Photograph: Courtesy of Nintendo of America
Bo Jackson will throw out the first pitch at the White Sox season opener on Monday, at US Cellular Field at 3:10 pm. I’ve mentioned this to a few people in Chicago this week. More than once, I’ve gotten an alarming reaction:
It wasn’t exactly a formal Bo Jackson Awareness Poll, but more than one reasonably educated, culturally aware Chicagoan had to ask who this guy was. Is this a common problem?
Here’s why I find this so shocking. Growing up in the late 1980s, Bo Jackson was a sort of super-athlete. First of all, he played football and baseball at the same time. He made me want to grow up to play football, baseball, basketball and hockey at the same time. My dad explained that would be chronologically impossible. Also, we were in the south, and I never learned to skate.
The southern thing might also explain why Bo loomed so large in our minds. We were in Georgia, and we had family in Alabama. So there was this constant argument about who was the best running back of all time. Bo or Herschel. Herschel or Bo. If you didn’t know how to intelligently compare the two players, you might as well not show up for Thanksgiving.
There’s one more reason that I’m so surprised anyone could not know Bo—beyond his All-Star baseball achievements, his SEC football glory, and his ubiquitous presence in early 1990s advertising. It’s another one that has to do with growing up in a certain era.
The image at the top of this story was an extremely common sight to anyone with a Nintendo and a worn-out cartridge of Tecmo Bowl routinely jammed inside. Bo was so damn fast on that game that it was practically cheating to use him. Even if you perfectly defended his one and only running play, most kids could just weave around the entire defense and send him streaking off to the end zone. There’s no telling how many controllers were slung across the rec room as a direct result of the 8-bit version of Bo.
Most Chicagoans who do actually remember Bo Jackson probably have a different set of moments in mind. The times he broke his bat over his knee (or his head) in frustration. Knocking enough home runs after his hip replacement surgery to help the Sox clinch the 1993 AL West title. Or maybe his lead-off home run in the 1989 All-Star game, back when he was still a Royal, which coincidentally happened right before the first Bo Knows ad ever aired.
There's so much to remember—so much that I’m shocked anyone could have to ask who this guy is. You don’t know Bo? Take a fresh look at him on Monday afternoon.