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Scott Ostler

In This Case, Playing Two Sports May Be Better Than Playing One

December 02, 1987|Scott Ostler

What we're seeing in this Bo Jackson fellow, gridiron fans, is a man who takes a slightly different approach to life.

Take birthdays, for instance. Bo turned 25 Monday night. Slightly altering a tradition, Bo celebrated by blowing out Brian Bosworth's candles.

Until Monday night, the baddest dude in the Boz's life was his barber. After trying to stop Bo at the goal line, Bosworth won't be getting any fancy hairdos soon, because it will take him a week or so to pry off his helmet.

As the TV announcers announced Monday night, we are witnessing a sports phenomenon in Bo Jackson. He is not only the best player in football right now, but the smartest.

Check it out: When all those National Football League Phi Betta Kappas were wind-sprinting and weightlifting themselves to death in training camp, where was Bo? Ordering room service in some American League luxury hotel.

When Eric and Marcus and Walter and the other superstar running backs were accumulating bone bruises and hyper-extended body parts through the first six weeks of the season, where was Bo? Taking batting practice and shagging flies.

Bo's double life as a baseball and football player is a major disaster, as many predicted. But it's a disaster for the Brian Bosworths of the league, not for Al Davis.

It's almost unfair what Bo is doing. He's coming to the dance fresh, just when everyone else is starting to stagger and reel toward the punch bowl. The action has slowed to a waltz and here comes Bo, break-dancing.

But Raider joy is restrained. There is considerable fear, fueled by Jackson's statements that football will be the sport he gives up first, that he's liable to walk out on the Raiders any game now.

Forget it.

This is an athlete, folks. He plays for money, sure, but don't you think he might be having a little fun out there on the football field? Maybe he'll quit football in five or six years, but a guy like Bo doesn't retire when he's still capable of breaking off a 91-yard gain, or running over a linebacker like a possum on the turnpike.

For Bo, quitting football right now to be a full-time baseball player would be like giving up sex to concentrate on checkers.

If the Raiders hadn't lapsed into a state of collective zombiehood for a couple of months there, they would be talking Super Bowl now and Bo would be staking a claim on the MVP award. He might win that one anyway, becoming, as someone once said of Jack Nicklaus, a legend in his spare time.

Bo's career strategy smacks of genius. Even in the off-season, most football players push themselves recklessly, playing golf or billiards, or mowing the lawn. Jackson takes it easy, playing baseball, the only sport in which, during a game, a player can repair to the locker room to watch "Wheel of Fortune" and order out for a pizza.

As a result, Jackson is the NFL player least likely to break or wear out.

Of course there is the sobering possibility that Bo is a comet, destined to streak brightly then fade quickly.

Naaaaaaa .

That stuff he did Monday night was no accident. Jackson burns Kenny Easley on a pass route when Easley, a poised star, falls down. A slip? Not on a dry carpet, pal. Easley simply got sucked into Bo's jet stream.

The best way to stop Jackson is get him before he turns the corner. Bosworth tried that tack Monday, angling in for the kill as Bo was running laterally behind the line of scrimmage. Boz tackled Bo's shadow. They were playing the same game, but in different time zones.

Most impressive, though, is Jackson's specialty, the Bo-dozer. Having turned a corner, he shifts into overdrive and goes nose to nose with a defender. You saw it from Seattle, where he carried Boz into the end zone like a small piece of luggage.

Bo's presence is going to cause some changes. A handicapping system, perhaps. Bosworth, when playing against Jackson, will be allowed to use his Corvette.

And most stadiums are too small. After a touchdown run, Jackson can't stop in the space alloted for humans. Monday he found a convenient tunnel in which to decelerate after his 91-yard run. From now on, stadium ushers will be alerted to open a gate so Jackson can run up an aisle in the grandstand.

Meanwhile, Boz has been sent down to the Seahawks' Double-A farm club for more seasoning, the Raiders' equipment man is looking for little Boz stickers to paste on Jackson's helmet, and Los Angeles fans are enjoying the most entertaining rookie since Magic and Fernando.

Don't worry about Bo leaving. Everything will be just fine if Al Davis can make sure Bo doesn't give up baseball.

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