Very few times in a lifetime does an athlete come along that redefines how we look at sports. The scope we view most athletes though are the stats they produce when their careers end or how many championships they have won. We remember some players for the huge contracts they sign whether they play up to the money or not. Others we remember for holding out for a better contract. Then we remember Vincent Edward Jackson.
Bo Jackson won the Heisman Trophy in 1985 as a running back at Auburn University. He was the #1 overall pick in the 1986 NFL Draft and was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He did not play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Why? They cost him most of his senior season of Auburn baseball.
Bo sat on the field after his coach told him he’d been ruled ineligible and cried.
He loved baseball as much as football. His was raking during that season for the Tigers, and perhaps Tampa’s owner didn’t like that baseball could be part of Bo’s future. The owner, Hugh Culverhouse, sent his private jet for Bo so that he could visit Tampa prior to the draft. He assured Bo this was green-lighted by the NCAA. It wasn’t, and Bo’s collegiate career ended.
Jackson vowed never to play a down for Tampa if they selected him with the first pick. He stuck to his word even though the Bucs took him. As a point of pride and honor he walked away from a professional football career.
Let me state that again: Bo Jackson said no to the NFL.
Bo Jackson may be the greatest athlete of all-time. He was 6 feet 1 inch tall and weighed 230 pounds. Bo was big guy and clocked a 4.12 forty at the combine. No man that big should be that fast, yet he was. He was a football star, he beat Bear Bryant his freshman year, a baseball star, and a track and field star. Natural talent. More importantly, humble talent.
The sports world needed Bo Jackson, but by turning down the Bucs, Bo proved he didn’t need the sports world.
Of course, Bo went on to sign with the Royals and had a fine baseball career. Then the Raiders drafted him in the seventh round the next year, and Bo became a two-sport star. Bo Knows, Bo Diddley, and commercial after commercial followed. He was superhuman. And he was a super human. Humble and courageous. Following the injury to his hip that ended his football career far too soon, he rehabbed and returned to baseball with an artificial hip. Yes, an artificial hip.
Now, can you imagine the modern day athlete doing any of this? Would a Heisman Trophy winner turn down an NFL contract on a point of pride? Would one reinvent himself as a baseball player and be successful at it? Would the soft athlete of today (see Derrick Rose) come back from hip replacement surgery to play again? The answer is no. There is only one Bo Jackson.
He was blessed with amazing talent and ability. Bo dictated his own path where athletes of today are controlled by their publicists or by their posse. The only thought they have is getting the next big contract. Then they lay down (see Chris Johnson).
Bo played to win, and was never bigger than the game even though he was, actually, bigger than the game. His health was taken before he could earn entrance to either Hall of Fame, but I believe he would have made it to Canton and to Cooperstown.
by Vince Curly