Vincent Edward “Bo” Jackson (born November 30, 1962) is a retired baseball and football player. He is the only athlete to be named an All-Star in two major American sports. He was named the greatest athlete of all time by ESPN. While at Auburn University, Jackson won the 1985 Heisman Trophy, annually awarded to the most outstanding collegiate football player in the United States. In 1989 and 1990, Jackson’s name became known beyond just sports fans through the “Bo Knows” advertising campaign, a series of advertisements by Nike, that starred Jackson alongside Rock and Roll Hall of Fame musician Bo Diddley, promoting a cross-training athletic shoe named for Jackson. After a 1991 hip injury on the field ended his football career, he focused on baseball, and expanded into other pursuits, including the completion of his Bachelor of Science degree in Family and Child Development at Auburn, and appearing in small parts as an actor, in TV shows such as Married… with Children, and films such as The Chamber.
Jackson, the eighth of ten children, was born and raised in Bessemer, Alabama, and was named after Vince Edwards, his mother’s favorite actor. His family described him as a “wild boar hog,” as he would constantly get into trouble. The nickname was eventually shortened to “Bo.” Jackson attended McAdory High School in McCalla, where he rushed for 1175 yards as a running back as a high school senior. Jackson hit twenty home runs in twenty-five games for McAdory’s baseball team during his senior season. He was a two-time state champion in the decathlon. In 1982, Bo set state school records for indoor high-jump (6’9″) and triple-jump (48’8″).
In June 1982, Jackson was selected by the New York Yankees in the second round of the 1982 Major League Baseball Draft, but he instead chose to attend Auburn University on a football scholarship because he promised his mother he’d be the first in the family to go to college. He was recruited by head coach Pat Dye and then Auburn assistant coach Bobby Wallace. At Auburn, he proved to be a tremendous athlete in both baseball and football. He shared the backfield with quarterback Randy Campbell, Lionel “Little Train” James and Tommie Agee.
Jackson batted .401 with 17 home runs and 43 RBIs in 1985. In a 1985 baseball game against the Georgia Bulldogs at Foley Field in Athens, Georgia, Jackson led Auburn to victory with a 4-for-5 performance, with three home runs and a double. Jackson missed much of his senior season after being ruled ineligible by the NCAA following a visit with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who he believes tried to sabotage his baseball career.
During his time playing for the Auburn Tigers football team, he ran for 4,303 career yards, which was the fourth best performance in SEC history. Jackson finished his career with an average of 6.6 yards per carry, which set the SEC record (minimum 400 rushes). In 1982, Jackson’s freshman year, Auburn played Boston College in the Tangerine Bowl, where Jackson made a one-handed grab on an option pitch. Auburn went on to win the game 33–26 as Jackson rushed 14 times for 64 yards and 2 TDs. In 1983, as a sophomore, Jackson rushed for 1,213 yards on 158 carries, for an average of 7 yards per carry, which was the 2nd best single-season average in SEC history (minimum 100 rushes). In the 1983 Auburn-Alabama game, Jackson rushed for 256 yards on 20 rushes (12.8 yards per carry), which at the time was the sixth-most rushing yards gained in a game in SEC history and the 2nd best yard-per-rush average in a game (minimum 20 attempts) in SEC history. Auburn finished the season by winning the Sugar Bowl, where Jackson was named Most Valuable Player. In 1984, Jackson’s junior year (most of which Jackson missed due to injury), he earned Most Valuable Player honors at the Liberty Bowl.
In 1985, Jackson rushed for 1,786 yards which was the second best single-season performance in SEC history. That year, he averaged 6.4 yards per rush, which at the time was the best single-season average in SEC history. For his performance in 1985, Jackson was awarded the Heisman Trophy in what was considered the closest margin of victory ever in the history of the award, winning over University of Iowa quarterback Chuck Long.Jackson finished his career at Auburn with 4,675 all-purpose yards and 45 total touchdowns, 43 rushing and 2 receiving, with a 6.6 yards per carry average. Jackson’s football number 34 was officially retired at Auburn in a halftime ceremony on October 31, 1992. His is one of only three numbers retired at Auburn. The others are 1971 Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan’s number 7, and the number 88 of Sullivan’s teammate and favorite receiver, Terry Beasley. In 2007, Jackson was ranked #8 on ESPN’s Top 25 Players In College Football History list.
Jackson was selected with the first overall pick of the 1986 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he opted to play baseball for the Kansas City Royals, the defending World Series champions, who had drafted him in the fourth round in the 1986 amateur draft. He spent 53 games with the Memphis Chicks, the Royals’ Class AA minor league affiliate, and was called up to the majors in September 1986. He made the Royals’ roster in 1987 and hit 22 home runs, with 53 RBIs and 10 stolen bases as an outfielder. Jackson began to show his true potential in 1989, when he was voted to start for the American League All-Star team, and was named the game’s MVP for his play on both offense and defense. In the top of the first inning, he caught Pedro Guerrero’s 2-out line drive to left-center field to save two runs. Then he led off the bottom of the first—his first All-Star plate appearance—with a monstrous 448-foot home run off Rick Reuschel of the San Francisco Giants. NBC-TV announcer Vin Scully exclaimed, “Look at that one! Bo Jackson says hello!” Wade Boggs followed with his own home run, making them the first pair in All-Star history to lead off their side’s first with back-to-back home runs. In the 2nd inning, he beat out the throw on a potential double play to drive in the eventual winning run. He then stole 2nd base, making him one of two players in All-Star Game history to hit a home run and steal a base in the same game (the other is Willie Mays). Jackson finished the game with two hits in four at-bats, one run scored, and two RBI.
On June 5, 1989, Jackson ran down a long line-drive deep to left field on a hit-and-run play against the Seattle Mariners. With speedy Harold Reynolds running from first base on the play, Scott Bradley’s hit would have been deep enough to score him against most outfielders. But Jackson, from the warning track, turned flat footed and fired a strike to catcher Bob Boone, who tagged the sliding Reynolds out. Jackson’s throw reached Boone on the fly. Interviewed for the “Bo Jackson” episode of ESPN Classic’s SportsCentury, Reynolds admitted that he thought there was no way anyone would throw him out on such a deep drive into the gap in left-center, and was shocked to see his teammate telling him to slide as he rounded third base.
On July 29, 1989 against the Baltimore Orioles, Jackson, batting against Jeff Ballard, turned to the home plate umpire and attempted to call time out as Ballard was delivering the ball. The time-out wasn’t granted, but Jackson recovered to swing and hit the pitch over the left-field wall for a home run despite only really seeing the ball as it was on its way to the plate. Jackson’s 171 strikeouts in 1989 tied him for tenth most strikeouts in a season for a right hand batter since 1893. On July 11, 1990 against the Orioles, Jackson performed his famous “wall run,” when he caught a ball approximately 2–3 strides away from the wall. As he caught the ball at full tilt, Jackson looked up and noticed the wall and began to run up the wall, one leg reaching higher as he ascended. He ran along the wall almost parallel to the ground, and came down with the catch, to avoid impact and the risk of injury from the fence. During the 1990 season, Jackson hit HRs in 4 consecutive at-bats tying a Major League record (held by several). His 4th came off of Randy Johnson after hitting his first 3 before a stint on the DL. After a poor at bat he was known to snap the bat over his knee or, with his helmet on, over his head.
In addition to giving Jackson an ultimatum to pick between sports, Buccaneers management took Jackson on owner Hugh Culverhouse’s private jet to visit with the team during his senior baseball season. Jackson was told by the Buccaneers that the trip, which could potentially have cost Jackson his remaining collegiate eligibility, had been cleared by the NCAA. Jackson was later told by his baseball coach at Auburn that the trip, in fact, was considered to be a violation of NCAA rules and that he was immediately ruled ineligible to play the remainder of the baseball season. Jackson, upset that Culverhouse lied to him, insisted that he would never play for the Buccaneers and that he could draft him if he wanted to, but he would not sign if he was drafted. It was said that Jackson, who was having what he called his best year playing baseball in school, made the Buccaneers nervous and that by getting him somehow ruled ineligible to play baseball, he would be forced to focus on football.
Jackson held true to his threat not to sign, and the Buccaneers forfeited his rights before 1987 draft. Jackson was in spring training with the Royals when someone informed him that he had a chance to play football again. Inquiring who it was, Jackson found out that he was taken in the seventh round of the draft with the 183rd pick by the Los Angeles Raiders. Initially Jackson had said he would continue to focus on baseball and would not sign, but his interest was piqued. Raiders owner Al Davis was a fan of Jackson and was receptive the idea of Jackson playing both baseball and football. Thus, a contract was negotiated where Jackson would be permitted to play the entire baseball season with the Royals and would report to the Raiders once the season was finished. In addition to this, Davis gave Jackson a salary that was in line with what a top-flight starter at halfback would make.
Jackson joined the Raiders in time for their Week 7 matchup against the New England Patriots, where he rushed for a total of 37 yards on eight carries. Jackson shared the backfield with Marcus Allen, himself an All-Pro and former Heisman Trophy winner, but eventually supplanted him as the featured running back despite being listed as the team’s fullback. Perhaps his most notable performance in his rookie season came on Monday Night Football against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 11. Prior to the game Seahawks linebacker Brian Bosworth insulted Jackson and promised in a media event before the game to contain Jackson. Jackson responded by running over Bosworth on his way to a touchdown near the goal line. He also made a 91 yard run in the 2nd quarter, to the outside, untouched down the sideline. Jackson was running so fast that his momentum carried him into the tunnel leading to the locker rooms and his teammates had to retrieve him. Jackson rushed for 221 yards that night and two touchdowns. He added a third with a reception.
In his rookie season, Jackson rushed for a total of 554 yards on only 81 carries for a 6.8 yards per carry average. He played in seven games, starting five, and scored a total of six touchdowns (four rushing, two receiving). The next year, Jackson played in ten of the Raiders’ sixteen games with nine starts, recording a total of 580 yards and three touchdowns. Jackson’s 1989 season was his best in the league. In eleven games, with nine starts, Jackson rushed for a total of 950 yards with a 5.5 yards per carry average and four touchdowns. In his abbreviated 1990 campaign, Jackson rushed for 698 yards and was selected to the only Pro Bowl of his career. In his four seasons in the NFL, Jackson rushed for 2,782 yards and 16 touchdowns with an average yards per carry of 5.4. He also caught 40 passes for 352 yards and two touchdowns. Jackson’s 221 yards on November 30, 1987, just 29 days after his first NFL carry, is still a Monday Night Football record.