Every now and then, I’ll come across a sports story that I assume everyone around me is familiar with. Then I realize, I’m an old bastard, and the guys around me are mostly in their 20s. So then I have storytime. It’s like when your grandpa tells you about the Heidi Game. I also figured most of my readers might not know these stories either, so here you go. This is the story of how certain decisions could have changed the course of several teams in several sports because of the impact of Bo Jackson and his presence or absence.
In the early ‘80s, the college football world was ruled by two Heisman winning SEC running backs – Herschel Walker and Bo Jackson. The former, of course, was a Georgia Bulldog standout that signed with the USFL, after winning the Heisman in his junior year, because the NFL forbade signing underclassmen at the time.
Jackson, meanwhile, won the 1985 Heisman Trophy as a senior, and was primed to enter the NFL as one of the premier running backs.
As the clear No. 1 prospect, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers knew that Jackson was a game-changer and let it be known they planned to draft him. After they flew him out on a personal jet to meet with owner Hugh Culverhouse (thus ruining his college baseball eligibility in his final season), Jackson told them that he didn’t want to play in Tampa. He told them not to draft him. Culverhouse, in the middle of his tenure as one of the worst owners in the history of sports, decided to go ahead and draft Jackson anyway.
The Bucs asked Bo to give up baseball completely (not completely outrageous), and instead, Bo chose to play baseball full-time for the Kansas City Royals. They drafted him in the fourth round of the MLB draft in 1986. How does he last until the fourth round of the MLB draft!?! That means even Kansas City passed on him three times!
Then Tampa Bay trumped the initial stupidity of drafting someone that doesn’t want to play for them (sort of like buying an engagement ring for a chick that hates you), by holding onto his draft rights for a full year. They could have traded those rights at any time for a player or picks, but they thought nothing in return made much more sense.
Raiders owner Al Davis has never been afraid to pull a wild card, and he did just that in the 1987 NFL Draft, when he chose Jackson (who still wanted to play baseball) in the seventh round. SEVENTH ROUND!?! Davis eventually convinced Bo to sign a deal with the Raiders (then in L.A.) to play football after the baseball season was over. (He never made it to the postseason with the Royals, so his NFL arrival ended up being in Weeks 6 or 7 every football season.)
Jackson’s time with the Raiders was interesting because they already had their own Heisman winner (and NFL MVP) in the backfield with Marcus Allen. But the USC product and Davis had a heated relationship after the owner called Allen a “cancer to the team” because of a contract dispute. How bad was their relationship? During one of his final three seasons with the Raiders, he was listed as third on the RB depth chart at one point.
In a playoff game against the Bengals in 1991, Jackson suffered a serious hip injury that would eventually end his career and cause him to need a hip replacement.
Bo Jackson: The Bo-tterfly Effect
Oh, how could history have been different? Some of the choices made by Bo and others arguably changed the fate of several franchises. Thus, the impact of Bo Jackson on several clubs. Here are a few different versions of some alternate histories
Bo Jackson chooses to skip college football altogether (which he called a hobby anyway) and signs with the Yankees, who drafted him as a shortstop in the second round of the 1982 MLB draft. He joins Don Mattingly to turn the Yankees into an even stronger offensive powerhouse.
Final result: Unfortunately, Bo doesn’t “know” how to pitch, so maybe the Yankees still go ring-less in the ‘80s.
Bo Jackson chooses to skip his senior season at Auburn to sign with the California Angels, who drafted him in the 20th round of the 1985 MLB draft. The Angels then call him up in September of ’86, and he gives them a bigger lead than 5-2 against Boston in the clinching Game 5 the ALCS. That might keep the Angels from bringing in closer Donnie Moore, who imploded just one strike away from moving on to the World Series, allowing a Dave Henderson home run. The Red Sox would go on to win the next two games, and play the Mets in the World Series.
Final result: Bill Buckner is still considered an excellent first baseman, Mookie Wilson might not be a hero in New York and Donnie Moore doesn’t become so depressed three summers later that he shoots his wife three times and commits suicide in front of his kids.
The Royals, obviously worse off without Jackson in their lineup, end up with the top pick in the 1987 MLB draft.
Final result: Kansas City selects a young center fielder from Moeller High School in Cincinnati by the name of Ken Griffey Jr.
Bo doesn’t sign with Oakland, so he doesn’t play the Seahawks on Monday Night Football.
Final result: He doesn’t crush over-hyped Brian Bosworth on this goal-line run.
The Bucs, still in desperate need of a running back, draft local college hero Neal Anderson. They could have drafted LB Cornelius Bennett and held onto Steve Young rather than trade him to San Francisco. Because of their newfound offensive ability, they end up drafting in the middle of the first round through the early ‘90s, skipping duds like Eric Curry, Broderick Thomas and Keith McCants.
Final result: The Bucs end up with Junior Seau, Herman Moore and Willie Roaf.
The Raiders pay Allen what he’s worth, and they never hate each other.
Final result: Al Davis still looks like the cryptkeeper, but he’s hated by fewer people.
Iowa QB Chuck Long wins the Heisman trophy, rather than come in second place to Jackson in the closest margin of victory ever.
Final result: Long still stinks it up in the pros with Detroit, but he has a cool new conversation piece on his coffee table.
Final result: Nerds find a glitch in some other game.
Some other things you might not know about Bo:
- Since the Bucs flew Bo in a private plane, it made him ineligible to play baseball for Auburn in his senior year.
- Bo ran a 4.12 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, which is still considered the fastest verifiable time for the event. (For comparison, the fastest RB in 2011 was Cal’s Jahvid Best — 4.35.)
- He was the first athlete to play in the All-Star Game of two major sports.
- Bo played with the Angels in his final season in 1994.
Without question, Bo Jackson’s life has been a great sports story, even if “Bo don’t know diddly! The impact of Bo Jackson is definitely worthy of a “30 on 30” episode on ESPN. Make it happen.
[UPDATE: You made it happen! ESPN Films premiered the “30 on 30” documentary, “You Don’t Know Bo” in early December of 2012.]
Now, let me tell you about the time I scored four touchdowns for Polk High.
David Gonos spent 5 years as a CBSSports.com Senior Fantasy Writer and three more years writing with SI.com. Over the past 17 years, his work has been published on NFL.com, MLB.com, FanDuel, FoxSports.com and USA Today. Since 2001, he has been tracking down the Top 50-plus Free Fantasy Football Draft Tools online. You can contact David Gonos here.