Throwback Thursday: Bo Jackson

Welcome back to our Throwback Thursday blog. Each week, we spotlight one of our favorite throwback superstars. We choose these stars using a rigorous scientific process we know in-house as “Whoever Nick Feels Like Writing About This Week Unless We Just Launched A New Team Or Something.” This week’s Throwback Thursday is pick is an ancient Greek demigod brought forward through time to embarrass mortal football and baseball players: Bo Jackson.

The rare two-sport star, Bo Jackson only spent four years in the NFL (he spent a bit longer playing baseball, but unfortunately our MLB writer hasn’t started—or, you know, been interviewed—yet, so we’ll be focusing on footBo here), but man, what a four years it was. Bo Jackson never played a single playoff game, and only 38 games total, but he’s still remembered as one of the all-time greats of the game. Why is that?

Is it because he was basically Marshawn Lynch with the footspeed of Deion Sanders and the adamantium skeleton of Wolverine? A human bullet-train that wasn’t so much tackled by defenders as politely ferrying them across the field? A sentient tornado of steel and muscle stuffed awkwardly into a sliver-and-black uniform and let loose to treat offensive lines like unlucky trailer parks?

I mean, yeah, that was probably part of it. But Bo was also an explosive personality, both on and off the field. His touchdown celebrations were infections, and his commercials were immortal. “Bo Knows” is the ultimate example of what can only be called “earnest 1980s irony,” a rare beast that’s since gone extinct. Bo was likeable, funny, self-aware, and yet totally authentic. Is that why his legend won’t die?

Again, sure, doesn’t hurt. But again… there’s more.

Bo treated the laws of physics more like uninvited motherly nagging that he mostly humored, doing the bare minimum to obey the letter of the law if not the spirit… of course, like any rebellious 1980s icon, sometimes he’d just flat out defy the rules, say, by running up the outfield wall of a baseball diamond like a Matrix character, or by somehow steadily accelerating throughout the course of an eighty-plus yard run.

And he was so fast, despite being larger than most linebackers. Bo finished #5 on the NFL’s 10 Fastest list, but with the concession that he was dinged down to that spot for the relative brevity of his career. You watch him play, and there’s a very real chance Bo Jackson is the fastest man who ever set foot on a football field… while also having enough upper-body strength to not only hit home runs basically at will (he shares the record for consecutive at-bats with a homer), but to tote around NFL defensive linemen like they were Yoda to his Luke. Beyond that, he had a seven-foot high jump and could Spider-Man his way over the line when he felt like it, and the ability to accelerate after contact as if the hit had come from behind him and given him a boost.

So… why is the legend of Bo Jackson immortal? Because in the last five hundred words, he warranted comparison to, among other, Herculean demigods, the most popular X-man, Jedis, bullet-trains, Spidey, Marhsawn Lynch, Deion Sanders, a tornado, and none of it seemed especially hyperbolic? Because he took all that impossible and wrapped it up in a likeable, charming shell?

Again, sure, that was part of it. Mostly it was because he earned it. He entertained, electrified, and inspired, all while succeeding at the highest level of human (or slightly beyond human) potential. That’s what legends do. Just ask Hercules, or Spider-Man, or, heck, ask Bo. After all…. Bo knows.

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