You Don’t Know Bo: The Legend of Bo Jackson is the final film in the latest burst of ESPN’s 30-for-30 project. The documentary debuts Saturday December 8th at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPNHD, immediately following the conclusion of the Heisman Trophy Presentation.
Director Michael Bonfiglio’s You Don’t Know Bo: The Legend of Bo Jackson makes no bones about perpetuating the mythos of its subject. This is kind of the point, though. Bo Jackson was far from a perfect baseball player; he struck out a tonne and couldn’t draw a walk to save his life… but man, could he hammer the ball and make nice plays in the outfield. Bo Jackson spurned professional football when he was selected first overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1986, only to partake in an NFL career as “a hobby” when the Los Angeles Raiders came knocking in 1987. A hobby, “like fishing and hunting” Jackson told a gathering of reporters. Bonfiglio presents Jackson as a super hero, which is an embodiment reinforced by the countless former teammates, coaches, and media members interviewed throughout the film.
The film opens with a quote from the 1962 western, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and it couldn’t encapsulate Bo Jackson’s brief athletic career more fittingly: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”. This is the theme that carries the film, as if director Michael Bonfiglio is asking “Why delve into what reams of data say about Jackson as a baseball player? Why dwell on the fact that his NFL career was just 38 games? If our memories portray him as something bigger than the games, is that such a bad thing?”
Bo jumped over a Volkswagon. Bo did a standing back flip in waist deep water. Bo dunked a stick on an outdoor court in eighth grade. Bo killed boars by throwing rocks. Bo leaped over a 40-foot ditch. Bo battled a dozen kids in crab apple fights. Bo jumped 13-feet high. Bo turned down $250,000 from George Steinbrenner. Bo turned down Bear Bryant at Alabama. Bo went over-the-top to lift Auburn over Alabama in the 1982 Iron Bowl. Bo ran the fastest 40 at the NFL combine. Bo told the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to “shove it”. Bo hit the longest home run in Kauffman Stadium history. Bo rushed for 221 yards on Monday Night Football. Bo ran over Brian Bosworth on the goal-line. Bo was the most dominant video game character ever created. Bo ran out a grounder to second base in his first MLB at-bat. Bo led off the MLB All-Star Game with a home run. And like that, poof. He’s gone.
To me, Bo Jackson was a Sports Illustrated cover from December of 1987. He was an unstoppable playable Nintendo character from Tecmo Bowl; he was baseball and football cards; he was an endless marketing campaign. Bo Knows. To be honest, I didn’t see Bo Jackson do anything with my own eyes until I watched him take Rick Reuschel deep to lead off the 1989 MLB All-Star Game. That was all the validation I required. Bo Jackson was the greatest athlete alive.
Of course, Jackson’s football career came to a screeching halt during the 1990 playoffs on what appeared to be a routine tackle by Kevin Walker of the Cincinnati Bengals. Jackson, in his own words, popped his dislocated hip back into place while lying on the field in pain. That was it for the former Heisman Trophy winner, his football career was finished. Jackson had suffered avascular necrosis, which led to hip replacement surgery at the age of 28. Jackson returned to baseball briefly in 1991 with the Chicago White Sox, and played parts of two more seasons before retiring.
It’s as though the 30-for-30 series was created for the purpose of presenting Bo Jackson’s brief run of two-sport superstardom. You Don’t Know Bo is a highly polished product. A lot of the shots of empty stadiums and other vestiges of Jackson’s greatness almost look Instagrammed. The soundtrack accompanying his great runs with Auburn and the Raiders, his mammoth home runs, and his diving catches is as overbearing as it is enthralling. I wouldn’t change any of it. This is how I want to remember Bo Jackson.