Bo knows Chicago: Why Jackson never left the Windy City


If you live in the Chicagoland area, one of the greatest athletes in the history of sports just might be your neighbor.

He could be that guy walking his dog, or driving down the highway, or eating out with his family at a local restaurant.

He lives among us here in Chicago, but somehow, someway Bo Jackson has done it almost anonymously for more than two decades.

Bo knows baseball, Bo knows football, but what most people don't know about Jackson is that after signing with the White Sox in 1991, he decided to make Chicago his home—and he hasn't left.

"I've lived here for 25 years and I still run into people at the service station, right up the street from my house. They see me pumping gas in my pickup truck and they ask, 'Aren't you..?' And then they say 'What are you doing here?' And I make up some lie like, 'I'm just passing through. I'm on my way to the West Coast' and I live three blocks down the road," Jackson said in an interview with Comcast SportsNet. 

The eighth of 10 children growing up poor in Bessemer, Alabama, Jackson says his family never had enough food. But he soon learned that he did have something no one else did—special athletic ability.

"Sports always came easy for me. Not saying that from a bragging standpoint," Jackson said. "The first thing I learned how to do as a kid before baseball, before football, way before any sport—I learned how to run and throw a rock better than any kid in my neighborhood, so whenever a house window got broken or a car window got smashed, a kid came home bleeding from a hit in the head, they came to my house. 'Go to the Jackson kid's house because that's probably who threw the rock,' and 99.999 percent of the time it was true. So I learned how to do those two things better than I learned how to eat."

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He'd become a two-time state champion in the decathlon. He'd be selected by the New York Yankees in the second round of the 1982 draft, but instead chose to play football at Auburn where he won the 1985 Heisman trophy, rushing for 1,786 yards and 17 touchdowns. With the Kansas City Royals and Los Angeles Raiders, he became the only person to be named an All-Star in two different professional sports.

As for Jackson's White Sox career, it was a brief one. He played a combined 108 games in 1991 and 1993 as he attempted to come back from a major hip injury suffered during a 1991 playoff game for the Los Angeles Raiders. A seemingly innocent tackle by linebacker Kevin Walker of the Cincinnati Bengals led to something much worse: a degenerative condition of his left hip bone.

He would never play football again.

The Royals figured he'd never play baseball again either, so they cut him. However, two weeks later, the White Sox signed him to a one-year contract.

"No hard feelings, but I smelled a rat long before they released me," Jackson said of the Royals at the time. "It was actually a relief when it finally happened, and it's given me the chance to come play for a winner."

After playing only 23 games for the White Sox in 1991, his hip eventually gave out, forcing Jackson to have hip replacement surgery at the ripe old age of 30.

He'd miss the entire 1992 season rehabbing the injury. Then the following year, he tried coming back despite the fact that every time he took the field, he ran the risk of his femur literally popping out of the joint. 

In his very first game on April 9, 1993, Jackson came off the bench as a pinch hitter at Comiskey Park and homered off the Yankees Neal Heaton. Hawk Harrelson admits that when he called the home run, tears were running down his face.

It's these kind of moments that keep Jackson's career alive, even though he's been retired for so long.

"To this day, I've been out of sports for almost 25-30 years now. It's almost comical to me that people still get a rise when they see me," he said.

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When Jackson was a senior at Auburn, there was an incoming freshman who played tight end who was also pretty good at hitting a baseball. His name was Frank Thomas. 

"I think Frank ended up where he needed to be. History proves to us that he made the right decision to play baseball," he said with a smile.

How great of a hitter was Frank? 

"I'll put it to you like this: if you combine the hitting power of me, Rafael Palmeiro and Will Clark and the hitting knowledge of a Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, you get Frank Thomas. I had the eyes. I had excellent eyes. I challenge anyone, but Frank had the technique. Frank had the ability to identify pitches quicker than anyone and he adjusted. His batting average, his home run total, everything proved that. That's why he's a Hall of Famer."

If he stayed healthy, Jackson could have been a Hall of Famer in both baseball and football. Imagine that.

But his life took a detour, and as it turned out, it brought and kept him here in Chicago.

Ask Jackson for a favorite memory of his White Sox career, and he won't single out a moment or a game. What stays with him is "the" game and that he was able to play it for a living.

"It's going out and playing a game that 99 percent of us would play for free. And we're getting paid to do something that we've been doing since we were little boys out on the sandlot field. Playing in our sneakers with the bottom part half coming off and cutoff jeans and no gloves and the baseball bat being a broom handle and swinging at a tennis ball. So to make it all the way to the top of that pinnacle in that sport, it's something great. And to be rewarded for it, that's icing on the cake."

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