There were three basic facts that any sports fan generally accepted in the late 1980s: Michael Jordan controlled the hardwood, Wayne Gretzky was master of skating rinks, and Bo Jackson dominated everything else. How big was Jackson? Jordan, hailed as the greatest player in NBA history, once had one cameo in an advertisement starring Jackson, the two-sport star who for a brief moment in time was one of the most famous athletes on the planet.
It’s been 35 years since Jackson began his pro-baseball career after a decorated run in Auburn, both on the diamond and on the grid. After a season with the Royals, Jackson was proached by then-Raiders owner Al Davis, who offered Jackson an opportunity to star in his backfield when his baseball season ended in the fall. Jackson accepted, and three years later became the first professional athlete to be named an All-Star in two different sports. When Jackson was successful with both the Raiders and Royals, his immense popularity made Nike’s “Bo Knows” campaign one of the most successful ads in pro-sports history. Jackson’s brilliance was immortalized in the video game “Tecmo Bowl,” as players had an unfair advantage if they chose the Raiders as their team.
No one knew, however, that Jackson’s meteoric rise would come to an abrupt and premature end in January 1991. Jackson, just 28 years old, suffered a devastating hip injury during the Raiders’ playoff victory over the Bengals. The injury ended Jackson’s NFL career, and three years later, Jackson hung up his baseball shells for good.
In light of Jackson’s pro career, which began 35 years ago, we decided to look at five insane facts from Jackson’s time with the Royals, Raiders, White Sox and Angels. If you did not already know Bo, go now.
1. NFL record setter
Jackson averaged 5.4 yards per game. Bear during his four seasons with the Raiders. He is tied with Hall of Famer Jim Brown for the highest average for career yards per capita. Bear to run back with at least 500 career attempts since 1950. Jackson averaged at least 5.5 yards per carry. Carries in three of his four NFL seasons. He averaged a full 6.8 yards per game. Wear during his rookie campaign. During his last two seasons, Jackson rushed to 1,648 yards and nine touchdowns on just 298 carries to an average of 5.53 yards per carry. During his Pro Bowl season (1990), Jackson rushed to 698 yards and five touchdowns (to an average of 5.6 yards per carry) despite receiving only 125 carries.
2. MLB plate setter
A power hitter, Jackson hit at least 20 home runs four different times for the Royals despite never playing in more than 135 games. In 1990, Jackson hit a home run in four consecutive games and tied an MLB record. His last home run during this stretch was hit by Hall of Famer Randy Johnson. In just 111 games that season, Jackson hit 28 home runs and 78 RBIs, while averaging .272, his highest average at the Royals.
Jackson boasted the NFL’s longest run in three of his four seasons in Los Angeles. In his fifth game – a “Monday night football game” against the Seahawks and their famous linebacker, Brian “The Boz” Bosworth – Jackson lit up television sets across the country as he sprinted 91 yards for a touchdown. The race was part of a 221-yard, two-touchdown night in what was Jackson’s breakout game as a professional. Against the Bengals in 1989, Jackson flew off a 92-yard touchdown run that served as the longest run in Raider’s history until Terrelle Pryor ran for a 93-yard score in 2013. In 1990, Jackson ran an 88-yard run against Cincinnati that saw him turn around before finding a spot on the nearest sideline. Each race was the NFL’s longest in that season.
4. King of K’s
Jackson’s MLB season in 1989 was without a doubt his best. All-Star Game’s MVP that season (his first inning leadoff homer is one of the most memorable moments in All-Star Game history), Jackson set career heights in home runs (32) and RBI (105) while finishing 10th in the league’s MVP poll. But Jackson also hit a league-high 172 times, leading to many of those strikes his infamous bat breaks down.
5. Historical recovery
Jackson was determined to return to playing baseball after his injury. In 1993, about a year after undergoing hip surgery, Jackson resumed his career and became the first player in professional sports history to compete with an artificial hip. Jackson’s hard work immediately paid off when he hit a home run on his first bat during the 1993 season. In late September, another Jackson home run won the AL West Division title for the White Sox, who got their first playoff berth in a decade. Jackson’s comeback ended with him being named AL Comeback Player of the Year.