State Your Case: Bo knows HOF

Bo Jackson photo courtesy Oakland Raiders

Bo knows TD, and he knows TD was no Bo because … well, there will never be another Bo, you know?

The Hall-of-Fame case for Bo Jackson would be a longshot under any circumstances, but the induction of Terrell Davis this summer despite only two Hall-of-Fame-worthy seasons in a career marred by injury has opened the door to Canton just a crack for short-term stars.

Well, who was a bigger star on any terms than Bo Jackson?

Although he played in barely two full seasons over four years (38 games) because he was allowed to be a full-time major league baseball player for the Kansas City Royals, Jackson was arguably the best running back in football for half of his brief career. Does that make him Hall-of-Fame worthy? Bo’s not saying, but Bo knows Canton.

What the rest of us know is that Bo Jackson is the only athlete in history to become an all-star in both pro football and major-league baseball. He’s also the only one allowed to do what Al Davis allowed him to do, which was play baseball all year and then come in and supplant Hall-of-Fame running back Marcus Allen whenever he could get there.

Terrell Davis’ successful Hall-of-Fame candidacy was primarily a creation of numbers crunchers who took his two most brilliant seasons, plus his tremendous three-year playoff performance, and argued forcefully that a career so brilliant should not be ruled unworthy of the Hall of Fame because it was cut short by injury. That’s fine, but if you buy that argument where do you draw the line?

Bo knows.

In eight playoff games, Terrell Davis carried 204 times for 1,140 yards, an average of 5.6 yards a carry. In Bo’s only playoff appearance before a freak hip injury ended his football career, he more than doubled that by averaging 12.8 yards a carry (six for 77 with a long run of 34 yards and a touchdown against Cincinnati before he was dragged to the ground for the last time).

Give Jackson 204 carries with that average and he would have rushed for more than twice Davis’ total (2,551 yards). Many will argue “you can’t do that,’’ but Davis supporters can’t because it’s exactly what was said when some argued his phenomenal average of 142.5 rushing yards per game in the postseason was unsurpassed.

While that was true, the fact is that history tells us that average would have gone down had he had a normal-length career because Denver would have continued to make the post-season, and no one running the ball would have been able to maintain that pace as he aged. The point is not to knock Davis but to say if that’s the game you’re playing, Bo knows where he’d be headed.

To Canton.

In three of his four NFL seasons, Bo Jackson averaged more yards per carry than Davis did in his finest season. He made the Pro Bowl in 1990 despite playing 10 games and carrying only 125 times. But what would have happened if he’d played 16 games and carried the same 392 times Denver shoveled the ball to TD in his 2,000-yard season?

Had Jackson been given the same opportunity that year he would have rushed for 2,195 yards, beating TD’s 2,008 number by nearly 200 yards.

Obviously one could argue his per-carry average might have gone down. Fair point. But in his four seasons between 1987 and 1990, Jackson averaged 6.9, 4.3, 5.5 and 5.6 yards per carry, a career average of 5.4 yards per carry. So let’s just go with his career average, which was established over enough years to be considered at least as legitimate a number as any that Davis put up. What do we have then if Bo gets the 392 carries it took Davis to rush for 2,008 yards in 1998?

Bo knows you’d have 2,116.8 yards, not only topping Davis but breaking Eric Dickerson’s all-time record of 2,105 set in 1983. Now that would have been a Hall-of-Fame season, no?

So is it Jackson’s fault Davis thought so much of him and his stunning combination of power and speed that he agreed to a deal guaranteeing Jackson could be a part-time Raider and a full-time Royal? One must remember that all began only after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made Jackson the draft’s overall No. 1 pick in 1986 after his Heisman Trophy-winning season at Auburn. But he refused to play for owner Hugh Culverhouse, whom he believed lied to him about a private jet flight to visit Tampa before Jackson’s final season of college baseball.

Culverhouse told Jackson the visit had been approved by the NCAA. It had not, and he was ruled ineligible. Jackson believed that was a ploy to ruin his last year of college baseball at Auburn as a way to lower his draft value in baseball. So he announced he would never play for the Bucs. But so remarkable was his potential and skill that Tampa took him any way and he signed with the Royals.

A year later, while at spring training with Kansas City, Tampa was forced to forfeit his rights, and the Raiders drafted Jackson in the seventh round. Intrigued by Davis’ proposal, Jackson signed and joined the Raiders nine games into their 1987 season … and still made the All-Rookie team, rushing for 554 yards on just 81 carries while averaging 6.8 yards per rush.

In Week 12, Jackson put on a stunning performance against the Seattle Seahawks. All week Seattle linebacker Brian Bosworth publicly disparaged Jackson, saying the Seahawks would shut him down. That night Jackson rushed for a franchise-record 221 yards, featuring s 91-yard touchdown run and another score where he bulldozed Bosworth, carrying him into the end zone.

A Hall-of-Fame performance to be sure.

Jackson never played more than 11 games in a season and never started more than nine because of his commitment to baseball. Yet when he did play he was a dominant runner and arguably the best in football his final two years. In one of those, 1989, he rushed for 950 on only 173 carries. Double those carries, as Davis would do during his brief window of greatness, and that’s a 1,900-yard season.

If one combines that with a potential 2,100-yard season do you have a Hall-of-Fame career? We’ll never know.But Bo knows you would have had two seasons greater than the two that put Terrell Davis in the Hall of Fame.

If you don’t know that, as legendary blues guitar man Bo Diddley put it in Jackson’s iconic “Bo Knows’’ video ad, “You don’t know diddley.’’

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  1. Rasputin
    October 10, 2017

    My favorite Ron Borges article. The counterpoint is that Davis’ team won 2 Super Bowls, but you’re right that much of the argument for Davis was his stats, brief though his career was. The truth is that Davis’ induction was a big blow to HoF standards. Longevity was simply junked as a vital criterion.

  2. bachslunch
    October 10, 2017

    No doubt Bo Jackson was one of the NFLs great pure talents, though even by short career standards, his is really brief. And the major difference between him and Terrell Davis was Davis’s postseason success, which Jackson doesn’t have. Bo’s a no for me.

  3. Joseph Wright
    October 10, 2017

    No way. Don’t even get me started on Bo Jackson. Played half a season for four years (which Jim Brown termed “ragged”), refused to play when mildly hurt, never took the Raiders to the playoffs from 87-89, was along for the ride in his one playoff appearance in 1990. He was there only to satify Al Davis’ stupid vendetta against Marcus Allen. Instead of “loading up” with underachiving speed demons (Jackson, Willie Gualt) on offense, Al Davis should have been getting a quarterback. Of course, many were dazzled by Bo’s brief fits of spectacular play (the Monday Night showcase vs. Seattle; the two 90+ yard TDs; the Bo Knows ads) without seeing that he was a very unsubstantial player. Definitely not someone that a team could count on.
    Allen was disparaged as a result: “Jackson is faster,” “Jackson is a better athlete.” Tell us now, Marcus or Bo–which is a faster athlete now? Jackson can’t move anymore and people still try to make noise for him. They still want to make you think he was “great” and he wasn’t. Allen revitalized the Raiders in 1982 as a rookie after they had a losing season the year before, taking them into the playoffs and then spearheading the ’83 Super Bowl season, earning the game’s MVP in the process. The next year (1984) he leads the league in TDs and is league MVP the season after that in 1985, taking a Marc Wilson QBed team into the playoffs. Did Bo ever do any of those things? And after Jackson left that only NFL playoff game he ever played in (and did NOT score a TD in–sorry, Ron), Allen played a major role in winning that game with a 140-yard rushing performance. It’s not like Jackson gave them a 20-point lead or anything like that.
    It really doesn’t matter anymore. Bo Jackson is finished and largely forgotten and Marcus Allen is in the Hall of Fame–just as it should be.

  4. Kerouac
    October 10, 2017

    Gale Sayers deserved enshrinement the Hall of Fame despite a injury-shortened career. .. to this day, haven’t seen anyone better or even as good, my opine (I say that as an old AFL fan.)

    Sayers did it with nigh on NO help: never an all pro/all star offensive lineman unlike others to include Jim Brown (he had several) & Barry Sanders (he had at least two in his career) for example. Sayers never had a QB more than (if even) mediocre, no TE of note (by ’65, Ditka’s best days were behind him, soon aft traded). By the time an decent WR (Gordon for one all-star decent season only) came along, Sayers was already relegated to part-time status/WR, due injury/age.

    Say that to highlight the difference between a guy ‘really’ deserved it, Sayers, and the rest who had more help…the argument line forms to the right.

    In or out the Hall of Fame, Jackson as Davis as Priest Holmes as (insert any names other) had advantages variously a Sayers did not. Are any of them HOF worthy, comparison? Whether copious help an offensive teammate/s, less wear and tear due part-time use, playing on artificial turf as compared dirt/grass (long-term exposure might hinder re; turf, but also helped case already good RB becoming even better/shiftier (as Barry Sanders.)

    Question as always: what is the criteria? Stats or ‘wow factor? Some combination? Subjective bias voters? (said already the case.) Who is final arbiter what is ‘worthy’, ‘great’? Reality is, a Hall of Fame exists as/where it should – in the hearts and minds of ‘every fan’ who has enjoyed watching ‘their’ Hall of Famer’s.

    Be it ‘great’ players those RB’s referenced earlier, or conversely, those (say a Coach) some would disagree on as HOF caliber (Grant, Levy and George Allen among examples) due never having won Championship. Players too (Marino, example), other Coaches left out despite winning two each (Flores and Seifert, examples.)

    Some point, it becomes ‘pointLESS’ to argue about any them/splitting hairs. They were all damn good at minimum, and good enough in my opinion.

  5. Kerouac
    October 10, 2017

    Am also reminded of other players, some in and some not in the Hall of Fame. Example an Otis Taylor of Kansas City. Have yet to see a WR who was better than him (that includes peers Alworth, Maynard and Biletnikoff or latter day Rice, Moss, Owens, as well any players earlier 1900’s to date,NFL and AFL inclusive.)

    Yet, Taylor (among others) is not in the Hall of Fame, due variously a matter stats, injury or team scheme… his ‘impact’ however, his ‘wow factor, undisputed. The other, what of an team like the Steelers who, unlike the Chiefs, had an offensive team chock full Hall of Fame level players, affirmed by their enshrinement.

    Otis Taylor had Len Dawson, no one else (though Jim Tyrer should be in the HOF, without question.) Case Steelers, Swann for example had Stallworth, and Harris, and Webster, and Bradshaw, and well, you get the idea. Is it ‘more impressive’ to be an lone marked target that still excels (Otis Taylor) or one of several HOF caliber guys (Steelers) who part and parcel take pressure off each other, allowing each to excel, and easier.

    The argument ‘team X already has too many players in the HOF’ (be it a Green Bay, Pittsburgh or even the Chiefs re: their greats on defense) so ‘we can’t put any more players in’, or equally absurd a ‘we can only nominate/or enshrine (as case may be) X number of players per year’.


    Why not?

    Is worthiness based on merit or quantity?

    Such ‘reeks’ of politics and favoritism, pettiness and subjective bias.

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