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“The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson” By: Jeff Pearlman


“The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson”

Author: Jeff Pearlman

Publisher: Mariner Books

New York


Pages: 480

Price: $29.99 (Hardcover)

Jeff Pearlman is a veteran best-selling sports writer with ten books to his credit.

Although Jackson declined to be interviewed, Pearlman had complete access to Dick Schaap’s notes and interviews for Jackson’s 1990 “Autobiography,” “Bo Knows Bo.”

When you finish this book you too will know Bo. This is a giant book, thoroughly detailed. It is a doorstopper at 480 pages but honestly, Pearlman has such a lively, conversational style that reading was not a slog, and the story is nearly unbelievable, which explains the title.

Bo Jackson, Pearlman says, is the last sports hero around which myth could form because his exploits from about 1980 till about 1992 occurred before every single moment of everything, from a World Series homer to the family Sunday dinner, was recorded conclusively by multiple cameras.

Before this there could be differing versions, by eyewitnesses; there could be disputes and exaggerations, extraordinary events could be blown up into Paul Bunyan-like myths.

One of the few, along with Deion Sanders and Brian Jordan, ever to star in pro football and baseball, Jackson was physically an Adonis, with a neck 19 ½ inches across, a chest 46 inches across, a 34-inch waist and 26-inch thighs. His biceps were huge. Without meaning anything negative, many people called him a freak of nature.

Perhaps he jumped over a parked VW. He could throw a baseball from deepest left field to home plate with perfect accuracy. Bo hit home runs farther than anyone ever—550 feet, at least.

In football, he ran over and through tacklers. Individual tacklers sometimes just got out of the way, in order not to get hurt.

One tackler, however, holding Bo by one leg, held on, and Bo’s enormous inertia caused his leg to be ripped from its hip socket. Bo’s career was, with some rehab and semi-comebacks, over.

Not everyone wept. He was rotten to sports writers and a bad, selfish teammate, not a team player at all. In football, Bo wouldn’t block for other runners. Also, on the track team, he would just show up for meets, win at 200 and 400 meters, high jump, long jump and then leave.

At the Heisman Trophy ceremony he was with one woman while another girlfriend elsewhere was carrying his baby.

Bo was rude, crude, selfish, a little paranoid. After his terrible injury he softened a bit, but on balance, was not a friendly guy.

He also became fabulously rich from pro sports and Nike commercials.

And his amazing career almost never happened at all. Raised in Bessemer, eighth in a long line of children, his father married to another across town and absent, Bo was a violent, uncontrollable kid. If anyone mocked his stammer, Bo beat them up. His mother regularly beat him with a belt or extension cord.

Jackson’s real name was Vincent Edward, named after the star of “Ben Casey,” his mother’s favorite. The nickname, originally “Boar Hog” was bestowed when he beat a neighbor’s 500-pound hog to death with a stick, for fun.

He was headed for the Alabama penal system, but, luckily, ended up at Auburn instead where, Pearlman assures us, explicitly, he enjoyed adulation, like most SEC stars, loads of booster money—the poor kid from Bessemer drove an Alfa Romeo—and women by the dozen.

Don Noble , Ph. D. Chapel Hill, Prof of English, Emeritus, taught American literature at UA for 32 years. He has been the host of the APTV literary interview show "Bookmark" since 1988 and has broadcast a weekly book review for APR since November of 2001, so far about 850 reviews. Noble is the editor of four anthologies of Alabama fiction and the winner of the Alabama state prizes for literary scholarship, service to the humanities and the Governor's Arts Award.