We all remember the “Bo Knows” Nike ads and the highlights of Bo Jackson running up the wall in center field to catch a fly ball. We remember him breaking the bat over his knee. We remember the highlight of him running over Brian Bosworth at the goal line.
Take a moment now and try to remember another highlight from Bo Jackson’s career on the football field. To be honest, the only one I can think of is the run where he broke his leg, after which he would never play again.
Don’t feel bad if you don’t have a lot of football memories of Bo Jackson outside of the digital version of him running for touchdowns on what seemed like the longest football field in the world in the Tecmo and Super Tecmo Bowl games in the 80s and 90s.
The fact of the matter is, Jackson didn’t really do much in the NFL. He played during four seasons. Don’t confuse that with “he played four full seasons.” Because of his baseball career, Bo Jackson never player an entire NFL season. The most games he ever logged in one year was 11 in 1989.
Bo Jackson finished his football career with a total of 38 games played, 2782 rushing yards and 16 career rushing touchdowns. That’s it. This man who we have all labeled as an immortal and a legend barely averaged over 73 rushing yards and less than a half of a touchdown per game. His career numbers were on par with what BenJarvis Green-Ellis put up in 2012 for the Bengals.
Anybody see that series of new and exciting BenJarvis Green-Ellis Nike commercials? That’s what I thought.
That fact of the matter is that Bo Jackson was a freakish athlete with world class speed. He was the first modern athlete to successfully (somewhat) balance two separate careers in two different sports. He had moments of greatness, but by and large, Bo Jackson was simply an average professional football player.
I honestly believe the bulk of his legacy is due to the Nintendo Entertain System. We remember playing as and against the L.A. Raiders and watching Bo Jackson scream past hilariously awful video game defenses in Tecmo Bowl every time the opponent didn’t push the right combination of buttons to select the one play where he carried the ball. In my opinion, no athlete in the history of professional sport benefitted from a video game more than Bo Jackson.
I’ve actually been in rooms where guys my age try to describe how awesome Bo Jackson was, only to draw a blank when trying to remember specific things he did — often redirecting the conversation to how tough he was to stop in Tecmo Bowl. I’ve never seen anything like it and doubt I ever will again. Imagine someone trying to describe how awesome Scottie Pippen was and only being able to strengthen his argument by describing how awesome of a dunker he was in NBA Jams.
Just remember that the next time you are around a bunch of friends or at a bar and you start talking football. When someone brings up how great Bo Jackson was (and they will), challenge them. Ask them how many touchdowns he scored or to describe a great play he made without mentioning Brian Bosworth. You’ll be surprised how much of their memory of him is based on a video game.
BY J.P. SCOTT ON JUNE 9, 2013