Bo Knew What the Fans Wanted

After Sunday’s overtime loss to the Raiders most minds in Kansas City shifted to thoughts of a division title slipping through their hands. With a chance to take a commanding lead, maybe even have the division wrapped up by Thanksgiving, they are suddenly in a half game dog fight with the Raiders who just stole a win from them.

My mind shifted to a bruising Raiders back of old that always played a factor in the division race. He was an imposing and bruising runner, a comic book superhero in a real-life game. Vincent Edward Jackson was notorious for causing mayhem, from the grey ‘Nike’ checks on his cleats, to the looming big block ‘34’ on his L.A. Raiders jersey.

Bo, as he’s more commonly known, earned his nickname for constantly finding trouble as a kid. The eighth of ten children, his mother would often call him a ‘wild boar hog.’ Apparently, it became so frequent she trimmed it down to ‘Bo.’

Any journalist can attest, whenever writing an article you always refer to the person your speaking of by their last name. For some reason, writing ‘Jackson’ just doesn’t seem right. His legend and lore have grown so much he’s gained single name status, with the likes of Elvis, Madonna, and Cher.

Before Bo made two Sunday’s out of the NFL season hell for Chiefs fans, he was worth the price of admission for Royals fans.

Not to demean Billy Butler, he actually just took home the Royals Position Player of the Year home for the second consecutive season, but the baby blue ‘16’ uniform never looked so forceful after Bo wore it.

In 1985 the prodigy took home the Heisman Trophy for his 1,786 yards as an Auburn running back. A few months later, Bo went for .401, 17 HR, 43 RBI on the diamond.

Bo was taken with the first selection of the 1986 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Buccaneers informed Bo they didn’t want him injuring himself playing baseball. In the fourth round of the 1986 MLB Draft the Royals selected Bo. When news broke Bo’s eligibility was in question because of a jet ride with Buccaneer executives, the Royals seemed like a logical choice. The fact Kansas City was coming off a World Series Championship the previous season didn’t hurt either.

The Royals assigned him to the Memphis Chicks farm team. It only took 184 at-bats for Bo until he was out of a Chick uniform and into the baby blues.

Bo made his debut with the Royals on September 2, 1986. A few weeks later, in true Bo fashion, he rocked a delivery for his first big league homer. It went a reported 475 feet, the longest in the history of Kauffman Stadium. Bo’s landing destinations would often be around the second tier of fountains.

Later in his career, the free swinger lashed his ‘Hulk’ arms through the zone pounding the ball to dead center off Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan. At the time the blast was the longest in Arlington Stadium history.

1989 proved to be the apex of Bo’s MLB career. The left fielder hit .256/.310/.495, 15 2B, 32 HR, 105 RBI, and 26 SB. Good enough to earn him his first All-Star appearance. Bo introduced himself on the national stage like only he could. In the top of the first Bo snared a liner, saving two runs. In his first All-Star at-bat Bo cranked a majestic shot landing 448 feet away in center.

“It was a sound I’ll never forget,” says Mark Gubicza, Bo’s teammate with the Royals. “It was like an explosion. Then you heard all of the oohs and aahs like they were watching fireworks. It was something they had never seen in their lives.”

Against the Mariners, in the Kingdome Bo ran down an extra base hit in left-center. He picked up the ball took one step and made a flat footed laser throw from the warning track. The missile beat out the fleet footed, All-Star second baseman Harold Reynolds at the plate. After Bo gunned him down he smiled and looked toward the Royals bullpen. He extended his index finger and thumb to mimic a gun, blew the smoke from his rocket and put it back in the holster.

Much has been said recently about the crop of prospects coming through the system. Often many times prospects are overhyped, Reynolds puts Jackson’s talents into perspective in a USA Today interview.

“People following the game already knew what he could do,” former All-Star second baseman Harold Reynolds says, “but that (All-Star home run) was a coming-out party for the rest of the world. He did things no one has ever seen before. We talk about Stephen Strasburg and LeBron James and all of the hype with those guys. Can you imagine if Bo Jackson played now what the hype would be?”

When Bo wasn’t injuring fans in the nose bleeds from his bombs, he would showcase his world class speed. During the 1986 NFL Combine Bo ran a 4.12 forty. Once against Oakland, Bo banged a ball of the angled right field corner of Kauffman Stadium. As Jose Canseco chased the ball down Bo raced around the bases and slid easily in for the home run. After a brief second to catch his breath Bo did a kung-fu ninja flip to propel himself off the dirt onto his feet.

If the things he had done on the field weren’t proven by video, people wouldn’t believe the stories about Bo. The miraculous plays he made might as well been out of a low budget sports film.

It didn’t matter if Bo got a bad jump on the ball, his speed would make up the difference. Then he would levitate for a brief second, a la Superman, and make an acrobatic twist just in time for the white ball to hit the black leather of his mitt.

While playing the White Sox, Bo ran down a sure double in the left-center gap of Kauffman Stadium. After banging into the wall, he spun all in one motion and hurled a frozen rope towards first, where Chicago catcher Carlton Fisk was racing back to tag. The ball one hopped first baseman George Brett who put the tag on Fisk to complete the double play.

Even when Bo got out he put on a show. When frustrated after a poor at-bat Bo would snap his bat over his knee. If you were lucky enough, sometimes you could witness Bo break a three foot long, two and a half pound piece of wood over his head like a toothpick.

His strength, speed, coordination, and agility had never been seen before.

Once Bo decided to play baseball the Buccaneers rights to him began ticking away. By the time the 1987 NFL Draft rolled around the Bucs were forced to give up the rights. In the seventh round an owner well known for taking chances on players made him a Raider, Al Davis. Davis’ relationship was vastly different than that of Tampa. Davis allowed Bo to play baseball, he even supported it.

Many in the NFL circles questioned the move, considering Bo let everyone know his feelings during an interview, “Football after baseball season is a hobby.” Bo’s talent was undeniable though. A month into his NFL career Bo rushed for 229 yards on November 30, 1987, still a ‘Monday Night Football’ record.

In his four NFL seasons Bo ran for 2,782 yards and 18 touchdowns. The NFL All-Pro dislocated his hip during a 1991 playoff game, the last of his career. The Royals released him the same year.

Bo recovered from his hip injury and amazingly made it back to the big leagues earning the 1993 ‘Comeback Player of the Year’ with the White Sox.

Bo offered more highlight reel plays for Chicago fans, but called it quits in 1994, after playing for the California Angels.

Bo’s four years in the NFL and eight seasons in the MLB didn’t prove enough to get him into either Hall of Fames. Making a commitment to be a dual sport superstar probably ruined his chances at a long career in either sport. But, Bo was the first person ever to be an All-Star in two professional sports.

What Bo did doesn’t belong in a Hall of Fame. Bo is in a league of his own. Being honored with the hundreds of former players already in the Halls, wouldn’t have given justice to Bo’s skills. Bo created his own legend with the help of Nike. Bo is the proclaimed the ‘godfather’ of Nike for his ‘Bo Knows’ advertising campaign.

Often it’s difficult to separate the myths and truths about what Bo did in stadiums across the country. So whether you’re slacking off at work or just sitting on your couch at home, check out these links and remember the greatness Kansas City witnessed in Bo’s five seasons as a Royal.

One thought on “Bo Knew What the Fans Wanted

  1. Great piece, Adam. Gubicza’s quote reminds me of something the late, great Buck O’Neil said. When he was a young man, he heard Babe Ruth hit the ball, and it was a cracking sound unlike any he’d ever heard on a baseball diamond. He heard the sound again a few years later, and the player holding the bat was Josh Gibson. Decades later, when he was a scout for the Royals, he heard the sound one more time, and the hitter was, of course, Bo Jackson.

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