In one of those true “Holy crap, that can’t be true” moments of reflection, Bo Jackson turned 50 years old last Friday. As a child of the 1980s and teenager of the 90s, Jackson had a huge influence on me as a young athlete, because as a man who could seemingly do anything that he wanted to, including play any sport that had ever been invented by man, the Heisman Trophy winner from Auburn and eventual two-sport star made me believe that I could do anything as well. Then I realized that I was a chubby white kid from the ‘burbs, and I was relegated to a life of admiring the type of person that Jackson was.
To be clear, Jackson was a total badass. Take this excerpt about how Vincent Edward Jackson got the nickname Bo in the first place, from Michael Weinreb’s autobiography of the Kansas City Royals and Los Angeles Raiders star, Bigger Than the Game.
“He’d steal a bike, strip it, toss it into a fire to burn the paint off, spray-paint it, and that same afternoon, ride down the street past the house he’d stolen it from.”
“Because of his ability to withstand punches to his chest from his older brothers and sisters, because he wrestled children twice his age and ducked no fight and reveled in his own stubbornness, he had been given a nickname, truncated from Southern shorthand for a wild boar. In time, Bo-Hog became Bo.”
Or this excerpt from an interview he gave to GQ earlier this year:
GQ: Were you into outdoor sports as a kid?
Bo Jackson: If you call making homemade bows and arrows and slingshots, and shooting my uncle’s chickens as being “into” it, then yeah.
Or especially this excerpt from that same interview:
GQ: Were you a knucklehead?
Bo Jackson: A knucklehead is too soft. I was the John Gotti of my neighborhood, man. If anything bad went down in my neighborhood, I either caused it or I did it: car window smashed; bike stolen; kids being beat up, be it girls or boys. Somebody got hit in the head with a brick? I did it. Plate glass window got broken in somebody’s house? I did it. This was pre-computer and cell phone and video games. You had to do something to occupy your time.
Obviously, that kind of behavior is frowned upon these days, and maybe Jackson didn’t set the best example in his early years for the kids that he grew up around. But all of these years later, despite a brilliant career that was cut short by a nasty hip injury, a lot of us still romanticize the kind of athlete that Jackson represented, because his type just simply doesn’t exist anymore.
Oh yeah, and that hip that was dislocated during a playoff game against the Bengals? Jackson popped that hip back into its socket himself. Why? Because like everything else that he had ever done, he just could.