of the Same For Bo
The 1988 and 1989 seasons weren’t very positive for the Raiders who won only seven and eight games respectively.
Kansas City won 84 games in ‘88 and a respectable 92 games in ‘89.
The consistency for both organizations was Jackson.
In addition to a .246 batting average, 108 hits, 68 RBIs, and 25 home runs, Jackson stole a career-high 27 bases for the Royals in 1988.
Bo Jackson breaks a bat over his leg after a strike out, 1980s pic.twitter.com/EGV4vsFlVO
— Baseball In Pics (@baseballinpix) August 12, 2022
A year later, Jackson posted a .256 batting average, career-highs with 132 hits, 105 RBIs, and 32 homers, and 26 stolen bases.
Jackson also led the MLB in strikeouts that season with 172.
While playing for the Raiders, Jackson had 580 yards and three touchdowns in 1988 and a career-high 950 yards and four touchdowns in 1989.
Jackson led the league in ‘89 with a 92-yard run from scrimmage.
1989 MLB All-Star Game
Bo’s stellar baseball season in 1989 led to his selection for the All-Star game.
With a national audience watching, Jackson had a game for the ages.
In the bottom of the first inning, Jackson was the lead-off hitter against pitcher Rick Reuschel of the San Francisco Giants.
Shortly into the at-bat, Jackson proceeded to crush a 448 foot home run that prompted famous play caller Vin Scully to remark, “Look at that one! Bo Jackson says hello!”
Today in 1989, Bo Jackson homers in the 1st inning of the All-Star Game with Vin Scully and Ronald Reagan on the call. pic.twitter.com/lYmy0y2KPD
— Super 70s Sports (@Super70sSports) July 12, 2020
Boston’s Wade Boggs homered on the next at-bat, which led Jackson and Boggs to become the first teammates in All-Star game history to accomplish such a feat in the first inning.
Jackson would get another hit that night and steal a base (the second player in history to get a homer and stolen base in the All-Star game).
He would also score a run and hit two RBIs.
Jackson’s effort that day brought him the MVP award.
Bo Jackson was a household name by the end of the 1980s.
His ability to play two professional sports allowed youth from all over the country to imagine what could be.
To take advantage of his superior ability, Nike put together an ad campaign that marketed their popular cross-training shoes while also highlighting Jackson’s many talents.
During the nationally televised commercials, Jackson was seen wearing uniforms from other sports including hockey, basketball, bicycling, and tennis, while the ad implies that “Bo knows” each of the sports and could play them as well as he could play football and baseball.
“Bo Knows” commercial for Nike circa 1989. 📺
— TodayInSports Co. (@TodayInSportsCo) July 30, 2020
Then, Jackson attempts to play blues guitar until music legend Bo Diddley looks at him and quips, “You don’t know Diddley!”
The popular advertising campaign ran for a couple of years during the height of Jackson’s playing career.
Jackson’s Football Career Ends Abruptly
Jackson began 1990 hitting .272, 110 hits, 78 RBIs, and 28 home runs for the Royals.
During the season, he hit four homers in consecutive at-bats, which tied an MLB record.
Please refrain from comparing Bo Jackson to lesser superheroes.
— Super 70s Sports (@Super70sSports) August 23, 2022
Jackson also delighted the crowd during a July game against Baltimore when he caught a fly ball then ran a few steps up the outfield wall to avoid crashing into it.
“At the angle that I was running, if I had crashed into the wall, I probably would have reinjured my shoulder. So instead of crashing into it, I just decided to do what I used to do when I was a kid, and just run up the wall and come back down. That seems easier to me and logical,” Jackson explained years later.
Jackson then joined the Raiders during a 1990 campaign that saw them win 12 games and advance to the playoffs for the first time since 1985.
That year, Bo rushed for 698 yards and five touchdowns and led the NFL with the longest run from scrimmage (88 yards).
LA’s first opponent in the postseason that year was the Cincinnati Bengals.
Through the first three quarters of the game, Jackson rushed six times for 77 yards.
Then, while making a rushing attempt late in the third quarter, Jackson was tackled from behind by Bengals player Kevin Walker.
Born on this date in #Bengals history, Kevin Walker turns 56 today. Kevin played his entire five year career in #Cincinnati (1988-92). Walker was infamously known for ending Bo Jackson’s career on a tackle in the 1990 divisional round playoffs. #RuleTheJungle #BengalBirthdays pic.twitter.com/FIbRcYL26D
— Brandon (@NastyNati740) December 24, 2021
Jackson got up limping from a hip injury and missed the remainder of the game.
He was absent the following week as well when the Buffalo Bills ended the Raiders season 51-3.
When doctors examined Jackson’s injury, they found that he had fractured a bone in his hip.
Eventually, he was diagnosed with avascular necrosis, a deterioration of bone tissue.
The condition was so bad that there was no cartilage supporting Jackson’s hip.
Unfortunately, the diagnosis meant that Jackson’s football career was done.
In just four seasons of NFL football, Jackson had 2,782 yards rushing, 16 rushing touchdowns, 40 receptions, 352 receiving yards, and two more scores.
For fours years (1987-1990), Bo Jackson and Marcus Allen were teammates on the #Raiders. If Jackson hadn’t suffered an unfortunate injury, this could have gone down as the greatest RB tandem in #NFL history #RaiderNation pic.twitter.com/unOKIRrrPL
— Let’s Talk NFL 🏈 (@TalkFootball34) July 31, 2021
He was voted to the 1990 Pro Bowl but didn’t get to play in the game due to his injury.
However, Jackson’s invite to the Pro Bowl made him the first athlete to be chosen for both the NFL and MLB All-Star games.
Months later, the Royals cut Jackson during 1991 spring training.
He was signed by the Chicago White Sox days later but played sparingly in ‘91.
Jackson’s departure from football meant that Deion Sanders was the predominant two-sport player.
Brian Jordan, who was Sanders’ teammate with the Atlanta Falcons, also played professional baseball with the Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, LA Dodgers, and Texas Rangers.
Playing two professional sports at the same time continues to be a feat reserved for only the rarest of athletes.
Jackson missed the entire 1992 season while getting hip replacement surgery.
He set a goal to recover in time for the 1993 season and promised his mother that he would hit a home run for her.
Just before Jackson reported to the White Sox, his mother passed away.
Undeterred, he hit a homer in his first at-bat in his first game back for Chicago.
OTD in 1993, Bo Jackson returns after hip replacement surgery and homers …
On the very first pitch he sees. pic.twitter.com/ndpWTvQEHx
— Cut4 (@Cut4) April 9, 2020
That year, Jackson hit .232 with 66 hits, 45 RBI’s, and 16 home runs.
He was awarded with the Sporting News AL Comeback Player of the Year after the season.
After the 1993 season concluded, Jackson was released by Chicago and signed by the California Angels in 1994.
— Legends In The Wrong Uniforms (@WrongUnis) March 10, 2022
In his one season with the Angels, Jackson hit a career-best .279 with 56 hits, 43 RBIs, and 13 home runs.
The season ended in August due to the MLB strike, and Jackson took the opportunity to retire.
During his eight-year baseball career, Jackson hit .250 with 598 hits, 415 RBIs, 141 home runs, and 82 stolen bases.
He was named to one All-Star game and was also named the game’s MVP.
After retiring from sports, Jackson dabbled in acting and appeared in numerous television shows and movies.
In 1991, Nintendo released its popular video game, Tecmo Super Bowl.
Jackson is present in the game and became noteworthy for his superhuman capabilities.
Bo Jackson on Tecmo Bowl. The original cheat code. 🏈 pic.twitter.com/ynL3nfM7lz
— In My Mind (@MeAloneInMyMind) May 21, 2021
Years later, he and Bosworth appeared in Kia Sorento ads that spoofed his Tecmo invincibility.
During and after his playing career, numerous sports writers claimed that if Jackson had chosen one sport, he would have been one of the best ever to play that sport.
Paul Finebaum, who has covered sports in the South for decades, openly asked this same question in 2017.
“What if he had not played football? He was phenomenal at football, but football really got in the way of baseball. I have asked him about it since and he does not seem to have any regrets,” said Finebaum. “But at some point, I wish he had been able to take a good long look and say, “I won the Heisman, I’ve been in the NFL, I was an All Pro, maybe I should go the baseball route.” But that was not Bo.”
Even during the height of his popularity, Jackson was humble when asked about his “greatness.”
“When people tell me I could be the best athlete there is, I just let it go in one ear and out the other,” Jackson said in 1990. “There is always somebody out there who is better than you are.”
Since 2011, Jackson has hosted an annual fundraiser called “Bo Bikes Bama” in an effort to raise money for Alabama residents who have been affected by natural disasters.
Earlier this year, Jackson donated $170,000 to pay funeral expenses for the families of the students and teachers killed in the Robb Elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
I was lying here thinking about how creepy & useless some humans are (Like Steve Bannon) then I see this;
Bo Jackson covered all of the funeral expenses for those murdered at the Uvalde school so they would have one less thing to worry about in this time of grief and anger
— Pedro The Dog (@MikeWil15307825) July 23, 2022
Jackson, who turns 60 this year, and his wife, Linda, have three children and currently live in Illinois.