NFL

Bo Jackson says hello to America, and goodbye to The Boz

In 1987, the Oakland Raiders and Seattle Seahawks met on Monday Night Football. The enduring image? Bo Jackson, running over and around Brian Bosworth.

If you remember the 1987 NFL season, you probably remember it for a 24-day strike, replacement players and Doug Williams. But if you’re a Raiders’ fan, you probably don’t. Instead, your season was reduced to another trifecta.

One night, one player and one play.

That would be the last day of November, a Monday evening in Seattle when Raiders’ rookie running back and major-league baseball player Bo Jackson celebrated his 25th birthday by bursting into the national consciousness.

Oddly, it was also a night that began with Jackson fumbling on his first carry. But then something unforeseen happened: He raised the bar to such a height that he, not the Raiders, was the talk Tuesday morning around the water cooler.

And he did it with one run.

Taking a handoff from quarterback Marc Wilson at the Raiders’ 5-yard-line, Bo glided through the left side of his offensive line, found daylight as he veered to the outside, stiff-armed Seahawks’ safety Eugene Robinson to the turf and shifted into overdrive — accelerating down the left sideline past the entire Seattle defense, not stopping until he scored a 91-yard touchdown.

Correction: Not stopping until he disappeared into a Kingdome tunnel at the back of the end zone.

“He might not stop ‘til Tacoma,” gushed then-ABC analyst Dan Dierdorf.

It was the beginning of an unforgettable night for Bo and the Raiders. He ran for 221 yards (then a Raiders’ single-game record) on just 18 carries, an average of 12.3 per, and scored three times as Los Angeles demolished heavily-favored Seattle, 37-14, setting a franchise record in the process with 356 yards rushing.

The score is insignificant. The Raiders were a team going nowhere. The story was Bo Jackson. His evening captivated a national television audience, established him as legendary figure and produced the “Bo Knows” advertising campaign that made him more than a household name.

It made him a brand.

Essentially, it portrayed Jackson as a real-life Superman — faster than a speeding bullet, capable of excelling at any sport. And why not? He already was a star baseball player with the Kansas City Royals, so accomplished the Raiders permitted him to complete his major-league season before joining them – even if it meant missing games.

Then-owner Al Davis not only was flexible with his new running back; he awarded Jackson the highest contract of any non-quarterback in NFL history, with a reported $500,000 signing bonus and another $500,000 in 1988 if he rejoined the team.

He rejoined the team.

Now, keep in mind the Raiders already had an All-Pro and future Hall of Famer in running back Marcus Allen. But the idea was that Jackson eventually would supplant him … which he did. In 1988, he ran for 580 yards in 10 games and averaged 4.3 yards per carry. The following season he ran for a career-high 950 yards, averaging 5.5 yards a carry, and scored on a 92-yard dash. One year later he averaged 5.6 yards per try and scored five times.

And all that time he was a two-sport marvel. He played with the Royals from 1986-90, hitting 32 home runs  with 105 RBIs in 1988, before joining the Chicago White Sox from 1991-94. He was the 1989 All-Star Game MVP. He was the 1993 Comeback Player of the Year. He hit home runs in four consecutive at-bats, with the fourth off Hall-of-Famer Randy Johnson.

In short, he was a national treasure soon to become the national treasurer, thanks to Nike.

It was Nike that initiated the “Bo Knows” campaign that turned Jackson into a mythical figure, an athlete so gifted he could conquer everything from tennis to auto racing to luge to playing electric guitar with Bo Diddley (honest). It was all part of an effective ad campaign to sell the Nike Air Trainer, the first cross-training shoe of its kind, and it made Jackson and Nike rich and famous.

Jackson was everywhere. A pro wrestling team perfected a finishing move called “The Bo Jackson.” The American hip-hop group, A Tribe Called Quest, referenced Jackson in a song entitled Scenario. There was even a “Tecmo Bo,” Nintendo’s “greatest athlete in video history.” He was virtually impossible to tackle, with players running him back to his 1-yard line before turning up field and literally bouncing off defenders.

He had his own video game, Bo Jackson’s Hit and Run, for the original Game Boy video game series. He was depicted in a Saturday morning cartoon show, along with Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan. He appeared in an episode of Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.

But all things must pass, and so it was with Bo Jackson. In a 1991 playoff loss to Cincinnati, Jackson suffered a dislocated hip following a tackle. Within a month, he was found to have suffered avascular necrosis of the hip joint and forced to retire.

What he left behind, however, was an indelible memory of an evening in Seattle so magnificent, so astonishing and so transcendent that when the NFL a year ago ranked its 100 greatest plays, Jackson’s 91-yard touchdown ranked 25th. It was one of the NFL’s four longest runs during Jackson’s four seasons with the Raiders. Two of the other three were also Jackson’s, a 92-yarder and 88-yarder.

But if there were one run, one game that defined his career, it was that night in Seattle.

The Raiders were 3-7 and headed toward a 5-10 finish. Seattle was 7-3, en route to the playoffs as a wild card. But the game wasn’t about two teams as much as it was about two guys: Bo and Seahawks’ linebacker Brian Bosworth, who, prior to the contest, promised he would “contain” the Raiders’ running back in a showdown between two of the NFL’s most popular rookies.

Well, he didn’t.

Jackson first left Bosworth in his rear-view mirror on his 91-yard sprint. Of course, he left everyone else there, too. But on Jackson’s second touchdown run that evening – a 2-yarder in the third quarter – Bosworth finally had an opportunity to make good on his promise. Taking a pitch at the Seattle 7-yard-line, Jackson followed Marcus Allen, his lead blocker, to the left, cut inside then accelerated forward until meeting Bosworth six feet from paydirt.

Bosworth was 6-feet-2, 240 pounds. Jackson was 6-1, 225.

It was no contest. Jackson ran through the tackle, carrying The Boz into the end zone to up the score to 34-7, Raiders. After the play, Jackson reportedly told Bosworth, “next time, make sure you have your bus fare.”

That night was a beginning and end for the two rookies. Bosworth played just 17 more games afterward, his career cut short by injuries. And Jackson? He’d go on to average a staggering 6.8 yards a carry that season and finish his career at 5.4, tied with Hall-of-Famer Jim Brown for the highest average for anyone with 500 or more rushes.

Few know that. But they know Bo.

Nike made sure of it. So did major-league baseball and the NFL. So did sports stars like Wayne Gretzky, John McEnroe, Kirk Gibson and Michael Jordan, all of whom participated in the “Bo Knows” commercials. And so did modern technology. Log on to the internet, “Google” Jackson’s name and, guaranteed, one of the first videos that pops up is his 91-yard touchdown run over, around and through the Seattle defense.

“Like little kids chasing a grown man,” Dierdorf said that evening.

We know. So does Bo.

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