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JERRY CROWE / CROWE'S NEST

Bo Jackson is more gourmet than galloper these days

Life after sports has been very good to the former pro baseball and football star, now a successful businessman with time to indulge passions for golf, the outdoors and high-end cooking.

January 19, 2009|JERRY CROWE

Bo Jackson sounds grumpy.

"I'm digging out," the former Angels outfielder and Los Angeles Raiders running back says from his home outside Chicago, where a foot of snow has blanketed his property. "I'm buried."

That niggling inconvenience aside, his complaints are few.

"I am doing fine," Jackson, 46, says, delivering his words slowly. "I am doing great. I am doing super."

Bo knows contentment.

A thriving businessman and father of three, the former star of the once-ubiquitous "Bo Knows" Nike advertising campaign enjoys the financial wherewithal to pursue a number of passions, among them hunting, fishing, golf and, not least, gourmet cooking.

"That's one thing that I do better than sports," Jackson says of his culinary skills, honed since childhood in Alabama, where he was the eighth of 10 children. "Being from the South, of course I specialize in Southern cooking, but I also dibble and dabble in Italian, Asian and a little French cuisine."

On the day of this interview, Jackson notes, he has picked up pork chops and yams on his way home from a business meeting and will soon make dinner for himself and wife Linda, his college sweetheart who holds a PhD in counseling psychology.

"I am the cook in the house," says Jackson, whose children -- Garrett, Nicholas and Morgan -- are college students.

Even a rebuilt hip no longer gives him any trouble, notes the 1985 Heisman Trophy winner, whose NFL career ended when he suffered a dislocated hip in a January 1991 playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals at the Coliseum.

"I can drive a golf ball," assures Jackson, who is playing this week in the celebrity-laden Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in the desert. "I average about 300 yards on my drives."

That claim probably will surprise no one who saw the 6-foot-1, 225-pound Jackson at his two-sport peak.

In eight seasons as an outfielder and designated hitter with the Kansas City Royals, Chicago White Sox and Angels, Jackson batted .250 with 141 home runs and 415 runs batted in.

From 1987 through 1990, when he also played pro football, he hit 107 home runs for the Royals, whose Hall of Fame third baseman, George Brett, once vowed that he would "never miss a Bo Jackson at-bat." In 1989, he hit a mammoth home run in the All-Star game at Anaheim Stadium and was voted the game's most valuable player.

Auburn's all-time rushing leader when he left college, Jackson always joined the Raiders after the baseball season but still averaged 5.4 yards a carry and scored 18 touchdowns running and receiving in 38 regular-season NFL games. In 1989, the two-time Alabama state high school decathlon champion ran for 950 yards in 11 games for the Raiders. The next year, he was named to the Pro Bowl.

His hip injury ended his football career, leading to replacement surgery, but Jackson later returned to baseball. Then came a strike in 1994, wiping out the World Series and leading Jackson to reassess his priorities.

Though he batted a career-high .279 for the Angels in '94, with 13 home runs and 43 RBIs in 201 at-bats, Jackson retired before the 1995 season.

He was 32.

"I was at home for eight months," he says of the strike-lengthened layoff before the '95 season, "and I had the opportunity to take my kids to school. I was able to go to parent-teacher conferences, I was able to take my family out for dinner on a Friday evening instead of being at the ballpark playing a game during the summer. I got used to that. I got spoiled.

"It wasn't a case of, I couldn't play anymore. I didn't want to play anymore."

He says he never looked back.

"I think there comes a time in everybody's life where you get tired of being the employee," Jackson says. "You want to be the employer, and that's what I was striving for."

Now making his own schedule, Jackson owns a bank and is co-owner of an indoor sports complex in Lockport, Ill., as well as a company that manufactures food products for the military.

As a boss, Jackson says, "I get up in the morning and if I want to go to the office, I go to the office. If I want to sit around the house in my PJs and drink coffee and watch the Outdoor Channel, I can do that -- and I like that. I love that."

Playing two pro sports was not difficult, he says.

"That came easy from the standpoint that God blessed me with speed like a spooked deer," he notes. "He blessed me with an arm as if somebody tied a rifle to my shoulder and blessed me with great hand-eye coordination."

Also, of course, Jackson was blessed with such enormous strength that, if the moment moved him, he could easily break baseball bats over his thigh.

In middle age, he is blessed with perspective too.

"Sports has made life so easy for me now," he says. "It has helped me get my feet into doors in business to where I'm comfortable. . . . I am a poor black boy from Alabama, raised in a house that I could fit into my living room. . . .

"I have business deals thrown my way on almost a weekly basis. That's what sports has done for me.

"I was good for sports, but sports was great to Bo Jackson."

--

jerome.crowe@latimes.com

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