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Larger than life

Bo Jackson's career as a professional athlete only lasted eight years and was actually shorter due to a terrible injury. Nevertheless, the man made history, among other things with the unique success of becoming an All-Star in two of the four "major" US sports. His myth, however, went far beyond the purely athletic.

It was a small window of time. About three years to be precise. But from late 1987 to early 1991, there was probably no bigger name in American sport than Bo Jackson. No, not even Michael Jordan. The prototype of the sports superstar as we know him today was born in those years.

Through the clever marketing of Nike, through the ever more extensive coverage of all things sport - and of course through the incredible athletic talent that Vincent Edward Jackson called his own.

It wasn't exactly the successes in and of themselves that made Bo a legend, even if they were impressive enough. Rather, it was in those moments when he did things that, according to the laws of physics, are actually impossible.

Backflip out of the water

Anyone who deals with Bo is practicing mythology, so to speak. There are countless stories about him - from people who swear to have seen them to this day. No matter how improbable they may sound.

There are those who claim that he threw stones and killed pigs when he was eighth graders. When he was caught, he ran away and jumped over a 12-meter gorge to shake off the pursuers. Without ever having specifically trained his body at this point, mind you.

There is his old high school coach Terry Brasseale, who shares the following anecdote in the "ESPN" documentary "You Don't Know Bo": "We had a party by a lake after we won the county championship . Bo is in the water, about to his waist. Suddenly he jumps up, does a backflip, and lands on his feet again. My girlfriend can testify. "

Then at college in Auburn, he dropped his jaw as he threw a football against the scoreboard. Only punters had done that before - with their feet. Oh, and he could jump over parked cars. Logical. "Bo's fate was to become a superhero," wrote Joe Posnanski of the Kansas City Star.

Myth and Reality

Jackson wasn't the first athlete to be attested such miracles. Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, Jim Brown, Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving, whoever - there are incredible stories about each of them. It was part of the legend for each of them.

However, there is one major difference between them and Bo: visibility. Mantle, Ruth, Brown and Chamberlain played at a time when sport was a rarity on television. Erving came later, but performed his heroic deeds on the open air space or in the ABA, which was hardly noticed by television. By the time he moved to the NBA, he had already lost a significant part of his alien athleticism.

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Jackson did not have this "problem". When he appeared in the MLB in 1986, he already had a reputation as a phenomenon. After all, he had already won the Heisman Trophy in college and was the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft.

From then on, however, the camera kept it on - every home run, every inhuman sprint, every fascinating jump through the outfield. When he broke the bat, whether over the thigh or the head. Reality quickly caught up with myth.

Gala against the Seahawks

When he decided a year later to spend his free time as a running back with the Los Angeles Raiders in the NFL, Jackson could be followed for most of the year. The transition went smoothly, as if it were the most normal thing in the world to professionally practice two sports with completely different physical demands.

The game against the Seattle Seahawks in November 1986 at the latest showed that something special was looming: After a handoff, the rookie went off like a torpedo and ran away from the entire defense. 91 yards - and on and on: After reaching the end zone, Jackson ran into a tunnel in the stadium. "He probably won't stop until he's in Tacoma," commented "ABC" expert Dan Dierdorf, when Bo disappeared completely from the picture in the meantime.

Former Seahawks receiver Steve Largent later said he had never heard a sound like the one when Jackson ran past him at insane speed. And the show wasn't even over that day.

On his second touchdown of the day, he demonstrated his ox-like strength by simply shouldering 112-pound linebacker Brian Bosworth as if nothing had happened. He finished the game with 221 yards.

Perfect marketing

More impressive than the sheer performance of Jackson was how simple he made everything look. It didn't take much effort - he was, in fact, absolutely lazy to exercise. Physically, he was simply so blessed - with strength, speed, athleticism and endurance - that it was possible for him to become the dominant figure in two sports. It is no coincidence that "ESPN" later called him the "best athlete of all time".

This did not escape the marketing minds at Nike either. The sporting goods manufacturer from Oregon had only generated record income last year with the creative marketing of Michael Jordan and had in a way got the taste. Bo was supposed to be the next superstar.

The approach was clear: Somehow, Jackson's versatility should be brought to the fore. The result was the iconic "Bo Knows" campaign: a funny clip bursting with celebrities, the success of which even the greatest optimists at Nike would not have expected.

Bo knows

In the spot, greats from different sports attest that he has mastered them all. Bo dunkt, Jordan comments: "Bo knows basketball." Bo plays tennis, John McEnroe is impressed. Wayne Gretzky, however, sees Bo on the ice and just says "No."

In the end, Bo tries a blues solo on the guitar, which, however, sounds terrible. So blues legend Bo Diddley comes into the picture with the statement: "Bo. You don't know Diddley."

The timing of the first broadcast couldn't have been better. The spot ran for the first time in the middle of the 1989 All-Star Game of the MLB, which Bo opened with a home run. He was later voted the game's MVP. At the time, no one could have guessed that this would remain Jackson's greatest individual success.

The effect was unmistakable. "Bo knows" was on everyone's lips and seen permanently on television. "People love their athletes, and Bo was something new. A new, shiny toy. That was the best example of how big something like this can get," said Nike's former creative director Jim Riswold.

The abrupt end

With the spot and its many sequels, Bo achieved a popularity that was unparalleled in the States. He became an icon, much more than a mere athlete. It seemed bigger than life, invulnerable. Just like a superhero.

However, he did not keep this nimbus for long. Strictly speaking, only until January 1991. In the game against the Cincinnati Bengals, the running back was on his way to touchdown again. This time, however, he was caught beforehand. Kevin Walker knocked Jackson to the ground.

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Jackson didn't know at that moment that this action would end his NFL career. However, he did not miss the fact that something had happened. The hip popped out of the joint and he lay there for minutes. He, the physical freak, lost his pace that day.

Power becomes doom

Incredibly, he actually returned to the MLB and, thanks to his phenomenal strength, was able to continue collecting home runs. In 1993 he was even named "Comeback Player of the Year". However, the incredible agility and athleticism that had previously distinguished him had disappeared. In 1994 he also ended his baseball career.

Since then, questions have grown up about what would have happened if his body hadn't betrayed him. Ironically, it was even his strength that made the injury so devastating: almost anyone else would have had their leg broken through. Uncomfortable, but unlike hip injuries, they are not irreparable.

Dick Schaap, who published his biography "Bo Knows Bo" together with Jackson, once speculated: "The sports gods decided to punish Bo for getting too close to them. He was on the cusp of becoming a god himself. "

Could he have been consistently successful in two sports? Could he have made it into the halls of fame in both sports? Could he have been successful as an athlete at the Olympic Games in the meantime?

Who knows? Probably not even Bo.

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