By Kate Asbury Larkin
For most of the world, Bo Jackson is known for his phenomenal athletic ability. For the “Bo over the top” (and into the end zone) play to give Auburn the win over rival Alabama in the 1982 Iron Bowl. For winning the 1985 Heisman Trophy, Auburn’s second Heisman (the first was Pat Sullivan in 1971). For his three home runs and a double in Auburn’s victory at Georgia in 1985. For his overall .401 batting average with 17 home runs and 43 RBIs that same season.
He is known as the athlete who excelled and lettered in three sports at Auburn, including qualifying for the NCAA championships in the 100-yard dash two consecutive years. For his blistering, still-standing, record-breaking 4.12/40 in the 1986 National Football League (NFL) combine. For the rocket shot from the warning track to throw out the runner at home plate which the Kansas City Royals catcher caught the ball on the fly. For the famous “wall run” after catching a fly ball too close to the fence and scaling the wall in a parallel run.
He is known for joining the Oakland Raiders football team seven games into the 1986 season as “just a hobby” after baseball season ended. For running over, in humiliating style, and scoring on Seattle Seahawk’s linebacker Brian Bosworth, who had vowed to the media that he would contain Jackson. For his famous “tunnel run” in the same game against the Seahawks when the momentum of his 91-yard run took him through the end zone and into the tunnel where he was retrieved by his teammates.
Jackson is known for being named to the 1989 Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Star game and being awarded the Most Valuable Player (MVP). And for being named to the NFL Pro Bowl in 1990, the only pro athlete to ever be named to the All-Star game in two sports. He may be most widely known for the mega-successful Nike “Bo Knows” ad campaign, still popular today. The replays of his phenomenal playing days live on in ESPN’s You Don’t Know Bo, part of the network’s 30 on 30 sports documentaries series. In 2013, Jackson was named The Greatest Athlete of All Time by ESPN’s Sports Science, just one more measure of assurance that Jackson’s impact on sports has not been forgotten 24 years after he hung up his cleats for the last time.
But even after all this time, Jackson is quick to point out that not a single thing for which he is known would have ever been possible without his coaches and teammates. Every single one of them.
“I was the lucky one who got all the accolades, but I couldn’t have done any of it without my teammates,” says Jackson. “I was surrounded by good people both on and off the field; teammates, players, coaches, trainers, teachers, friends; all of them wanted the best for me and for Auburn and, together, we worked towards that goal.”
Jackson knows his athletic abilities are what made him who he is today, at least in the eyes of the people, but in his heart of hearts, he would like to be known for other things. A good person. A devoted husband. Loving father. Generous philanthropist. Family man. Businessman. Auburn man.
Born the eighth of 10 children, Jackson’s given name is Vincent Edward, named for his mother’s favorite actor, Vince Edwards. From a young age, his family said he was as “wild as a boar hog,” which was eventually shortened to the nickname, “Bo.”
Raised in Bessemer, Ala., Jackson was an exceptional athlete at McAdory High School in McCalla, Ala. In his senior year, he rushed for 1,175 yards on the gridiron, hit 20 homeruns in 25 games on (and out of) the baseball diamond and won his second consecutive state championship in the decathlon, setting state records in both the indoor high jump clearing the bar at 6’9” and the triple jump, with a leap of 48’8”.
He was recruited by Auburn University head coach, Pat Dye, and former assistant, Bobby Wallace. The New York Yankees also wanted Jackson to play pro baseball and chose him in the 1982 MLB draft.
“I chose to come to Auburn because I always promised my mama I’d get a college degree,” says Jackson. “And that was the end of that discussion.”
Jackson excelled in three sports and won a Heisman Trophy while at AU, but his greatest accomplishment was meeting his wife, Linda.
“She caught my eye as she was putting flyers up in Haley Center to advertise for a campus event,” says Jackson. “We talked for a minute, then I saw her again and talked her into going out.”
Jackson and Linda, who is a clinical psychologist in the Chicago area, have three children: sons, Garrett, a public relations professional, and Nicholas, a 2012 AU graduate, and their daughter, Morgan, a senior at Auburn.
Jackson returned to campus in the early-mid 1990s to finish what he started and fulfill the promise he had made to his mother to get a college diploma. He completed a Bachelor of Science degree in 1995 and returned to Chicago to continue his career.
Jackson is a successful businessman and motivational speaker. He has delivered inspirational speeches for more than 20 years, speaking to corporations and professionals in all 50 states and the Dominican Republic. He also is an owner of the Burr Ridge Bank & Trust, a small, but extremely successful, debt-free bank.
“Our bank specializes in small business loans, and we are very good at what we do,” he says.
Jackson also has a love of the outdoors, especially for hunting and in particular bow hunting, a sport he was introduced to while a student at Auburn.
He had stood on the walkway outside the dorm room at then Sewell Hall and watched fellow teammate, punter Lewis Colbert, shoot a bow and arrow at Styrofoam cups he had lined up across a concrete table. Colbert had hit them one by one, and Jackson was fascinated.
“I thought to myself, if he can do that, I can do that,” says Jackson. “So, I walked down there and asked him to teach me.”
Not surprisingly, Jackson was a natural from the very first shot.
“I was hooked,” he says. “That weekend, I stopped in Alex City and bought my first bow for $60 — and I still have it.”
He has that bow and many others. As is his nature, he wholeheartedly embraced the sport, handcrafting his own arrows and participating in hunts all over the world. Illinois does not have a season where hunters can use guns, so it was a natural fit for Jackson to perfect the art of bow hunting.
Jackson’s time is valuable to him, and he intentionally limits his commitments. “Once you open that door, it’s too hard to close it,” says Jackson of over-committing. “I end up getting stretched way too thin.”
But Jackson is proud to be from the state of Alabama, and he still has a heart for his home state. After the devastating tornadoes in the spring of 2011, he wanted to find a way to help. Out of his love of sports and a desire to not only help himself, but to give others a chance to actively participate, Bo Bikes Bama was born in 2012. The first year, Jackson spent five days cycling through some of the areas hit hardest by the storms. In 2013, Bo Bikes Bama became an annual event with the second ride through hard-hit Cordova. In 2014, Auburn was the location selected for the event. Other sports giants have joined Jackson along his journey, including Olympic skier Picabo Street and Olympic triple jumper Al Joyner, pro basketball player Scottie Pippin, baseball great Ken Griffey, Jr. and Paralympic cyclist Blake Leeper.
“I chose biking because it’s something most everybody can do, and it’s more fun,” says Jackson. “Not everybody plays golf or shoots bows and arrows, but there are very few who can’t ride a bike. Therefore, more people can be a part of it.”
Bikers from across Alabama — and the nation — sign up to ride with Jackson on either a 22- or 62-mile route with all proceeds from the event donated to the Governor’s Emergency Relief Fund to help with tornado relief and to build emergency shelters.
“The reason for this ride is for state unity and to pay homage to the great Alabamians who lost their lives on April 27, 2011,” says Jackson. “I am my brothers’ and sisters’ keeper.”
Taking care of each other; Bo knows all about how to do that, too.
For information on Bo Bikes Bama, visit www.bobikesbama.com