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The Post-Pro Bo

Jackson's not spending his time on the what ifs

October 27, 2002|From Associated Press

AUBURN, Ala. — Bo Jackson responds without hesitation, as if he's heard the question hundreds of times -- which he has.

Do you ever wonder how good you could have been?

No, he says.

"I did what I did, then I got out of it," said Jackson, not even looking up from the muted TV in his hotel suite. "I wasn't in it to be a Hall of Famer. I used it as a stepping stone.

"My employers used me to make their team better, I used them to make my life better down the road."

Jackson, who turns 40 on Nov. 30, is now pretty far down that road, yet he remains one of the biggest what-could-have-been athletes in sports history, a two-sport star whose face was ubiquitous in "Bo Knows" Nike commercials in the late 1980s and '90s.

He won a Heisman Trophy at Auburn in 1985 and turned in highlight-reel plays in major league baseball and the NFL before a hip injury ended his two-sport days six years later.

Jackson still has the chiseled frame, the intense mien and the unwavering desire for privacy that were trademarks of his playing days.

Now, he's devoting those skills to his Chicago-based company, N'genuity, which deals in such things as food processing and distribution.

He makes public appearances promoting his company -- he has a deal with Mrs. Smith's to sell his sweet potato and pumpkin pies using his mother's recipes -- travels constantly, and engages in his passions for hunting, fishing and golfing.

"I've got everything going good for me," said Jackson, who lives with his physician wife, Linda, and their three children in a Chicago suburb.

They have a hunting lodge with 700 acres stocked for rabbit and deer hunting. He raises pheasants and ducks on the property and can indulge in his hobbies without anybody pestering him about sports.

"I've always kept a low-key, even before I got out of sports," said Jackson "That's just how I chose to live my life.

"That's just me. I don't do anything just to do it. I don't do something just to get my name in the paper or let people know what I'm doing. I'd rather people not know what I'm doing outside of sports.

"But if it will benefit my company, I'll think about doing it."

There's plenty to talk about in his athletic exploits.

Jackson's football career with the Los Angeles Raiders ended with an injury in January 1991. He eventually had hip replacement surgery, but still came back for part of two baseball seasons with the White Sox and the Angels.

The abbreviated two-sport career posted statistics that are ordinary: He batted .250 with 141 homers for the Angels, Royals and White Sox in parts of eight seasons. He rushed for 2,782 yards and 16 touchdowns in 38 games in four seasons as a part-time player for the Raiders, averaging 5.4 yards per carry from 1987 to 1990.

But that doesn't hint at the eye-popping exploits that made him extraordinary:

* He is the only player in NFL history to rush for two touchdowns of 90-plus yards. Plus, he bowled over Seattle's Brian Bosworth for a memorable TD in a 1988 Monday night game.

* He led off the 1989 All-Star game with a homer, earning MVP honors, and homered in three straight at bats at New York on July 15, 1990, before separating his shoulder while diving for a line drive.

* He made a leaping grab at the left-center field wall in Kansas City, bounced off, pivoted and threw a runner out at first base without taking a step.

"He's just the best athlete I've ever seen," former Royal teammate George Brett once said.

Raider teammate Howie Long echoed that, proclaiming him "the most awesome physical specimen I have ever seen."

Jackson is also the only player selected to the All-Star games in the NFL and major league baseball, although the hip injury kept him out of the Pro Bowl.

"Unfortunately, his pro career was not as long as it could have been and should have been, and we'll never know just how great he was," said Auburn athletic director David Housel, who was sports information director during Jackson's playing days.

"But when you look at great athletes and great people, Bo Jackson has to be near the top of the list."

Housel believes Jackson was always preparing for life after sports, even in college.

"I think Bo always had a vision about him," Housel said. "Because he always had that vision, he always had a peace about him. Bo Jackson always knew where he was going, and he knew there was a life after athletics."

Jackson made a comeback with the Royals and White Sox -- homering in his first at bat for the Sox in 1993 -- but never regained the powerful stroke that led to a 32-homer, 105-RBI season for the Royals in 1989 in just 135 games.

Jackson says his artificial hip doesn't preclude him from doing anything -- except maybe outrun defensive backs. As in his playing days, he exercises regularly but doesn't lift weights.

Nor does he follow sports.

"I don't watch no football, no baseball, no basketball," Jackson said.

Jackson said there's a reason why life after sports was easier for him than many former athletes.

"A lot of your athletes ... don't know but one thing, and that's what they're doing. Playing ball," said Jackson, who has a degree in family and child development from Auburn. "Whether it's football, basketball or baseball. It's the same thing in hockey. They're one-dimensional people.

"Once that's over, they don't know what to do after that."

Ask Bo. He knows.

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