There’s something about mythology that humans will always be fascinated with, the stories of superhuman feats that come with characters like Hercules, Adonis, or Pegasus. These stories are passed on through generations and never altered, because, in their grandiose moment, we mere mortals are unable to do such physically incapable acts. In sports, there are few legends. Of course, there are moments in which magical feats that occur. But the moments that belong in stories are few and far between.
When you talk about sports in the 21st century, the focus is often on analytics and other measurables but never on the athlete’s ability and pedigree. The fact is a lot of today’s athletes are factory made, often never deviating from the mold that is set and ultimately providing no fine detail. Technique is taught, imitated, and replicated.
Vincent “Bo” Jackson, the eighth of 10 children born in a three-room home in Bessemer, Alabama, had a meteoric and almost comet-like rise and fall in sports folklore. He was Hercules, a prototype for the modern American athlete that would appear nearly a quarter century later. He spent less than 10 years in Major League Baseball and only three seasons with the Los Angeles Raiders, the last of which left him with a debilitating hip injury (rumors abound that he popped his hip back into place) that would ultimately drive him out of sports. But in those 10 years, Bo Jackson created a legacy that still exists 20 years after his retirement.
Think about this for a second: in 1986, the NFL only provided hand timed results in the 40-yard dash. In that year, Bo recorded a 4.12 40-yard dash time. 4.12. That’s the fastest time ever for an NFL player. The closest for a player that is still in the league? Chris Johnson in 2008 with a 4.24. Bo Jackson treated the National Football League as a hobby. A hobby. A hobby that involved 250-plus-pound freakishly strong men trying to injure you and keep you from putting them out of a job. Bo was a guy that ran over linebackers that were supposed to be superstars that ended up being actors.
First-hand accounts will tell you that Bo Jackson is a modest man who never bragged about his feats, no matter how freakishly amazing they were. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find footage of Bo celebrating. The late Buck O’Neil has heard the unique sound of the bat hitting the ball “just right” on three occasions: Babe Ruth, Josh Gibson, and Bo Jackson. He would do things like hit three homers against the Yankees basically to New Rochelle, dap his players up, and then separate his shoulder trying to dive for a catch later on in the game when it meant nothing.
Then there’s Nike.
What Bo Jackson did for Nike only Michael Jordan could probably surpass. The Air Trainer 1 was the company’s first dive into cross training, which at the time was a booming sector. His endorsement and “Bo Knows” campaign ended up increasing the company’s sales margin by nearly 1,000 percent, as well as putting them on top, over Reebok, soon after its release. The shoe was a classic silhouette and the following iterations of it would also prove to be best-sellers. It still is being retroed to this day, and will continue this week with another colorway of the Air Max Bo Jax at Champs Sports.
Vincent Bo Jackson was a sports fan’s dream. He was powerful, humble, and remains a mystical person. An avid cycler and archer, he’s harnessed his physical ability into something more subtle, something seemingly lowkey for a man that broke a wooden baseball bat over his knee like a twig. Yet it seems right, almost as if he’s saving his strength for something greater. Maybe Bo knows something we don’t.
Take a look at his greatest physical feats.
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