But the namesake
with whom Jackson is most frequently compared is Herschel Walker, whose family
calls him Bo. Both Bo's have a small-town Southern upbringing, and both have
sprinter's speed and claim to prefer track to football. Neither sleep more than
a few hours a night. Jackson's insomnia is a vestige of the punitive reveilles
of his childhood, when his mother would punish him for some mischief by rousing
him before dawn to take out the garbage or mow the grass by floodlight.
Jackson's and Walker's dimensions are uncannily similar (6' 1", about 220
pounds), they wear the same number (34) and both had startling freshman
question remains: Who's better? Says Dye, "I don't think Bo's any stronger
or faster, but I do think he has a little better ability to make you miss and a
little better balance." Jackson is conceded to be a better blocker than
Walker, and the better athlete, and to be more willing to turn upfield, if for
no other reason than that Jackson has fewer carries per game and doesn't have
to worry about pacing himself by heading out of bounds to avoid constant
If Jackson really
were a Walker clone, he'd have effortlessly captivated the state the way Walker
held all Georgia in his thrall. Athletes from Auburn, the perennial stepchild,
don't just "take" the state of Alabama. A Spartan would have an easier
time ascending the steps of the Parthenon. That's what best distinguishes
Jackson from Walker. Herschel cast his spell by galvanizing ready partisanship.
For the most part, Jackson has generated sober respect.
"I grew up
'Roll Tide,'" he says. "I had my mind set on going to Alabama. Two
weeks before the signing date Auburn wasn't in the picture, but it wasn't out
of the picture, either. I wanted to stay in state. And an Alabama coach said,
'There's no place else to go. We want you, but I don't think you'll see any
playing time till the last of your sophomore or the beginning of your junior
year.' I said I wasn't gonna waste two years of my life. When I told the
recruiter, he tried to change his story. I said, 'No, you're out of the
Some schools that
wanted Bo-- Florida, Southern Cal, Tennessee, Hawaii--never really entered his
picture. " Hawaii wanted me to visit," says Jackson. "I didn't. Dumb
me. But those are party schools. At Hawaii you're chasing those grass-skirted
women. If I'd gone to Florida, I'da flunked out my first term." And while
the Alabama recruiter told him that going to Auburn would mean losing to 'Bama
for four years, Jackson's mother was more worried about some of the things,
such as drugs and guns, that a few players had gotten into in Tuscaloosa.
Besides, Auburn needed backs.
On the second
series of the '82 season opener against Wake Forest, Jackson went into the
game. "Don't be nervous," James told him. "When we pitch you the
ball, haul ass." That day Bo would go 43 yards up the sideline for a
touchdown. Against Alabama, later in Bo's freshman year, Auburn faced
fourth-and-goal on the Tide one-yard line with 2:30 left and Alabama ahead
22-17. The Tigers called Play 43 for Jackson. He took the handoff up over the
line, found himself stopped, but wriggled forward the requisite extra smidgin.
With the 23-22 victory, Auburn had beaten 'Bama for the first time since 1972,
and the balance of power, which is to say the balance of football, in the state
found itself reversed. "Whatever that recruiter said got Bo to go just one
inch more," says Housel, holding his thumb and forefinger in front of his
face. "And that inch has made all the difference."
In the winter of
'83, with 'Bama having just taken a 20-16 lead, Jackson dashed 71 yards to
score as the Tigers won again, 23-20. Earlier in the game he'd run 69 yards for
a TD, reversing his field on an abortive sweep left when holes twice closed up
And now, for the
first time in recent memory, people in Birmingham are talking more frequently
about the Tigers than about the Tide. Defeatist red-and-white GO PRO BO bumper
stickers answer Auburn fans' GO BO GO ones. In his inauguration speech last
spring, Auburn president James Martin, apparently meaning to use the word
preeminent, called Auburn "the preemptive university in the state."
We're talking sea change here.
"The week of
the Alabama game it's like I'm in mourning," says Jackson. "Like I have
to pay that coach back. He told me, 'Auburn will never beat Alabama,' simply
because Alabama beat 'em the last 10 years. That gives me incentive to play
till I can't no more."
have to beat the Tide to get people out to Toomer's Corner downtown. All the
Tigers have to do is win, and students and townspeople will festoon the corner
of College and Magnolia with toilet paper. "It'll be up to your car
tires," says Jackson. "When we beat 'Bama in '82, they rolled the
corner for two days. People bought up all the paper in town. Cops be out