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Alexander Wolff
September 05, 1984
The straw that stirs the drink at Auburn, Bo Jackson is a legend in Alabama and this season's hottest Heisman candidate
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September 05, 1984

Bo On The Go

The straw that stirs the drink at Auburn, Bo Jackson is a legend in Alabama and this season's hottest Heisman candidate

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So is his coach. Jackson didn't have a great day against Texas in the Tigers' only loss of 1983, mainly because Dye had his quarterback get the ball to Jackson only seven times—"a drastic mistake," the coach admits. In fact, Jackson has a knack for playing well in big games. In a 28-21 defeat of Florida, a game in which he played while suffering from a virus, he went 55 yards on his second run from scrimmage, then 80 on another, to score twice. And, for reasons we'll soon see, he has a showman's way of beating up on 'Bama.

But a legend, even in Alabama, is made from more than regularly rolling the Tide. It comes from refusing the 1984 Sugar Bowl MVP trophy, insisting it go to a teammate, James. Or routinely getting yawny and falling asleep on the locker room floor before games. Or throwing a football that hit the Louisiana Super-dome's ceiling replay screen, a first; before Jackson, only punters had reached it. Someone had bet Jackson he couldn't do it. "I like to make 'em look the fool," he says. The stories about Jackson are assuming a mythic texture:

Bo in the Bus Station. A lonely, homesick freshman, down on himself because of a poor showing against Georgia—"Bo made a ton of mistakes," Crowe remembers—borrows a friend's car in midafter-noon, drives to the Auburn Greyhound station and sits. He can't bring himself to board a bus. Finally, close to midnight, an agent chases him out. For missing curfew, the coaches arrange what Jackson calls "a date with the stadium steps."

Bo and the Tightwad Owner. Unwilling to meet the contract demands of running back Curtis Dickey last December, Colts owner Robert Irsay invokes Jackson's name, claiming the sophomore would go pro right away for a fraction of Dickey's price. Jackson doesn't rule out turning pro early. Even today he says, "I don't need a degree in child psychology [his expected major]. Why should I sit in class and learn from a professor what comes naturally for me?" Further, Jackson's prepared to play major league baseball, the NFL and the USFL off one another to get what he wants: a pro contract in a warm-weather city. But was Jackson going with the Colts? No. "You know Herschel [Walker] lied and you probably think I'm lying," he told the press, referring to the former Georgia tailback who first denied he was jumping to the USFL's New Jersey Generals, and then did it. "Nobody knows the real truth but me, and I'm telling it. If you don't believe me, tough."

Bo and the Traffic Accident. On his way to a 1983 summer job as a teller at the Colonial Bank in Birmingham, Jackson clips the back of a woman's car. She rips into him, demanding to know his name. He tells her. Suddenly solicitous, she asks, "Are you the Bo Jackson who plays for Auburn? Oh, are you all right?" Before the Texas game, Bo gets a Mail-gram that reads: SMASH TEXAS LIKE YOU SMASHED MY CAR.

Bo and the Rednecks. Jackson is in Tuscaloosa with the baseball team his freshman year. The crew of a beer truck is loitering beyond the outfield fence, sampling the cargo and calling Bo "boy." Next time up he sends a home run clattering off the side of the truck.

Bo and the Kids. Two days before Auburn's annual spring game, Bo strolls into the office of David Housel, the school's sports information director. "I got an idea for A-Day," says Jackson, who has missed spring practice because of track and thus isn't playing in the game. He explains how much he loves kids and how he wants to run against a bunch of them before the scrimmage. He offers to buy supper for anyone who can beat him from goal line to goal line. Housel hastily makes the arrangements, and several hundred youngsters turn out. Jackson spots them 15 yards, outruns them and vaults the restraining fence into the end-zone stands, where he signs autographs for the balance of the evening.

Bo's incipient sense of p.r. could serve him well in his run for the Heisman. Housel is determined not to pander to the moment. He won't be sending prospective Heisman voters blue-and-orange-striped straws with FLO THRU, BO Or BO SUCKS IT UP FOR THE HEISMAN imprinted on them. "If Bo's going to win it, he's going to earn it," says Housel. "On the field."

The Heisman that quarterback Pat Sullivan won in 1971 sits in a glass case in the lobby of Auburn's Memorial Coliseum, its figurine a stiff-arm signpost to Housel's office. Jackson sees the trophy practically every day. "I don't pay it no mind," he says.

It isn't hard to get "Bo" from "boar hog." Once, Nipsey Russell was on Password, and the password was "deer." His partner gave him "doe" as a clue, and Russell guessed "knob." No, Bo came quite naturally from "boar hog," which is what Jackson's eldest brother decided was the only thing as tough as Bo when Bo was only six. Jackson has four brothers and five sisters. His mother, Florence Bond, is a custodian in a Ramada Inn in Hoover, Ala. His father, A.D. Adams, lives in Birmingham. "I was tough like a wild boar," says Jackson. "I had one of the toughest stomachs you could imagine. My brothers and cousins would draw all the way back to Mississippi and hit me and I wouldn't feel nothing."

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