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October 02, 2000|LARRY STEWART

What: "SportsCentury: Bo Jackson"

Where: ESPN Classic, tonight, 5 and 9

The "SportsCentury" profiles on ESPN last year honoring the 20th century's 50 greatest North American athletes were excellent. This new series on ESPN Classic, featuring some of the top 50 as well as some who were left out, has offered profiles just as good, sometimes even better. Wednesday's profile of Bill Walton was outstanding, and so is this one-hour profile of Bo Jackson, which was first shown Sept. 4.

It tells the story of a poor Alabama child, the eighth of 10 raised by a single mother, who, besides being one of the most gifted athletes of all time, overcame much to became a good person and a good father.

Jackson, who grew up on a dirt street in Bessemer, Ala., had a severe stuttering problem. He hated to read in class, and if anyone laughed at him, Jackson would deal with them after class. He once hit a girl cousin upside the head with a baseball bat. At 13, he was in a lot of trouble after he and some friends killed some valuable pigs at a nearby farm.

Jackson credits his mother, Florence, who would discipline him with a broomstick, an extension cord and even threats with a handgun, for straightening him out. He went to college to please his mother, passing up a $250,000 offer from the New York Yankees, and he eventually got a degree from Auburn.

Jackson played only four seasons for the Raiders and his football career ended in 1990 when he suffered a dislocated hip in a playoff game. Sixteen months later, six weeks after having hip replacement surgery, he learned his mother was dying of cancer.

In 1993, despite the artificial hip, he gave baseball another try, signing with the Chicago White Sox. In his first at-bat, he homered. "I have that ball in a glass case with the inscription, 'Just for you, Mom,' " Jackson says. "Hitting that home run was the most gratifying moment of my athletic career, period."

There were many gratifying moments in Jackson's career, and they are well-chronicled. There was the 91-yard touchdown run against the Seattle Seahawks on a Monday night in 1987 in Jackson's fifth NFL game. He gained 221 yards in the game, and scored another touchdown when he barreled over linebacker Brian Bosworth, who felt like he had been run over by a bus. "I got up and said to Bosworth, 'Next time have bus fare.' "

While with the Kansas City Royals, he once threw out Harold Reynolds of the Seattle Mariners at home from deep left field. Reynolds figured he could score standing up when he saw the sign to slide. He couldn't believe he was out.

Jackson's athletic feats are legendary. But there is more to Jackson than just athletic prowess--or Nike's "Bo Knows" commercials. You'll know Bo after watching this profile.

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