Bo Jackson’s final game with the Raiders, an excerpt from Jeff Pearlman’s book

Los Angeles Raiders running back Bo Jackson carries the football for the last time as he suffer ...

“The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson,” is Jeff Pearlman’s 10th book.

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He interviewed 720 people in two years and spent time roaming Bessemer and Auburn, Alabama to find the secret that is Bo. It can be ordered here:

Here’s an excerpt:

Bo Jackson, who ran for 698 yards in the 1990 NFL Season and 5 touchdowns, was named to the first Pro Bowl team.

He also made a decision: he would continue to play in the NFL and then walk away.

He wasn’t loud about it. There was no press conference. Few — if any — of the Raiders were aware. He was growing up and gaining more experience.

Linda, his wife of four year, was largely responsible for raising their children while she pursued her PhD in clinical psychology. Bo was sensitive to her needs and aware of the athlete wife’s sacrifices.

“When I leave the ballpark, I become a father and a husband,”Jackson once explained. “And I don’t resume that other role until the next morning.”

Jackson, who was raised by his mother and father alone, felt the pain of an abandoned child. He didn’t wish to inflict that on his own offspring.

Plus, he didn’t like football. It was brutal and barbaric and left all its participants in utter disarray. He’d seen retired Raiders invited back to a practice, limping on shredded knees and hollowed spines, sometimes flailing to grasp a memory that had escaped them.

What was my quarterback’s name? Who was that game against?” Where are my car keys?!

The sport was hard and the practices were tedious and inflexible. Did he dream of his sons being able to wear the pigskin and carry it?

“No way,”He said. “Never.”

Plus, while he felt a connection with a few Royals (through the decades a number o baseball teammates wound up on sideline of Raider game), the same did NOT apply to his NFL brethren. The Raiders were only co-workers with the occasional exception of Howie Long and Bill Pickel, two Los Angeles defensive linemen.

Jackson much preferred the rhythms of a baseball season — beginning with the optimism of spring training and lazily winding its way through the months.

Super Bowl hopes

With a 12-4 record and the AFC West title, the Raiders entered the playoffs as a serious threat to reach the team’s first Super Bowl in seven years.

Jackson would enjoy it and hopefully raise the Vince Lombardi Trophy — then play one more season before devoting himself full time to baseball and fulfilling his destiny of becoming the next Joe DiMaggio/Mickey Mantle/Roberto Clemente (none of whom he would recognize).

As a divisional title holder and owner of the AFC’s second-best record, on January 13, 1991, Los Angeles hosted 9-7 Cincinnati, the Central Division champion that destroyed the Houston Oilers one week earlier, 41-14.

Several Bengals were ill with food poisoning the night before kickoff. By two in the morning Boomer Esiason — one of the league’s elite passers — was hallucinating. Three o’clock in the morning, Boomer Esiason and twelve of his teammates were hooked up with IVs and expelled horrific volumes of waste from multiple organs.

“I was up all night and uncertain whether I’d be able to play,” Esiason said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been that sick. I’ve always wondered whether Al Davis somehow food-poisoned us. It wouldn’t be beyond him.”

When he wasn’t fretting over his legion of upchuckers, Sam Wyche, Cincinnati’s head coach, was hyperfocused on stopping Bo Jackson. Jackson was referred to by the Los Angeles Times as “a…” “Bengal Tamer.” He’d faced Cincinnati two times, running for 276 yards (an average of 13.1 yards per carry). Jackson ran for 92 yards and 88 yards in his last two games against Cincinnati.

Wyche was candid in his hopelessness during the lead-up.

“He’s so fast,”He said, “that he is going to be gone before you can react.”

Hollywood buzz

Nike wanted to make certain its star client’s first-ever playoff experience was viewed by the largest audience possible. So, Nike purchased 9,000 tickets for the Los Angeles Coliseum a day before kickoff to ensure that there wouldn’t be any blackouts and that the game could still be televised in Southern California.

The temperature was 60 degrees. It was windy with no clouds. Oddsmakers had the home team as seven-point favorites. Bill Walsh, former coach of the 49ers, and Dick Enberg found themselves in the NBC broadcast booth.

The Raiders arrived in Los Angeles eight years ago and tried to find Lakers-like Hollywood buzz but with little success. The team did not have a Magic Johnson, who could flash a million-watt smile. It never had the intimacy and sex appeal of Laker Girls, nor the intimacy of Forum.

However, something clicked on this afternoon. The sidelines were overflowing with celebrities — boxer Evander Holyfield, rapper MC Hammer, actor James Garner. Jackson invited several Royals teammates, including pitcher Mark Gubicza (the future Hall of Famer) and George Brett (the future Hall of Famer).

The Coliseum was the center of entertainment and sports, with Bo Jackson as backup.

Art Shell long ago abandoned two-Heisman backfield. Los Angeles began with Marcus Allen as halfback and Steve Smith as fullback. The team’s opening drive was fruitless, and after the Bengals were forced to punt on the next possession, the Raiders returned to the field with Jackson at halfback.

His first carry came on second and 10 from the Los Angeles 39, and after slicing through the right side of the line and stomping over linebacker James Francis, he stumbled forward … and fumbled.

The ball rolled from his hands into the safe grasp of safety Barney Bussey. Cincinnati’s defenders celebrated as if they’d won the lottery, and Walsh said, “This is what the Bengals had hoped for, and anyone who favors the Bengals knew they needed these types of things to happen.”

The officials decided that Jackson had fumbled when he hit the ground. Despite righteous protestations from Cincinnati’s staff, rules were rules. Jackson was awarded a 6-yard gain. He didn’t have another carry until early in the second quarter, when he burst through the middle of the field and was tackled after a 9-yard pickup.

On the very next play, he again punched up the Bengals’ gut for a second-straight 9-yarder. Jackson grabbed the ball for the third time and ran 18 yards past the secondary’s defensive line. Jackson pumped his fists into the air after being brought down.

“What can you say?”Bellowed Walsh

By halftime, Jackson had 43 yards on five carries, and while Los Angeles only led 7–3, there was an ominous feeling inside the Bengals locker room.

“You knew what Bo was capable of doing, and you just sorta expected something amazing to happen whenever he touched the ball,”Tim Krumrie, Cincinnati’s nose tackle, said it. “You hoped for the best, you gave it your all, but you were aware that, with Bo, it was a matter of time.

“Honestly, your only hope was him getting hurt. But he seemed indestructible.”

Bengals counterpart

One participant was a very famous player in the Bengals-Raiders match on Sunday, January 1.

■ Was abandoned by his father.

■ Was raised alongside multiple siblings by a belt/extension cord-wielding single mother who did not want her children playing football.

■ Was highly recruited out of high school in both football and baseball.

■ Played both ways on the high school gridiron, but starred at running back.

■ Was brought up in an all-Black neighborhood but attended a majority-white high school.

■ Scratched and clawed for everything he achieved.

There was also the Bengals’ starting inside linebacker, who had a similar upbringing.

Kevin Walker’s father, Robert, left home when his second of four children was only five, leaving Qrinne Walker to raise her kids on a bookkeeper’s salary in a three-bedroom home on Yawl Avenue in West Milford, New Jersey.

Though he longed to play in his town’s youth football league, Kevin was forbidden by Qrinne. Robert and Kevin would instead of playing in organized ball, they would go down to the basement and slip on their tube socks and play one-on-1 football on the concrete flooring.

“I had one of those kiddie football uniforms that came in a plastic tube,” Walker says. “It was a number 66 Packers jersey. Ray Nitschke. So I’d pretend to be Nitschke and we’d pound each other.”

By her son’s first year at West Milford High, Qrinne had a change of heart. Kevin was the freshman class president, and an A student. A good kid.

“I’m sure it terrified her,”Walker stated. “But she finally let me play.”

Kevin returned a kickoff to score a touchdown in his first prep game.

Over four seasons he starred as the Highlanders’ starting halfback and strong safety, as well as the baseball team’s All-State power-hitting left fielder.

By his senior year, Walker was being recruited by many of America’s college baseball powerhouses. However, his true passion was for the gridiron.

“I loved everything about it,”Walker. “Wearing your jersey, putting on your helmet. Hitting. Being hit. The crowd noises. The smells. The feeling.”

Walker signed at the University of Maryland to be a running back. After a frustrating freshman year, his life was changed by Bobby Ross, the Terps’ head coach.

“Son,” Ross said, “you run a 4.5. There are a lot of running backs who can run a 4.5. But I don’t know of any linebackers who can run a 4.5.”

Walker, a Maryland junior noticed that NFL scouts began to show interest in him. As a senior, he was one of America’s best players and — with 172 tackles — leading ball hawks. Qrinne was overcome with emotion when the Bengals selected him 57th in the 1988 Draft.

“You have this dream,”He said, “but you never know whether it’ll really happen. Suddenly I’m playing against Dan Marino and Eric Dickerson and Joe Montana, thinking, ‘Holy, cow! I’ve made it! I’ve really made it!’”

Walker was a poor player in his first two NFL seasons. However, he was a good inside linebacker by 1990. Walker was never mistaken for Mike Singletary or Lawrence Taylor, but he was a smart player and always found the right spot at just the right moment.

“Kevin was very solid,” said Carl Zander, a Bengals linebacker. “He was definitely a head-in-the-game guy.”

Through the first half of the Raiders matchup, much of Kevin Walker’s life was devoted to keeping tabs on Jackson. Those first two 9-yard runs were the turning point. Walker was the one who brought him down. What 17-yard gain? The man who missed — Walker.

“We were sort of playing a variation of the Bears’ 46 Defense that day, and I’d line up outside the tight end to give Bo and Marcus only one side to run,”Walker stated. “That doesn’t mean they’d avoid my direction, but it would give them pause to head that way. If Bo got the ball and came toward me, I’d try and go right at him. If he went the other way, I was in pursuit.”

The Raiders were awarded the second-half kickoff and began on their own 23. With Allen behind him, Jay Schroeder took the first down and made a three-step drop to Mervyn Fernandez.

Jackson returned to the field after the play was over. The next call from Terry Robiskie, the offensive coordinator, was 28 Bo Reverse Left, which involved Allen lining up to Jackson’s right, three steps forward. This was not the way to Marcus Allen’s heart. If he said it once it was repeated a hundred times: “I am not a blocking back.”

He was — for now — a blocking back.

The Raiders had wide receiver Tim Brown split to the left, Fernandez to the right. Ethan Horton, the tight end, was also packed in along with Rory Graves (left tackle).

Anticipating a run, the Bengals featured four down linemen, two safeties close to the line and linebacker Leon White directly in front of Horton and Walker — wearing number 59 with trademark blocky shoulder pads — prowling forward as Schroeder barked out the signals. By the time the ball was snapped, Walker was prepared to charge and — hopefully — cut off any advancements.

Schroeder grabbed the football and flipped it to Jackson within seconds. Allen followed Schroeder to the right. Walker was only three steps away from the backfield at the time of the exchange. Jackson began his burst and tried to cut across it in what would be futile pursuit. Jackson finished with a 4.17 40. Walker did not.

Allen’s block on White opened a gaping hole, and Jackson squared his shoulders, raised his knees and was off to the races.

“I was right there on the sideline,” said Vince Evans, the Raiders’ backup quarterback. “It looked like Bo was about to take it to the house.”

‘Got on my horse’

He ran for 10 yards unassisted down the right sideline. He only slowed when David Fulcher (the free safety) arrived from the other side of the field. Jackson slowed down and left Fulcher in his vaper trail. He continued his march toward the end zone.

Unfortunately for the Raiders, that one-tenth-of-a-second sliver in time — Fulcher stepping in, Jackson stopping-then-going — served as a delay.

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In that span Walker somehow returned from the depths and charged from Jackson’s left. Jackson tried to keep Walker away with a stiff left-handed hand, but Walker ran through the arm and reached out to wrap his torso.

“I got on my horse from an angle and said, ‘I’m gonna try and cut him off,’”Walker stated. “Maybe I can get him on the ground.”

It wasn’t easy. The running back kept heading forward, and the linebacker slid down Jackson’s legs. He held on to his right calf and fought for his life.

“It was almost like Bo threw his torso forward,”Evans said, “but the pull of the other guy pulled him back.”

That’s what finally brought Bo Jackson down — Herculean strength be damned, no man can run with a 238-pound anchor affixed to his calf. So as Jackson’s body propelled forward, his right leg remained within Walker’s grasp and his left leg (and, by extension, hip) was firmly planted in the turf.

“The momentum of my body kept going,”Jackson stated, “and my left leg was extended to the point where I couldn’t bend it and fall.”

Jackson had sprinted 34 feet down the field by time the play was over. The Coliseum crowd went berserk — the Los Angeles Raiders were on the attack.

“This is just what the Bengals wanted to avoid!”Walsh said. “And just what the Raiders were expecting sooner or later to happen!”








Bo Jackson wasn’t getting up.

“I was one of the first over to him after the play,”Horton. “I was whooping and hollering — ‘Yeah, Bo! Great run!’”

Jackson, he noticed, didn’t move.

“Come on, Bo!”Horton yelled. “Let’s go!”

“I can’t,”Jackson replied stoically “My hip — something’s wrong.”

Like ‘ice pick’

Jackson was wallowing in confusion as he watched the Bengals cheer and licked their wounds while the announcers gave praise. He was quite certain his left hip popped out of the socket, so he wiggled his body and — he later insisted — popped it back in. He rose gingerly, but the pain was intense and unfamiliar.

It felt like somebody “had jabbed an ice pick up in there,”Jackson said. He returned to his back, and the team’s medical staffers, along with Shell, rushed to the field and surrounded him.

After several seconds, he raised himself again, this time without helmet. Another round of cheers. It all seemed fairly normal.

“He may have pulled a muscle as he was trying to pull away from a tackle,”Walsh stated. “Because he really wasn’t hit on the knee.”

After a few awkward steps, Jackson placed his right hand over H. Rod Martin’s shoulder and his left over Napoleon McCallum’s running back. He was then helped off the ground. Walsh, who holds a medical degree at the University of Random Guessing and was diagnosed with a pulled muscular.

However, closer inspection revealed that there was cause for alarm. Bo Jackson’s face was contorted. He looked as though he was hurting. He looked scared. None of this was normal.

‘Tears in his eyes’

“There were tears in his eyes,”Jamie Holland, Raider receiver. “That, I remember.”

The general belief was that Bo Jackson’s return was inevitable. He was made of cement and Tungsten and would soon grab his helmet and return to the action.

Only, that didn’t happen. As Los Angeles began to pull away for a 20–10 win, Jackson entered the locker room, where the training staff cocooned his left leg from groin to thigh.

“Bo knew something was really wrong,” said Dan Land, a Raiders defensive back. “He wasn’t naive about it.”

Jackson returned to his sideline seat, where he sat till the end. He was gifted with a sideline pass by George Brett at one point.

“Bo,” Brett said, “you’re OK, right?”

Jackson frowned. “Nah, George, I’m not,”He replied. “I think my hip went out of the socket, then went back in.”

Jackson, who was also on the sideline, asked Mark Gubicza if he could fetch Nicholas and Garrett from the stands. Linda was sitting next to them. “Of course,”The Kansas City pitcher agreed.

Jackson was in shock when Gubicza brought them to their dad. His expression was blank. He said very little. The whole Bo Knows ad campaign was fun exaggeration (he couldn’t literally do everything), but Jackson considered himself to be indestructible. Jackson could overcome any tackle and jump over any obstacle.

Others felt pain. Bo Jackson was not affected by pain. But now he was in severe pain.

As soon as the final second ticked off the clock, Jackson — sons by his side — limped into the Coliseum’s home locker room. Walker did not do anything wrong, but he sought Jackson’s help.

“Bo … Bo — I’m Kevin,”He said. “I tackled you.”

“I know,”Jackson said.

“I’m so sorry,”Walker stated. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m sore,”Jackson replied. “But it’s no big deal. I’ll be back next week.”

Walker loved to hear this.

“Well,”He said, “I’ll certainly be rooting for you.”

Jackson shuffled off, while the men shook their hands.

“I’ve never spoken to him again,”Walker said it thirty-one more years later. “That was the last time I saw him.”

The Raiders are known for being a loose group, as evidenced by the locker room scenes after games. Jackson should have been taken to the hospital immediately after the injury occurred. Instead, he was found at his stall changing, showering, and answering a few questions from the media before hopping on a cart.

“It’s a hip pointer,”He told reporters. “I’m going to play next week.”

It was not a hip-pointer. Jackson was the only person who said it was a “hip pointer”. It was not a hip pointer.

A hip pointer is a deep bruising to the bone ridge on your upper hip. Hip pointers can be painful. They don’t hurt like this.

“I had (hip pointers),”O.J. Simpson, who worked the game for NBC. “They only come from a real jolt, such as a helmet hitting the spot. I saw him go down. It was something else.”

Sitting in the Coliseum stands was Dr. Marcella Flores, a Portland, Oregon–based emergency room physician and the sister-in-law of Amy Trask, an employee in the Raiders’ legal affairs department. Flores reached out to Trask after the game was over.

Avascular necrosis

“Amy,”She said, “you better be concerned about Bo’s injury.”

“I don’t think we’re too worried,”Trask stated. “It’s probably a bruise.”

“I’m telling you, that didn’t look like a bruise,” Flores replied. “If I were you, I’d be very concerned about avascular necrosis.”

Trask hadn’t heard of such a thing. Avascular necrosis? Is that a real injury? She wrote it down, and later approached Al Davis.

“I think we might need to be aware of this,”Trask stated.

The Raiders owner listened. He seemed to listen. He would likely have opened the nearest medical journal to look up. “Avascular necrosis”And passed out.

This wasn’t, as Walsh twice suggested, a pulled muscle. It also wasn’t, as Jackson thought, a hip pointer.

Cedars-Sinai describes Avascular Necrosis as a disease that causes vascular necrosis. “results from the short-term or lifelong loss of blood supply to the bone. When blood supply is cut off, the bone tissue dies and the bone collapses. If avascular necrosis happens near a joint, the joint surface may collapse.”

Tony Decker, a long-time Division I athletic trainer, made it simple: “The blood supply to the head of the femur is disrupted. Blood is how our bones are nourished, so it leads to arthritic changes of the bone and everything becomes affected.”

The condition was not well-known in 1990. Some believed it could possibly be treated with a cast. Others believed it could be treated with a cast.

Jackson and Linda went out for dinner a few hours after the game. A current shot through his hip as he rose from the table. Jackson had an MRI (magnetic-resonance imaging) performed by the Raiders the next morning.

He assumed that the prognosis would be rest and some type of ice-heat treatment. Then a doctor pointed toward the image of Jackson’s left hip.

“Do you see all that dark stuff?”The doctor asked.


“That’s blood,”The physician stated, “in your hip socket.”

For the first time in his twenty-eight years on earth, Jackson — who was standing as he received the news — felt light-headed and nauseous. He sat down.

“Wow,”He said. “I really injured myself.”

No one — including Jackson — was 100 percent sure what it all meant.

He was indestructible. Zeus and Paul Bunyan, Hercules and Superman.

He didn’t get injured, because Gods don’t get injured. This was a farce.


The Raiders issued a post MRI Statement: “Bo Jackson has an injury to his left hip for which he is now receiving treatment. There will be no status report until late in the week.”

Robert Rosenfeld, team physician, maintained that it wasn’t serious.

“It’s going to get well,”He said it before adding, “I really don’t know what the injury is yet. That’s the trouble.”

Calls to Richard Woods, Jackson’s agent, went unreturned. The people at Nike were terrified. The Royals, who have long dreaded this moment, were also terrified.

Critics come out

Jackson suited up for one practice, but didn’t touch the field. He was ruled out for the following Sunday’s AFC title game at Buffalo, and the critics pounced.

The Santa Rose Press Democrat ran a boxed listing of all the times Jackson had to sit with an injury (the implication: he’s soft). Todd Christensen was a former Raiders tight-end.

“Bo Jackson’s a baseball player,”He said. “I can’t think of a time when he played through an injury.”

Though Jackson certainly did not have to accompany the Raiders to Buffalo, he did so — even jogging gingerly across the field during pre-game. With the Bills up 41–3 at halftime, and the temperature a balmy 32 degrees, Jackson chose to spend the last two quarters of the 51–3 demolition inside the locker room.

Again — understandable considering his innards were bleeding. Bob Keisser of Long Beach Press Telegram unloaded the next day.

“Bo Jackson showed his true colors Sunday in Buffalo,”He wrote, “and they weren’t silver and black.”

Jackson didn’t read any of it. Jackson flew back to California along the Raiders. He said goodbye at the airport and promised a few of his closest friends that he would be seeing them again. “real soon.”

His football career was over.

Excerpts from the book “The Last Folk Hero”Jeff Pearlman. Copyright © 2022 by Jeff Pearlman. Mariner Books is an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted with permission.

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