You would have to say that so far Vincent Edward (Bo) Jackson is doing a fair job of moonlighting. Even Maddie and David would have to admit it. The Bo Show got a 19.9 rating in its first appearance on
Monday Night Football
, Nov. 30 from Seattle, and a lot of raves nationwide, as Jackson gained 221 yards, scored three touchdowns and said to the camera, "We've got nothing to lose, Baby." The Fridge was a nice goal-line diversion for prime-time viewers in 1985, but when Jackson went 91 yards on a dead run, nobody breathed.
Other athletes have had the ability to play two major league sports for a living. Indeed, a goodly number have done it concurrently, but none recently. Gene Conley (1952 to '64), Dave DeBusschere (1962 to '74) and Ron Reed (1966 to '84), all of whom played baseball and basketball, were the latest. Danny Ainge was a light-hitting Toronto Blue Jay before he became a hard-nosed Boston Celtic. John Elway probably could have played rightfield in the majors. Kirk Gibson probably could have been an NFL receiver. Eric Davis might have been good enough to play guard in the NBA. But Elway et al. didn't play two sports, and Ainge never returned to baseball. Certainly none of them could have become a titanic slugger and a colossal breakaway threat (or their equivalents) in less than two years after leaving college.
In October, Jackson completed his rookie year as an outfielder for the Kansas City Royals with 22 home runs. On Sunday he played his sixth game for the Los Angeles Raiders, a 34-21 defeat of the Buffalo Bills in which he ran for 78 yards on 19 carries and caught four passes, including one for a TD. Now the questions are: How well can he do both, and for how long? Why not just wait and see? Well, this is the late 20th century, and people want to know things in a rush. And that's what Jackson gives people—a serious rush.
Some football players who watch Jackson run seem to be almost spiritually moved. "There's no question he's a Hall of Fame back. If anybody had to break my record, I'm glad it was Bo. He's a great back. They come along every 20 years, one like him." The speaker is former Raider back Clem Daniels, who held the team's single-game rushing record of 200 yards until Jackson ran over Brian Bosworth and by everybody else in Seattle.
"I kind of expected it," said Daniels. "His attitude impressed me from the start. He talked about himself in the third person: 'Bo will do this. Bo will do that.' I liked that. Your ego has to be big enough to give you the drive. I saw Jim Taylor at the NFL alumni golf tournament. He still had that attitude: I'm an ass kicker.' Bo believes that, too. You can see it."
But wait. Jackson's day job is baseball. He says unequivocally, "That's what I'll end up playing." When he signed his five-year, $7.4 million contract with the Raiders last summer, he was quoted as saying that football was his "hobby." Many scoffed when he said that, but you don't see that hobby quote taped to many NFL lockers now, not after Jackson announced his arrival on Nov. 22 at the L.A. Coliseum.
From the Raider 35-yard line he took a pitch from quarterback Marc Wilson while going right, pivoted 180 degrees and was at full bore, going outside left end, in three steps. He ran over Denver's unsuspecting cornerback Mike Harden, without breaking stride, and then vaulted into the end zone for good measure. After that game Jackson said he had been "experimenting." Following the Seattle game, when he bowled over Bosworth on a two-yard scoring run, the Boz said, "No excuses. He just flat ran my butt over." Jackson, who turned 25 that day, said he had "had fun."
So what will he do next? "Bo has always been motivated by the challenge," says his agent, Richard Woods. "He's never left a challenge unfulfilled. That excites him, gets his adrenaline going. Right now, I can promise you baseball is out of his mind. But the only way he would give up baseball is if it was no longer challenging to him. If he gave up baseball, I would be shocked."
Woods seems certain of this for maybe a nanosecond. Then comes the rush. "But then," he says, "I know that with Bo Jackson, anything is possible."
The idea of playing both sports became a serious possibility in late spring, after he had been selected by the Raiders in the seventh round of this year's draft. " Al Davis and Tom Flores were willing to be flexible about things," says Woods. The crafty owner Davis and coach Flores would wait for Jackson until after baseball season. In late June, before conferring with the Raiders' brass, Woods went to Kansas City, and Jackson asked him, "Can I do it?" Woods said, "I don't know. There are a lot of hurdles. Think about it." Jackson thought about it. "See what you can do," he said. Within three weeks Woods had reached an agreement with the Raiders.