There were three basic facts that every sports fan generally accepted in the late 1980s: Michael Jordan ruled the hardwood, Wayne Gretzky lorded over ice rinks, and Bo Jackson dominated everything else. How great was Jackson? Jordan, hailed as the greatest player in NBA history, once had a cameo in a commercial starring Jackson, the two-sport star who, for a brief moment in time, was one of the most famous athletes on the planet.
It’s been 35 years since Jackson began his pro baseball career following a decorated run at Auburn, both on the diamond as well as on the gridiron. After one season with the Royals, Jackson was approached by then-Raiders owner Al Davis, who offered Jackson an opportunity to star in his backfield once his baseball season was over in the fall. Jackson accepted, and three years later became the first professional athlete to be named an All-Star in two different sports. As Jackson enjoyed success with both the Raiders and Royals, his immense popularity made Nike’s “Bo Knows” campaign one of the most successful ads in pro sports history. Jackson’s brilliance was immortalized in the video game “Tecmo Bowl,” as gamers had an unfair advantage if they chose the Raiders as their team.
Little did anyone know, however, that Jackson’s meteoric rise would come to an abrupt and premature end in January of 1991. Jackson, just 28 years old, suffered a devastating hip injury during the Raiders’ playoff win over the Bengals. The injury ended Jackson’s NFL career, and three years later, Jackson hung up his baseball cleats for good.
In light of Jackson’s pro career beginning 35 years ago, we decided to look at five crazy facts from Jackson’s time with the Royals, Raiders, Red Sox and Angels. If you didn’t know Bo already, you’re going to now.
1. NFL record-setter
Jackson averaged 5.4 yards per carry during his four seasons with the Raiders. He is tied with Hall of Famer Jim Brown for the highest career yards-per-carry average for running backs with at least 500 career attempts since 1950. Jackson averaged at least 5.5 yards per carry in three of his four NFL seasons. He averaged a whopping 6.8 yards per carry during his rookie campaign. During his final two seasons, Jackson rushed for 1,648 yards and nine touchdowns on just 298 carries for a 5.53 yards-per-carry average. During his Pro Bowl season (1990), Jackson rushed for 698 yards and five touchdowns (for a 5.6 yards-per-carry average) despite receiving just 125 carries.
2. MLB record-setter
A power hitter, Jackson hit at least 20 home runs four different times for the Royals despite never playing in more than 135 games. In 1990, Jackson hit a home run in four consecutive games, tying an MLB record. His final home run during that stretch was hit off of Hall of Famer Randy Johnson. In just 111 games that season, Jackson hit 28 home runs and 78 RBI while posting a .272 average, his highest average with the Royals.
Jackson boasted the NFL’s longest run in three of his four seasons in Los Angeles. In his fifth game — a “Monday Night Football” showdown against the Seahawks and their celebrated linebacker, Brian “The Boz” Bosworth — Jackson lit up TV sets across the country when he sprinted 91 yards for a touchdown. The run was part of a 221-yard, two-touchdown night in what was Jackson’s breakout game as a professional. Against the Bengals in 1989, Jackson ripped off a 92-yard touchdown run that served as the longest run in Raiders history until Terrelle Pryor ran for a 93-yard score in 2013. In 1990, Jackson had an 88-yard run against Cincinnati that saw him reverse field before finding space on the near sideline. Each run was the NFL’s longest during that particular season.
4. King of K’s
Jackson’s 1989 MLB season was arguably his best. The All-Star Game’s MVP that season (his first inning leadoff homer is one of the most memorable moments in All-Star Game history), Jackson set career highs in home runs (32) and RBI (105) while finishing 10th in the league’s MVP voting. But Jackson also struck out a league-high 172 times, with many of those strikeouts leading to his infamous bat breaks.
5. Historic recovery
Jackson was determined to get back to playing baseball following his injury. In 1993, about a year after undergoing hip surgery, Jackson resumed his career, becoming the first player in professional sports history to compete with an artificial hip. Jackson’s hard work immediately paid dividends, as he hit a home run on his first at-bat during the 1993 season. In late September, another Jackson home run clinched the AL West division title for the White Sox, who clinched their first playoff berth in a decade. Jackson’s comeback concluded with him being named the AL Comeback Player of the Year.