Part of what makes sports so appealing to a wide spectrum of the population is the mystique, the legends and even the "what might have beens."
Saturday night, following the Heisman Trophy presentation, ESPN’s 30 For 30 debuted a film about a person who represents all three. You Don’t Know Bo
is the story of Bo Jackson, from his days growing up in Alabama to where he is now, and everything in between. The documentary even briefly touches on Jackson’s decision to shun the Buccaneers after Tampa Bay made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 1986 NFL Draft.
Pewter Report had the opportunity to speak to film director Mike Bonfiglio, executive producer John Dahl – and Jackson himself – last week about the movie.
“We're really excited to bring this story to the 30 For 30 series,” Dahl said. “Mike Bonfiglio, our director, has done a fabulous job, I think, of bringing an artistic approach and a very focused approach on the legend of Bo Jackson to the film itself, and we thought it was a good time to tell this story. Bo just turned 50 last Friday. We're now 25 years removed from his famous game against the Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football, one of the greatest single performances in Monday Night Football history, and we're 30 years now past Bo over the top in the Alabama‑Auburn game of '82. In an era of specialization and in an era of sophisticated marketing campaigns, we thought it was a fitting time to tell his story.”
Bonfilgio said when the idea of the film was being discussed no one was sure if Jackson would be part of the process.
“You know, it wasn't clear when we initially started,” Bonfiglio said. “It wasn't clear whether or not we'd have his participation. There were some signs from him that he was inclined to participate, but it definitely took a bit of convincing. But once he chose to participate, he was fantastic. He gave me a good amount of his time, was incredibly candid in the interview, and he was just terrific to work with.
“I think we had planned to move forward with the film with or without his participation because the story could be told without him, but obviously having him be part of it just took it to a completely different level that I think ‑‑ we're seeing Bo in a way that I don't think people have really seen him before, and I think it's a lot of fun.”
Jackson’s story began in Bessemer, Alabama as the eighth out of 10 children. In 1982, following a brilliant, three-sport high school career, Jackson was drafted by the New York Yankees in the second round. Jackson chose to sign with Auburn University instead of signing with the Yankees, and excelled in both baseball and football. Jackson’s college career culminated with Jackson hoisting the Heisman Trophy after his senior season and the road to stardom in the NFL was just a few months ahead, at least that was what most expected, including the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
But as most Buccaneers fans know, Jackson never played a down for the franchise, and the blunder to take Jackson despite his assurances that he wouldn't play in Tampa Bay was something that crippled the franchise for years to come.
During his senior season at Auburn, Jackson was midway through his final baseball season for the Tigers when Buccaneers owner Hugh Culverhouse sent his private jet to Auburn to bring Jackson to Tampa for a meeting. Jackson said the Buccaneers had assured him that they had checked with the NCAA and Jackson’s visit – and trip on a private plane – was not in violation of any NCAA rules.
After returning to Auburn, Jackson was warming up for a game when his coach summoned him. In the film Jackson recounted the conversation with his college coach.
“Coach said, ‘Bo did you take a trip last week on Hugh Culverhouse’s jet down to go visit Tampa?’ I said, ‘Yeah, they (Buccaneers) said they checked with the NCAA and they said it was okay.’ And he said, ‘Well Bo, they didn’t check and the NCAA has declared you ineligible for any more college sports. So you can’t play baseball anymore.’ And I sat there on that ground and cried like a baby.
“I was (already) thinking about not going to Tampa Bay, but this – what the officials at Tampa Bay told me personally it was okay – I think it was all a plot now to get me ineligible from baseball and they saw the season I was having and they thought they were going to lose me. I told Hugh Culverhouse, ‘You draft me if you want, but you are going to waste a draft pick, I promise you that.’”
PewterReport.com spoke to Jackson and asked him specifically if there was any chance or thoughts about coming to Tampa Bay.
“No, no, no. I didn't make my mind up that I wasn't coming there until after all of that eligibility stuff happened,” Jackson said. “I found out that they didn't check with the NCAA, and they looked me in the face and told me that they did.
"Now, my visit there, I met with some of the veteran players for Tampa Bay. They actually took me to dinner. We went out, and to make a long story short, they said, ‘Man, if you play in the coming year, they are going to run you to death, and that – I am not sugar coating it or trying to make it sound bad, but these are words from veteran Tampa Bay players that was already there, engrained in the system.’
"But that kind of weighed on my mind a little bit. But three days later when I found out that I was ineligible to play baseball because they lied to me and told me that it was okay to get on the plane and go take my trip because I went on other trips also, but I flew commercial, and they said, ‘Sure, we checked, everything is all right,’ and that kind of didn't sit well with me. I figure if I'm honest with you, please have the respect for me to be honest with me, also, and they weren't. And that kind of sealed the deal as far as, no, I wasn't interested in Tampa after that.”
After speaking with Jackson, PewterReport.com was able to get in contact with Hugh Culverhouse, Jr., who is the son on the late owner of the Buccaneers. Culverhouse, Jr. disputed Jackson’s claims, and while saying he father was extremely cheap, he wasn’t devious in any attempt to cause Jackson to lose his NCAA eligibility.
“We tried to convince the NCAA we had spoken to someone and if it was a mistake, it was clearly an honest mistake. The fact of the matter is, Dad didn’t know the rules. Dad was a businessman. He didn’t even know a lot about the game of football altogether. To say Dad was plotting to get Bo ineligible is ludicrous. He would have done anything to get Bo on the team. He genuinely wanted Bo.
“Bo needs to look at himself. Effectively what Bo is saying is, ‘I am stupid.’ I let this NFL team and an organization take advantage of me. Well (I would say) ‘Bo you already had an agent. You already had advisers. You already had Auburn University who could have told you, Bo, no. So don’t come out of here playing stupid and accusing my Dad of doing something first.’ It would have been the last thing he would ever do.
“The one thing I can tell you is, dad loved Bo. It was a mistake to draft him. But Dad loved Bo.”
The film goes on the to explore Jackson’s amazing two-sport career in baseball and later football as a member of the Oakland Raiders. A hip injury suffered as a Raider cut Jackson’s career short, but even after a hip replacement Jackson came back and played for a period of time for the Chicago White Sox and Anaheim Angels.
One of the most touching moments in the ESPN film was Jackson describing his comeback after hip replacement and a promise to hit a home run for his mother, who was dying of cancer. His mother passed away before he made it back, but in his first plate appearance after returning from his hip surgery, Jackson – you guessed it – hit a home run. Jackson talked about one memory he wished he could have relived.
"There are several, but the one that stands out for me, in a perfect world, if I could go back and hit the home run that I promised my mother, if I could get the hit for my mother, it really wouldn't have to be a home run right after my hip surgery,” Jackson said. “If I could go back and have her there to witness me walk back out on the field and just swing the bat, I didn't even have to hit the ball, because I promised her that I would get back. And the first hit would be for her. It could have been a dribbler down the first baseline. It wouldn't have had to be a home run, but just getting a hit and having her there in the stands, that would be – that would actually be the crowning moment of my sports career, my sports life.”
Sports fans – and Buccaneers fans in particular – will always be able to play the “what if” game when looking back on Jackson’s career. How great of a player could Bo have been had he not suffered the devastating hip injury? How could he have helped shape the face of the Tampa Bay franchise had he signed with the Buccaneers?
The film will help expose Jackson to a whole new generation of sports fans who weren’t able to experience the "Bo Knows" phenomenon of the 80’s.
Bonfiglio said that is one reason he wanted to make this film.
"I remember I was talking to my 13- and 16-year‑old cousins, who are big sports fans, and I was telling them that I was working on this film, and they'd never heard of Bo," Bonfiglio said. "And I talked to more people, people in their early 20s, and they'd never heard of Bo. That was a very interesting thing to me, that this guy who was so incredibly famous for a brief period of time, he was one of the most recognizable names and faces in the country, people don't know who he is.
"I think that there's an incredible enthusiasm for him by fans, but he – I think if you know who he is, you assume everybody else does. But in actuality, I think because he is not in any of the Halls of Fame, he's not a record holder in very many areas, he is at risk of being forgotten a little bit, and I think that that was part of this film. The impetus behind this is to celebrate how exciting he was and what he did to us as fans and as people and as a culture.”Cook's Review: ESPN made director Mike Bonfiglio and executive producer John Dahl, along with Jackson, available to speak with and also sent an advanced copy of their film. From a perspective of someone who grew up following the Buccaneers, I never got on the Bo Knows bandwagon.
Shunning the Bucs added to the futile and often embarrassing dilemma I and many others is the Bay area had following and supporting the team in the 80's. Tampa Bay again was a national laughing stock. Because of that I never followed Jackson's career other than as a casual observer. But Bonfiglio did such an amazing job of telling Jackson's story that after watching the film, not only did I learn a lot, but I came away even more impressed with the body of work Jackson contributed to the sporting world in a short period of time.
I wrote about the "what might have beens," and after watching the film it is hard not to allow your mind to wonder, not only for the Buccaneers, but the sporting world in general. I asked Bonfiglio if he got the sense that Jackson also had those same questions and he told me no, Jackson is content with his story.
Jackson was adamant when I asked him about the Hugh Culverhouse situation, just as Mr. Culverhouse's son Hugh Jr, was in defending his father. Perhaps no one will ever know exactly what went wrong. And that only adds to the myths and legends and "the what might have beens."
I highly recommend this well-done film and even casual sports fans will enjoy – and learn a lot – about Bo Jackson. I look forward to sitting down with my son and watching it together, at age 12, it is true, he Doesn't Know Bo. I would imagine his Christmas wish list will now include a No. 34 jersey.
Programming note: ESPN will rebroadcast the film, You Don't Know Bo, Wednesday at 8 p.m. on ESPN2, and on ESPNU at 10 p.m.
Copyright © 2011 Pewter Report, PewterReport.com and Pewter Insider. All rights reserved. PewterReport.com, the official site of Pewter Report, is an independent source of news and commentary and is not affiliated with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the NFL.