Bo Jackson’s NFL career lasted just 38 games, but it produced enough highlights that you could fill an afternoon surfing YouTube looking at his runs. And then you could spend another afternoon looking at his highlights from a Heisman Trophy-winning career at Auburn, from his career in Major League Baseball, and from his career as one of America’s most famous corporate pitchmen.
The upcoming ESPN documentary You Don’t Know Bo touches on all of that and more, and it’s a good look at one of the most impressive athletic careers in history. Among the highlights:
— College recruiting was different in those days, as we learn when Jackson details the way Bear Bryant tried and failed to recruit him to Alabama. In those days, a self-respecting coach like Bryant wasn’t going to genuflect to a teenager like Bo, and Bo came away decidedly unimpressed with Bryant, who thought Jackson should sit on the bench for his first couple years of college, and maybe play defensive end or linebacker instead of running back when he was ready to play. Bo went to Auburn and scored the winning touchdown to beat Alabama as a freshman.
— Jackson believed Buccaneers owner Hugh Culverhouse manipulated him into accepting a free trip that caused him to lose his NCAA baseball eligibility, and as a result Jackson refused to sign with Tampa Bay when the Bucs chose him with the first overall pick in the 1986 NFL draft. Jackson decided to shift his focus to baseball in part because he despised the team that owned his rights, and the Bucs, who were coming off their third straight losing season, would go on to have 11 more losing seasons in a row after that.
— Bo liked Al Davis a lot better and was happy to play for the Raiders when Davis made the savvy move of selecting Jackson in the seventh round of the next year’s NFL draft. You Don’t Know Bo shows lots of Jackson’s Raiders highlights, including, of course, his famous Monday night performance in Seattle, when he ran over Brian Bosworth to get into the end zone. However, when you watch Bo’s other Raiders highlights, you realize that the Boz has gotten a little bit of a bum rap for that play: Bosworth was far from the only NFL linebacker who looked foolish trying to tackle Bo.
— And for fans who grew up playing Nintendo in the late 1980s, yes, Tecmo Bowl gets mentioned: The Japanese software developers who created Tecmo Bowl made Jackson virtually unstoppable, and therefore made him enormously popular among a certain segment of American boys who loved Tecmo Bowl.
The documentary is a good look at an NFL player who never played a full season but will never be forgotten.