ESPN still calls this their “30 for 30” documentary series — a brand that works, reflecting on 30 films made to commemorate the network’s 30 years on the air. And it just keeps going.
The next, great entry: “You Don’t Know Bo,” where filmmaker Michael Bonfiglio catches us up on the life and 40-yard times of Bo Jackson.
Remember, the former L.A. Raiders’ running back, still running somewhere outside the Seattle Kingdome, once drafted by the Angels, hit an All-Star Game homer at Angel Stadium they’re still talking about …
He just turned 50 last week. Surely, you knew ….
ESPN had a conference call Wednesday with the Heisman Trophy winner from Auburn prior to Saturday’s airing of the doc, right after the Heisman Trophy presentation (6 p.m.). Some of the highlights:
Q. Mike, when this project started, what was the process of Bo’s involvement and was it clear that he definitely would be helpful? Was there some concern there?
Bonfiglio: It wasn’t clear when we initially started whether or not we’d have his participation. … 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.
I came up with the title probably in the late summer, and I sort of landed on this one in thinking about a couple of different things. First of all, obviously it’s an acknowledgment of the Nike campaign, the Bo Knows campaign, but it’s also the idea that ‑‑ 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. 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 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.
Q to Jackson: There are generations of kids growing up now, and even kids that are in college and maybe in their 20s who probably don’t know who you are. What do you think about that? Because you were so popular 25 years ago, 20 years ago. Are you hoping that this might help with your legacy or do you not care about things like that?
Jackson: Well, listen, my three kids are in their 20s, and it’s kind of comical. My three kids were eight, six and four, and they didn’t realize that daddy was Bo Jackson until they saw daddy get thrown out of a baseball game in Chicago and I kind of lost it a little bit and threw the garbage can out on the field and bats and the bubble gum tray and so forth and so on. So it really doesn’t bother me that people don’t know who I am. It’s kind of nice in a way. But no, I had my fun in the sun, as you could say, and I am happy. I would not go back and change a thing in my life of sports.
Q. When you first heard that they were interested in doing this film, what were your feelings about helping out?
Jackson: I am very, very busy, and my first concern was that how much time was this going to take up, because I’m busy trying to handle some business out west. And once they told me about the time frame that they needed me, I restructured my schedule so I could allow them to have that time with me. But as far as everything else, the people that are in the film talking are the people that did all of the work. I just one day went and sat down for an hour or so and I talked, I answered questions, and I left and went back home and did what I was doing. So it really wasn’t that hard for me.
Q. Would you say you consider yourself a very private person? You obviously have not been out seeking the spotlight a lot since your career was over, but would you describe that’s just your personality or something more conscious trying to avoid things? What’s the biggest reason we don’t see you out there a lot like some other former athletes?
Jackson: Don’t get me wrong, I love my privacy. I am out there in the public, but if I’m out there, I’m not out there to be seen or to be noticed, if you get my point. I don’t do the nightclub scene. If you see me out in public, it’s usually at the supermarket, service station or on the golf course.
Q. Looking back, what was the toughest aspect of playing two sports at a high level?
Jackson: Simple: Going to the supermarket and shopping and trying not to be recognized. That’s it. Because I am the cook in the family, I do all the cooking. I don’t allow my wife around sharp objects. So in turn, I have to go to the grocery store because I know what I need, I know what to get and so forth and so on. And sometimes she goes with me, and sometimes back when I was doing both sports, that got a little hectic going to the supermarket in Kansas City, going to the supermarket in Los Angeles, and that was about it. Everything else was just fine. I had no problems with actually both sports and so forth and so on. It comes with the territory as far as being recognizable and noticed.
Q. You are synonymous with the Nike campaign and obviously the name of this film kind of plays off of that. Do you think in the 30 years that have passed the effect that Nike has had on college sports has been positive or negative, the amount of money that’s been poured in by Phil Knight, the control they have over AAU teams. What’s your feeling on the role that Nike has in college athletics?
Jackson: Listen, I think Nike, and not only just college sports but all sports, are good marriages, period. If you’ve got a quality product out there that everybody wants to wear or use, that’s great. That’s great. If you make a quality product that someone wants to pay for to wear, that’s good for both sides. The consumer is getting a good product and the manufacturer is making a profit. That’s a win‑win for everybody. And what Phil Knight and Nike has done for all sports is great, and I can tell you this: If Phil Knight hadn’t have done it, somebody else would have.
Q. If you had to sum up why you were such a phenomenon at the peak of your day, what would be a few words you would use?
Jackson: I would never call myself that. I’m just being me. I think you all labeled me as that, or the phrase that most of my buddies, my teammates, used, a freak of nature. But the stuff that I was doing throughout college and through my short pro career, I was doing that when I was a teenager. It was normal to me. My friends and people that I grew up with and parents of my friends, they would say, oh, we used to see him do that all the time. That’s nothing new. And that was normal for me. So as far as doing the dual sports thing, that was just a way to keep me out of trouble. Idle time with me is the devil’s workshop, and if my mother was still alive, she would tell you.
Q: Back to the question about being a “phenomenon” … not only being a sports athlete but transcending pop culture, going into the Nike commercials. And when Nike did approach you, what did you first think about this big campaign they were going to do with you that I think in my opinion took you to another level? Do you agree or disagree?
Jackson: I agree with that to a point. It could have been Nike, it could have been Adidas, it could have been Converse, could have been anybody. But you have to perform to get that notoriety. You just can’t go and put your name on a shoe and become an overnight sensation. You have to prove it. … Back when I was playing, that was my job. I never saw it as, hey, I’m transcending an era here and I’m a pop icon or whatever or I’m this person. I saw what I was doing ‑‑ and I’m not blowing smoke here. I saw what I was doing; it was my job. I had fun playing in college because I had no responsibilities or anything like that. But once I left college, playing sports became my way of life. It was my source of employment. It was my way of keeping a roof over my family’s head, putting food on the table for my family. So I looked at doing both sports as my job, and I took it that way.
Bonfiglio: When people watched the things that he did on the field, it expanded their imaginations. When you see something that you don’t think is humanly possible, it makes you dream differently, and that’s what Bo did. When people saw him, it completely captured their imaginations and expanded their consciousness in a way, and that I think is the main reason why he was such a phenomenon that transcended athletics.
Jackson: You could say that. (Laughter.)
Q. Of all the highlights and all the great plays that you’ve had over your career, if you had to relive one, what would it be?
Jackson: 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. 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.