Say the name Bo Jackson and it usually invokes visions of a powerful All-Pro running back plowing over linebackers or outrunning the swiftest defensive backs.
Perhaps it is a 549-foot homerun blast to dead center at Kansas City Royals Stadium, or say the put-out when Bo gunned down a runner heading home while standing just inside the warning track in center field; no skip throw - just straight, low and hard.
Or maybe your memory of him was the hip replacement surgery, due to an out- of -position tackle ending his pro football career. Whichever, it is my opinion and that of many others that Bo Jackson was and is the best "
"athlete" to ever play professional sports----period.
Anyone who has ever followed sports knows something about Bo Jackson, but most folks have no idea that this country boy from Alabama lives for the outdoors and Bow-hunting------pretty cool huh? And even more cool than that is that I recently had a chance to spend a long weekend hunting deer with Bo, along with my brothers, a few close friends, and my son, Joe along the Little Sioux River Valley right here in Cherokee County.
It has been way too long since I have had the privilege to tell a tale about the outdoors, but I have come "home" every year to hunt whitetails along the Little Sioux--despite the impressive out- of -state fee. The 100-mile trip from Sioux Falls is always filled with talks of big deer, fun times, and old friends, as I share the trip with Ol' size 13s, my hunting pal/son Joe. I felt that this would be a great opportunity to share a hunting tale about a truly famous icon like Mr. Bo Jackson.
Meeting Bo Jackson
So how did a bum like me ever get hooked up with the likes of Bo Jackson? Well, dumb luck has a way of landing on those who know the right people. My brother Martin ran into Bo on a golf course as they were partnered up, totally by chance, and after the initial introductions were made the conversation somehow turned to hunting. Martin found out that Bo loved, more than any other pastime in the world, "Bow-Hunting." Bo got an invite from Martin to come to Iowa for a chance to kill a deer, and he took him up on it.
Ken Lonnaman, an old classmate, is a game warden in Northeast Iowa, and got the proper information for Bo to secure the out -of -state tags, and they all met near Clear Lake in November for a whitetail hunt. On that particular hunt, my brother bagged a dandy 10-point, and Bo got a heavy doe and vowed to return for some "horns" before the season ended.
He did just that earlier this month. Son Joe and I acted as guides, as our hunting area was unfamiliar to Bo. As luck would have, it all the bucks seem to avoid Bo's stands, but on the last night he made a picture perfect double lung hit on a fat doe at close range. So even though he filled his two out- of- state tags on anterless deer, he claims he can't wait to come back next year and put his either-sex tag on a high, wide, and tall buck. Let's hope he draws another pair of tags in 2007.
I found Bo to be a quality person from every perspective, with a contagious sense of humor. The camaraderie, joking and laughing was a "blast" after we all got to know each other. The celebrity status he has to dodge continually soon disappears when conversations turn to hunting activities, with good-natured jabbing abounding. He truly doesn't care to talk about sports, past or present, but it's just human nature for folks to fire question after question about his days as a pro athlete. Can you imagine how many times he's had to answer questions about himself and those accomplishments? We made sure we didn't bang away with questions like rabid fans,and shortly into the first evening meal,he was open to just talk about his life.
Bo grew up on the outskirts of Birmingham, Alabama in a single parent family of 10 children. He was a standout high school athlete----imagine that? As a high schooler he was the fastest 100- and 200-meter runner and hurdler in the State of Alabama. He long-jumped nearly 25 feet and high-jumped over - GET THIS - 7-feet! He won two decathlete titles and nearly a third as a sophomore. In his senior and junior years he didn't run the mile (the last event of the decathlete), because he had enough points to easily win the state titles both years, and he stated sharply that he hated running it.
By the way, the school didn't have a track - they sprinted on the streets, hurdled over folding chairs, high jumped into old home-made foam pits, and pole-vaulted at meets only. So much for any acceleration-strength clinics like we send our kids to today!
Jackson thought about going to Alabama University after high school, but legendary coach "Bear" Bryant wanted to make him a linebacker, so instead he went to Auburn to beat the "Bear" and win a Heisman.
"They still call me the 'Bear Killer' in Alabama," grins the Auburn Tiger. Bo went on to be one of the most impressive backs in the NFL ,wearing number 34 for the Raiders in their heyday. The bruising power he had was so impressive, but it was his speed that was legendary for a 240-pound tail back. He ran a 4.18 40-yard dash in the combines electrically timed by the National Football League. WOW!
A True Outdoorsman
You know it was easy to forget that he was "Bo Jackson, the athlete" as we devised hunting strategies for the wind, calling, stand sites, weather conditions, deer travels, equipment checks, safety issues, arrow placement, blood trail follow-ups, and eventually dressing and butchering animals. Bo is a true outdoorsman and hunter, and he was in the mix of all the components of the hunt from start to finish. His knowledge of archery tackle is second to none and he has taught himself to be his own bow technician and can tell you every intricate detail about anything you want to know about his bow tackle or yours.
He has hunted and killed game with recurve bows, long bows, self-bows and of course his favorite a "Ross compound." He can hit an orange at 50 yards in a calm wind, and does it daily at the archery range in his basement. Bo has killed many different big game animals in North America, and takes pride in the humane one-shot bulls-eye kills, due to his dedication to be an expert marksman with his bow.
He has a vast collection of different kinds of hunting bows and arrows, old and new. He grew up hunting, fishing and practicing woodsmanship pretty much out of necessity as a youngster in Alabama, much like my brothers and I did here in Iowa. There was very little we needed to direct him on this hunt, other than getting him familiar with the lay of the new land. It was refreshing to see him interact with everyone so easily and comfortably forming lasting friendships through the experience. My only real concern was if our portable tree stands were ready for his 270 pounds of chiseled muscle on perch for three to four hours along with his cold weather gear. All was good, though.
When we think about celebrityies, it is hard not to envy them because of the status they have earned. After spending those days with Bo Jackson, I would trade places with him from a hunter/outdoorsman's point of view, but as a public person, life is trying for him. He can't go anywhere without some autograph hound wanting his signature for a keepsake.
"You would think after all these years, people would let it go and leave me alone. I haven't played in so many years, but sports fans are crazy sometimes," he stated. He lives in a "gated" community, and several times a year his property is vandalized as ravenous fans steal pieces of his property to say they got something that belonged to Bo Jackson. Dining out on the town with his family nearly always gets interrupted by autograph seekers, and intoxicated fanatics sometimes stand in front of his home at 2 a.m., shouting out his name- scaring the daylights out of his family - just to get a chance to see him, after scaling the 8-foot steel fence.
Bo Will Be Back
As Bo was getting ready to head home, I asked him how things went and his impression of our little river hamlet. He especially wanted to thank Steve Thomas for allowing him to hunt his property, and spend his own personal time to make sure he felt welcome, with a warm fire and a cold drink in his cabin every night. He also related his personal appreciation of a certain hotel owner who thanked him for his book, as her eldest son had previously read it ,and that it made a truly positive impression on him. "She didn't want an autograph or the book signed, just wanted to let me know how important that was to her---I really appreciated that---you don't find that," he said with thoughtful reflection.
Thanks to everyone at the Hacienda, The Gasthaus, Danny's Sports Spot, the Monterrey Restaurant, and Hy -Vee for all the fine food and libations. Especially thanks to all the good folks of the Cherokee area who said hello, knowing who Bo was and having the "class" to give him his personal space, and the low profile weekend he wanted to have.
I guess it's great to know that all high -profile athletes don't act like T.O., and that Mr. Bo Jackson is a true outdoorsman, who took a little piece of Cherokee County home with him.
And remember if you get a chance to take a friend of a friend hunting or fishing, give it a whirl. You might secure an unexpected friendship like we did.
PS: As of this writing Bo is out in the sand hills of Western Nebraska, hunting bison (buffalo), the wind chill is about 20 -some below, and the snowfall is significant. I bet he is freezing his artificial hip off right now and loving it!
(Editor's note: Steve Bruder, formerly of Cherokee, used to write a very popular regular feature "Woods & Waters" - for the Chronicle Times, before career changes landed him in Sioux Falls, S.D., and his plate got too full for him to continue. We continue to prod him to renew the outdoors column with us to no avail, as work and family occupy too much of his time. We think you'll agree that Bruder's entertaining, down-home, very real writing style that always hits its target is a cut above most other outdoor writers. After all, Bo knows.)