Vincent Edward "Bo" Jackson was not created by Stan Lee. He hails from a congested shotgun house in the small town of Bessemer, Alabama, which is not a part of the Marvel Universe and is nowhere near the planet Krypton. But according to Michael Bonfiglio, the director of ESPN’s new 30-for-30 documentary, “You Don’t Know Bo,” the story of Bo Jack, the only player ever selected for both the MLB All-Star Game and the NFL Pro Bowl, “isn’t really a sports story. It’s a superhero story. A legend.”
Right from the jump, Bonfiglio’s cinematic opus draws you in to its enthralling narrative about the double-sport legend’s amazing feats like an MC to an unclaimed DJ Premier beat. Just the mere mention of Bo’s name begets the kind of hyperbolic anecdotes reminiscent of Paul Bunyan’s tall tales. There was something mythical about everything Bo Jackson did.
Media personality Bomani Jones sets the tone for the doc, rationalizing that Jackson, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.13 seconds (still the fastest verifiable 40-yard dash time ever recorded at any NFL Combine), was so fast and so strong, that he had to be from another planet.
“It’s not men amongst boys, it’s men and the guy from space,” Jones says. “All we saw was a man doing things that we had no idea were humanly possible. Then out of nowhere, he was gone.”
From there, the film's auteur allows Bo, players that played with Bo, coaches that coached Bo and writers who witnessed Bo do Bo things, to recount the exploits that kept fans’ mouths agape in astonishment.
“I saw him jump over a Volkswagen.”
“In eighth grade, he dunked a stick.”
“He got caught throwing rocks at a minister’s pig and running away, leaping over a 40-foot ditch to get away.”
“Anything you hear about Bo Jackson, I would tell you that 99% of it’s true.”
These are the stories that went viral way before the advent of the Internet. Bo was larger-than-life and, as journalist Jeremy Schaap put it, “ideally suited for the age of the highlight.”
As Bo Jackson was making his mark as a duel threat, ESPN was planting its flag in popular culture as the go-to network for global sports-related programming. Together, Bo and “The Worldwide Leader In Sports” moved the needle in sports lore and jump-started the idea of the highlight recap on groundbreaking shows like Sports Center. Legendary plays like “The Throw” and the 91-yard run into the tunnel were broadcast on a loop for all sports aficionados to marvel at every hour on the hour.
“You Don’t Know Bo” employs interview subjects, which ranged from Boomer Esiason, Howie Long, Chuck Klosterman and Mike Greenberg, that tell Jackson’s stories with the jubilation of an impish Howard Cosell, marveling at the very story they were telling while they were telling it, as if the story had achieved some new level of mythology during that very instance of its telling.
Comparatively, Jackson himself easily dismissed his own feats as if breaking bats after strikeouts over his knee and head as easily as snapping the neck of a chicken was something anyone could do.
That’s what made Bo the most endearing star of his time. He was not impressed with himself. Professional athletes have always exhibited a penchant for self-aggrandizement as they conquered their respective sport. Jackson was just a guy using the gifts that God gave him. He wasn’t all about his smellf. He didn’t project that he was better than everyone else, even though he was a G.O.A.T. in the making.
Dig this: When Bo finally agreed to play football for Al Davis and the Raiders after giving the Heisman to Tampa Bay — the team who originally drafted him before he spurned them for baseball — Jackson would only refer to anything he did outside of baseball as a “hobby.” A hobby? Dude was so good; the Raiders jettisoned Marcus Allen so he could shine. And who could forget the way he ethered Brian Bosworth at the goal line for the TD? Jackson didn’t respond when the buzz cut popped off at the mouth, selling wolf tickets through the media; he let his game wrap that sh-t up. He straight up Ja Rule’d The Boz back into irrelevance.
Not only was Jackson humble, he managed his superhuman feats without steroids. Had he come along 10 years later, the Steroid Era would have tainted Jackson’s achievements. Baseball’s ignominious decade of cheating made John Q. Public suspicious of anyone who could mollywhop a Rawlings over the fence with impunity. Cats like Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire made a mockery of the homerun derby Jackson was able to usher in without ‘roid rage. Had he not been forced to retire due to his artificial hip, Jackson would have easily been in the 500 Club.
“What you realize is that no matter what the risks of cheating, no matter what the odds of getting caught, some percentage of athletes are still going to cheat,” chief executive of the United States Anti-Doping Agency Travis Tygart told the NY Times.
Nike’s seminal “Bo Knows” ad campaign portrayed Jackson as an athlete that knew baseball, football, running and even hockey, but despite his unbelievable physical prowess, Bo didn’t know PED’s and that’s why his legends stood the test of time. Fans can look past the dope fiends and appreciate everything that Bo did.
Overall, “You Don’t Know Bo” will be filed in sports lore as a multilayered portrayal of one of the most incredible athletes of the 20th century. Jackson was half man, half amazing. By the end of this film’s 76-minute running time, it’s evident that while Jackson doesn’t hold any records, didn’t win any titles and didn’t play long enough to be in the conversation for Canton or Cooperstown, in the annals of greatness, he was the best to ever do it for an all-too-brief moment in time. That makes him a Hall of Famer in all of our collective imaginations.
(“You Don’t Know Bo” airs on ESPN on Saturday evening at 9 p.m. EST)