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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, just don't "take" the state of Alabama. 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 picture.' " Besides, Auburn needed backs.
Jackson made his Auburn debut on the second series of the 1982 season opener against Wake Forest. "Don't be nervous," James told him. "When we pitch you the ball, haul ass." Before the day was over, 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 the Tide ahead 22-17. Jackson took the handoff up over the line, found himself stopped, but wriggled forward the requisite extra smidgen. 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 David Housel, Auburn's sports information director, holding his thumb and forefinger in front of his face. "And that inch has made all the difference."
Last fall, with tornadoes baying at the outskirts of Birmingham and ' 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 on him.
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.
"The week of the Alabama game it's like I'm in mourning," says Jackson. "Like I have to pay that coach back what he said. 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."
Auburn doesn't 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. "And it better not be raining, 'cause otherwise maintenance workers'll be up there for three weeks. When we beat ' Bama in '82, they rolled the corner for two days. People bought up all the paper in town. Cops be out rolling too."
And if they're rolling Toomer's Corner when Jackson wants to reach the arcade on College, several storefronts down, to dodge video bullets? Bo'll just swing his Cutlass onto Tiger, hang a right on Glenn and another one, at the Amoco station, drive up College, park and fill the meter. Remember the meter.