Bo Jackson: Superior Athlete
by Charlie Blasberg on Friday, October 25th, 2013
For New Englanders of the past decade, the fall has been the most wonderful time of the year. The Red Sox battle in the postseason, while Tom Brady and Bill Belichick simultaneously cruise through their the October and November schedule. This time of year – when baseball and football overlap – serves as an annual reminder of one of the greatest athletes to ever walk the planet: Bo Jackson.
Bo Jackson enrolled at Auburn University in 1982 on a football scholarship after turning down an offer from the New York Yankees. Although a separated shoulder held him back in 1984, Jackson started for both the football and baseball teams for the rest of his time at Auburn. In 1985, Bo was awarded the Heisman trophy for arguably the greatest rushing year in SEC history, allotting 1,786 yards and averaging 6.2 yards per carry. That same spring, he batted .401 for the Auburn Tigers, jacking 17 homers in just 42 games.
After Jackson graduated, both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Royals drafted him to the NFL and MLB, respectively (the Buccaneers drafted Jackson first overall in the 1986 draft). Bo turned down the Bucs’ offer and opted to play for the defending World Series champion Royals, where he progressed quickly through their farm system and earned a starting spot in 1987. Bo’s best year of baseball was played in 1989, when he was the MVP of the All-Star Game and finished the season with 32 home runs.
The same year Bo Jackson joined the Royals, he started his football season as a running back for the Los Angeles Raiders. Raiders owner Al Davis supported Jackson’s baseball career and offered him a contract that allowed him to start the football season once the baseball season had ended. In his rookie season, Jackson rushed for 554 yards and averaged a whopping 6.8 yards per carry. Bo’s superhuman 221 rushing yards remain a Monday Night Football record. In just four abbreviated seasons with the Raiders, Jackson finished with 2,782 yards and 5.4 yards per carry, statistics that wow any football fan.
When I told my little cousin about the career of Bo Jackson, he responded, “Superman couldn’t even play in the NFL and the MLB at the same time.” Times have changed. The days of versatile sports legends playing two sports is over. The likes of Jim Thorpe, Jim Brown, Danny Ainge, and Deion Sanders are dying out. In this age of specialization, playing multiple sports, even at the college level, is simply implausible. Bo Jackson was the last and greatest multi-sport athlete we will ever see.
Bo Jackson grew up playing sports. Provided, he was a physical specimen the likes of which will never reappear. He ran 4.12-second 40-yard dash and dunked a basketball in middle school. Unlike today’s prodigies who have success pumped into them at young ages, Jackson learned to throw by chucking stones and apples in childhood tussles. He ran and jumped across town with a crew of his neighborhood friends. Legend has it that the adolescent Bo Jackson killed several boars by hurling rocks at them and as he fled the owner of the dead swine, Bo jumped across a 40-foot ditch. Of course the story has grows taller as it has grows older; however, this kind of childhood fun through sport is what has been lost in the last twenty years as coaches, parents, and schools demand more specialization and push kids for reasons besides just pure enjoyment.
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