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Iron Bowl: On 40th anniversary of ‘Bo Over The Top,’ there will never be another like Bo Jackson

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Gather yourselves, kids – put away your phones, you won’t need them – and let me tell you about the wonders of the great Bo Jackson. A piece of pure muscle from Bessemer, Alabama, he could hit a baseball to Saturn and wait to catch it when it arrived. He beat the defenders in the open field so hard that their grandchildren were born sick. He wrote best-selling novels as he circled the bases, cooked a five-course meal in his backyard, and sang like a choir of angels as he jumped over the stands at the goal line. He was faster, stronger, smarter and more cunning than any other three athletes of the time. He was Bo. It was all we knew and all we needed to know.

Bo Jackson — the hero (and almost goat) of the 1982 Iron Cup and the hero of an exceptional new biography of author Jeff Perlman — has entered American cultural history at just the right moment for a man of his talents. From a professional standpoint, he existed in that brief moment when pop culture, driven by Nike and fueled by show business, could create a myth, but the ubiquitous social media could not yet debunk it. He seemed to come out of nowhere – back in the 1980s you heard rumors about “Bo Jackson” long before you saw him on TV or in person – and he disappeared from the summit so quickly that he left behind an impact crater, but not a footprint. . trace of my true self.

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There will never be another like him. It just can’t be.

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Pearlman’s book is called The Last Folk Hero, and there is real truth to that. The folk hero doesn’t come through social media snippets or brand-specific marketing campaigns. The legend of the folk hero is not built on likes, likes and retweets. The folk hero takes up space in your head when you hear about his legend.daring feats, but there is no video to refute them, only the words of those who were there: Yeah, it was. Never seen anything like it before or since.

Bo Jackson plays a running back for Auburn against Florida State on October 12, 1985 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Damien Stromeyer/Allsport/Getty Images)
Bo Jackson plays a running back for Auburn against Florida State on October 12, 1985 in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Damien Stromeyer/Allsport/Getty Images)
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Born and raised in Bessemer, Alabama., Bo – no one called him “Jackson” then or now – began to attract attention in high school. He moved to Auburn when Alabama did not show enough interest, and this brought him attention as a rookie at the 1982 Iron Bowl.

Entering this game, Alabama, coached by the legendary Bear Bryant, won nine games in a row. Auburn for Tide was nothing more than a curiosity, a necessary task on the to-do list. But for the Tigers, Alabama was a target and a mountaintop, an enemy that Auburn needed to defeat in order to claim some measure of self-respect. And in 1982, Auburn had a weapon that Alabama couldn’t match: Bo.

Auburn led 14-13 at halftime, but Jackson had yet to break free. Always a slow start, Jackson didn’t really snap until there were about nine minutes left in the game. He crashed a furious 53-yard run that only ended when he ran out of bounds. A field goal shut out Auburn within five points, 22–17, as the minutes wore on.

At the end of the game, Jackson and Auburn worked their way down the field, deepening into Tide territory until, with just 2:30 left, Auburn was on the doorstep of Alabama. Fourth place and 18 inches to go.

Just at that moment, Auburn was training.

Alabama’s defensive line averaged 251 pounds—this was 1982, remember—and they couldn’t be moved. So Auburn coach Pat Dye decided that instead of going through these mountains or around them, he would just go through them.

Jackson was a respected high jumper in high school. Auburn’s coaches designed the game to suit his strengths. Its name is Bo Over The Top.

Alabama—hell, everyone in the country—knew what the game was going to be, knew the ball would go to Jackson. He reached the 2-yard line, stopped for a moment, got to his feet, and then jumped up, up and up and… crossed the goal line.


“When I was down, I stretched out, lunged forward and threw the ball over the goal line,” Jackson said, according to Pearlman. “I looked at the touchline at Bear Bryant and he had this look on his face like someone walked by and stepped on his sandcastle.”

At Alabama’s next possession, Auburn intercepted it, apparently sealing the Tide’s fate. But as Auburn played for time, Alabama’s defenses tightened. With 1:13 left, Auburn collided with third and 1 and so the call was made: Bo over the top, one more time.

Once again, Jackson accepted the transmission. He stopped again and braced his feet. He jumped up in the air again and pulled the ball forward. Only this time, the ball bounced off the Alabama defenseman’s helmet and ended up in Tide’s hands. Had Bo just given away the game? Had he just shattered the hopes of an entire fan base?

Luckily for the sanity of Auburn fans around the world, the Tiger defense held on to hold on to a 23-22 victory in what was, at the time, the greatest Iron Cup win in Auburn history. Since then, Camback – when Cam Newton almost single-handedly wiped out the Tide lead 24-0 – and Kick Six – arguably the most famous game in college football history you may have heard of – have taken Auburn’s path more dramatically. . Up until last year’s four-overtime thriller, the Iron Bowl continues to delight, as it did on that day in Birmingham 40 years ago.

Bo Jackson, then a member of the Kansas City Royals, hits the ball during an MLB game in the 1990 season.  (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Bo Jackson, then a member of the Kansas City Royals, hits the ball during an MLB game in the 1990 season. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Bo, however – Bo didn’t have much time to run.. He spent the rest of the 80s as the country’s most famous sportsman. He has played for both the Oakland Raiders and the Kansas City Royals, achieving outstanding results in both sports that are considered among the best of all time. No one living at that time will forget him. knocked down Brian Bosworthfor example, or running up and around the field wall until it was nearly level with the ground.

Bo suffered a career-ending injury in the NFL in January 1991 against the Bengals. He continued to play baseball for several more years, playing for the Angels and the White Sox, until he finally retired in 1994. an honor or two.

We will never see another like him. We can’t, because half of Bo’s appeal was that we couldn’t watch his best moments in real time or in a few seconds. The legend of student Bo hitting a home run at the University of Georgia? It would be on Twitter in seconds, appreciated, swallowed and forgotten.

“The story is cooler than it really is, and you get used to things so quickly the moment you see them,” Perlman says. “Bo Jackson, he would be great. That would be amazing. People would be stunned. But two seconds later they would have moved on to the Kardashian tweet.”

We’re lucky we had him for so long. And every time the Iron Bowl comes around, Auburn fans will remember a time when Bo rose, rose, rose… and exceeded all expectations.


Contact Jay Busbee at [email protected] or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.


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