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The Inside Track | J.A. Adande

Bo Knows Contentment After a Career Cut Short

November 22, 2001|J.A. Adande

Bo Jackson used to command the attention of entire stadiums whenever he left the huddle or the on-deck circle. Now I'm having trouble finding him in a Costco.

He's promoting his new energy bar at the grand opening of a store in Industry. Surely that line over by the frozen foods is for Jackson.

Nope, it's people waiting to try slices of milk chocolate-covered apples. Back to the front of the store to ask for help.

"Aisle 318, then an aisle, then a cooler, then him," a sales associate says.

Just past the woman handing out microwaved sausage lasagna samples, in front of the woman chopping up Atlantic salmon, right next to the tins of Belgian chocolates.

Bo Jackson. Signing boxes of the BetterBar snacks with his name and picture on them. Striking up conversations with kids. Just as content with his life as he was back when he made the unthinkable look ordinary for the Raiders and the Kansas City Royals.

"Everything's copacetic," Jackson said.

Sometimes there are people all around, sometimes the attention drops off.

There are the dedicated, who show up with old Jackson posters, books or Raider jerseys. There are the clueless, such as the woman who grabs her mother and says, "It's George Foreman!"

Some people bring their children and infants to see Jackson. The kids have the same look as toddlers plopped in Santa Claus' lap at the mall, unsure what all the fuss is about.

We haven't moved on that quickly, have we?

It's been almost 11 years since Jackson injured a hip in his last football game, and more than seven years since his baseball career ended. It won't be too long before sports fans will be divided into those who know and those who don't.

If you saw him, you know.

You know there wasn't a greater athlete to come down the pike. You know that whenever he took a handoff or swung a bat, you had a chance to see something you'd be talking about for years.

And what do the great ones have in common? They know too.

"I always stepped on the field with a train of thought that I am the baddest SOB on the field," Jackson said. "And I'm going to do whatever it takes to put points on the board, period. If it takes running over somebody, if it takes outrunning the whole team, I'll do that if it's within my grasp."

Only one other athlete during Jackson's era commanded attention the way he did: Michael Jordan. And Jordan couldn't stay away from the spotlight; he came back at age 38, he said, because he had an "itch."

Jackson must bathe in aloe vera lotion.

"Once I got out of sport, I didn't have the itch," Jackson said. "My itch was satisfied just by playing. I am the type of person that I like to move on. I don't look back and wonder 'What if?' I sometimes think about it, but not to the point where I want to get back out to play.

"Everybody strives to be the employer instead of the employee. That's where I am right now, I'm the employer. I like having the freedom, I like setting my own schedule. I like answering to myself."

He has a 51% stake in BetterBar. It's been a project that was 31/2 years in the making, with Jackson heavily involved. He talks about "carb-to-protein ratio" and vitamin and mineral content.

He doesn't talk about being deprived of great years of his career, or of missing out. He injured the hip when he was tackled in January 1991. He returned to baseball with the Chicago White Sox in a limited role later that year, then had hip replacement surgery and missed the 1992 season. When he came back, he hit a home run in his first at-bat on opening day--I still remember how the entire sports department at the Chicago Sun-Times stopped and crowded around the TV to watch it--but he retired at the end of 1994, as an Angel. He was only 31.

"Do what you can to make your life better," Jackson said. "You can't sit around and think about 'What if?' and 'Why?"'

"I don't sit up and think about it," Jackson said. "I don't watch it on TV.

"I'm doing other things that occupy my time. I am not saying that I don't like what I used to do. I loved it. It made me what I am today and it opened a lot of doors for me. But I'm trying to open other doors. To be honest with you, it really doesn't matter how many touchdowns I scored or how many home runs I hit. You've still got to know the business and know what you're doing in order to get your foot in the door."

He doesn't shun his past. His signature includes "34," the number he wore as a running back for the Raiders and at Auburn. A Raider helmet sat atop the boxes of BetterBars.

It's hard to look at Jackson without thinking of his incredible feats. Running over Brian Bosworth. Hitting a home run at the All-Star game in Anaheim Stadium that, if it were hit today in the remodeled Edison Field, would have caused a landslide of fake rocks. Reversing field, hopping Jay Schroeder and taking off for a touchdown at the Coliseum.

One autograph-seeker tells Jackson his favorite play was the time Jackson bowled over Denver defensive back Mike Harden (on his way to a 35-yard touchdown run in 1987).

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