The Day I met Bo Jackson in KC
His Mother named him Vincent Edward, the world called him Bo.
He wore number 34 on his Auburn football jersey. That number is now retired. He was a force to be reckoned with. I remember when I first saw him run the ball. He had lighting fast speed, the quick feet a cut, spin and dart through holes. He had power. He would hit the hole and the line would move. Three hundred pound linemen backing up as they were hit by a mack truck.
He won the Heisman Trophy for Auburn in 1985. He was a two time consensus all-American. He was the eighth of ten children. He played college baseball and ran track and was a two time Alabama State Decathlon champion. Bo is ranked #8 on the ESPN top 23 Players in College Football.
Bo was selected as the first overall pick in the 1986 NDL Draft by the Tampa Bay Bucaneers. There is a story of a dispute with the Bucs organization and as a result he refused to play for them and instead signed to play MLB for the Kansas City Royals. He would be the first in his family of ten to complete a college degree, It’s what his mother wanted and Bo delivered.
I was living in Kansas City at the time and was at the September game when he was called up from the minors to play. I had seats just behind home plate and never had I seen someone with his speed run from home to first base. He clocked an official time of 4.0 seconds covering the 30 yard distance. When he hit a ball deep in the ‘hole’ he could make it for a base hit. If the 3rd bagger didn’t come up with it cleanly it was as good as a single and Bo would make it to first standing-up.
There is no doubt he was a competitor. There are many youtube videos of #16 striking out and then breaking the bat over head or his shoulders. There is also film of his first all-star game at Camden Yards in Baltimore. It was July of 1990. Held in a city with a storied baseball history with names like Babe Ruth, Cal Ripken, Jim Palmer, Eddy Murray and Frank Robinson.
Bo was playing center field and a ball was hit deep into the outfield but short of the warning track. It was in between Center and Left field and Bo got on his horse to track it down. In full stride, he makes the catch but his momentum is carrying him to the padded outfield wall. Bo jumps on to the fence and like Spider Man, proceeds to take several large steps defying graity and walks back onto the field like a stroll in the park
He was a force of a man and I was there to see him hit his first home run. As I recall the Royals. It was Sep 14th, 1986 against Mike Moore of the Seattle Mariners. He launched it 475 feet in the might sky and at the time a record at Royals Stadium. All we could do is stare in amazement at the power and distance.
What was interesting is that Bo still had a desire to play NFL Football and decided to sign with the Oakland Raiders. If you know anything about the AFC West, you know the Raiders and Chiefs are arch enemies. They have a long and storied history of being pitted against each other in decisive Division games.
Now, the beloved Bo was the Center Fielder for the Royals but he had decided to wear the Silver and Black of the arch enemy. It shook the foundation of the mid-western football sports world. How could he do this? Not only was he risking his health to play football but he was playing for the hated Al Davis Raider rivals.
Nike had developed a unique sports markting campagn called ‘Bo Knows’ He was now a two sport pro athelete. He would come on the TV screen in his foorball uni with the tag line ‘Bo knows football’. Or you would see him in his KC Royals uni with the tag line ‘Bo knows baseball’.
I will never forget the first game of the season when the Chiefs hosted the Raiders. I had tickets to the game, it was the hottest ticket in two states. Arrowhead Stadium at that time had a seating capacity of 78,000. I have no doubt that every seat was sold. It was a sea of red and a smattering of silver and black.
It was clear the crowed was divided in their alleginace to the two sport wonder. Some cheered and some booed but everybody watched. It was December of 1987. The game went to the Chiefs by a score of 16–10.
Sadly Bo would sustain a hip injury in January of 1991 in a game against the Cincinnati Bengals. The linebacker, Kevin Walker delivered the hit in what was then viewed as a routine tackle. As it turned out, it was anything but a routine injury as it caused damage to his hip which created internal bleeding and follow on surgery that would render Bo unable to ever play football again.
He would go on to play more baseball. He played from 1986 to 1990 with the Royals. Two years with the Chicago White Sox in 1991 and 1993 and he would finish his MLB career with the Los Angeles Angels in 1994.
He was a bigger than life athlete who had extradionary athletic ability. There are those that say, barring the injury he might have gone on to be the best either in the NFL or MLB.
Not only was he a power hitter who could crush a baseball but he had a cannon for an arm and could take down a runner advancing from 3rd to home with uncanny quickness and accuracy from deep in center field.
On this particular Sunday morning, I was the boarding Gate Agent for Easten Airlines flight 225 non-stop from Kansas City to Los Angeles. It was the fall of 1989 and as I checked for my shift, I had several of my friends come up to me and say, you are not going to believe who is on your flight. ‘Try me’ I said, Bo Jacjson gushed this one girl named Cheryl. He is so big, bigger in real life. My response ‘ya’ll need to calm down’ This is going to be a routine check-in and no one is going to make a big deal out of this.
On any given day in KC it would not be inisual to see and mumber of celebrities from sports to film to music. We were coached to be professional and not create a commotion around a personalty. That meant no autographs as well though I knew there were many of my colleagues who had them.
I entered the gate area as I had always done. I picked up the microphone to the PA and began my routine announcement. I incited individuals who did not have a boarding card to come forward to check-in and get one. I announced there would be an opportunity for families with children to pre-board as well as individuals who might need additional time to get down the jet way.
When I completed my pre-boarding welcome, people began to stir and approach the check-in desk. I was joined by Cheryl. She was a slip of a girl, the blondest of blonde hair and it was not from a bottle. She had the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen and a smile that went on for days. She was sweet, and had a Southern accent that dripped like molasses.
As I was checking people in, I noticed Bo gravitating toward Chery’s line. Her’s was shorter than mine but we were both keying in and checking in with our ususal efficiency. Cheryl was having an issue. It seemed there was a couple with four kids who did not have seats together. The conversation was getting loud so others could hear what was going on. Mr Jackson drifted over into my line.
I was quickly and steadily moving people through the process and then there was Bo. He was big, not tall or bulky but lean and muscular. I will never forget he was wearing a light brown ostrich leather jacket. The outfit was completed by a pair of beautful light brown ostrich leather cowboy boots.
Without speaking a word he handed me his ticket. Our eyes caught a glance and I began to key in his name. He was flying first class but did not have a seat assigned. I said ‘do you have a seat preference, aisle or window’. He said ‘I want that first seat, you know the one in the front and on the aisle’. I said ‘yes, we have that bulk-head aisle seat for you, 1B’. He said, ‘yes, that’s it bulk-head’
He smiled and walked away. He had left his two large leather carry-on bags by his chair. There was no-one with him. There was no one seated around him. There was no-one standing around or near him. He was an intimidating figure.
I made the boarding announcement and we began to pre-board. I made the usual call for pre-boarding of our special needs passenegers. Then I said, ‘passengers traveling in the First Class cabin are welcome to board now.’
I watched as Bo stood by and let the other passengers in the forward cabin go first. He looked around and when he saw there was no-one else he grabbed his two carry on bags and proceeded to the jet way door. Cheryl was taking tickets and as I glanced over, she looked like a babrie doll next to this musceled athtelte. She was beaming as I heard her say ‘Thank you Mr Jackson’ as she retrieved his ticket.
His carry-on bags were oversized. They were the same light brown ostritch leather that matched his coat and boots . That had to be one big ostrich or it took an ostrich family to create that coat, those boots and those two bags.
I wasn’t going to say anything about the bags being oversized. I knew Cheryl wasn’t going to say anything and of course he was in First Class which was not even half full.
Cheryl stood at the top of the jet way watching as Bo made his way down the jet way ramp to the door of the aircraft. She glanced over at me and nodded and I made the announcement that we would continue boarding by row number.
Little did anyone know that Bo would sustain that hip injury two years from then. He was a prolific two sport athlete like no other. He is still highly regarded in football and baseball history. In Kansas City he’s a sports legend.
If you ever decide you want to invest in fine ostrich leather outer wear or luggage, I know where you can go, Bo knows.