Tuesday, November 30, 2010
After a Heisman Trophy-winning career at Auburn, RB Bo Jackson followed a different path than usual in proceeding into the pro ranks. He was drafted first overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1986, but opted to sign with major league baseball’s Kansas City Royals instead. After playing minor league baseball and getting a brief call-up by the Royals in ’86, he played for KC in 1987. He also was eligible for the NFL draft again, having never signed with the Bucs, and the Los Angeles Raiders took him in the seventh round.
Unlike the Buccaneers, who insisted on his making a choice between football and baseball, the Raiders offered a unique arrangement in which Jackson could play football once his baseball season was concluded. The 6’1”, 225-pound outfielder/running back agreed, and seven games into the 1987 NFL season, Jackson debuted with the Raiders.
Los Angeles had won its first three games and then lost three by the time Jackson joined the team (due to a players’ strike, three of the contests were played with replacement players – those wearing Raiders uniforms went 1-2). The club had plenty of problems, but it already had an outstanding running back in Marcus Allen. The rookie split time in his first few games, and after four games he had gained 254 yards on 41 carries for a healthy 6.2-yard average gain and two touchdowns. On November 30, 1987, Jackson’s 25th birthday, he broke out in a big way.
The Raiders had continued to lose, although the last two had been by close scores, and were now at seven straight defeats by the time they took on the Seattle Seahawks at the Kingdome in the Week 11 Monday night contest. The Seahawks were 7-3 under Head Coach Chuck Knox and still had a solid core on offense with QB Dave Krieg, WR Steve Largent, and RB Curt Warner behind an aging but effective line. However, the defense was vulnerable against the run, and that would prove to be a significant factor against the Raiders.
Things didn’t start auspiciously for Jackson when he lost a yard on his first carry and then fumbled the ball away on his second. Following the fumble, the Seahawks drove 64 yards on nine plays that concluded with Kreig throwing to WR Daryl Turner for a 19-yard touchdown.
The Raiders came back in short order as QB Marc Wilson completed passes of 21 yards to TE Todd Christensen, 17 yards to WR Dokie Williams, and 46 yards and a TD to WR James Lofton. Jackson didn’t play much of a role in this drive, carrying once for four yards, but after LA took over again near the end of the opening period following a Seattle punt, he took off for a 15-yard gain to start the possession. The Raiders drove to another touchdown early in the second quarter, with Jackson catching a 14-yard pass from Wilson in the corner of the end zone for a 14-7 lead.
On the third play following another punt by the Seahawks, Jackson took a handoff at his own nine yard line and sprinted 91 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown – the longest run in Raiders history. That was it for the rookie in the first half, as Marcus Allen handled the running in the last two series of the half. Los Angeles added two field goals by Chris Bahr, of 23 and 47 yards, to take a stunning 27-7 lead at halftime (Seattle’s Norm Johnson missed a 54-yard attempt on the final play of the half). Bo Jackson had gained 122 yards on seven carries and a score and had the one catch for the 14-yard TD.
The Raiders took the second half kickoff and drove 75 yards in seven plays, highlighted by two Jackson carries – the first, a 42-yard run to the Seattle 22 and then, taking a pitchout at the two yard line, a touchdown in which he ran over the Seahawks’ highly-touted rookie linebacker, Brian Bosworth.
LA scored once more, on a possession that started with safety Vann McElroy intercepting a Krieg pass, as Bahr booted a 23-yard field goal to extend the lead to 37-7. Seattle finally scored again, on a three-yard touchdown pass from Krieg to TE Mike Tice near the end of the third quarter, but the outcome had long been decided. The final score was 37-14 in favor of the Raiders.
The statistics reflected LA’s domination of the Seahawks as the Raiders accumulated 507 total yards to 167 for Seattle. Of the Los Angeles total, 356 came on the ground, and Bo Jackson accounted for 221 yards on 18 carries with two TDs – while his 12.3-yard average gain was impressive enough, he had actually rolled up 202 on his first 11 attempts, before the Raiders turned conservative in the fourth quarter while running out the clock, an 18.4-yard average. The yardage total was a single-game franchise record that was eventually exceeded by Napoleon Kaufman in 1997.
Marcus Allen also carried the ball 18 times, for 76 yards - in addition, he threw a key block from the fullback position that launched Jackson on his 91-yard run. Marc Wilson completed 11 of 18 passes for 159 yards with two TDs and no interceptions. Dokie Williams was the leading receiver with 4 catches for 47 yards (James Lofton’s 46-yard TD reception was his only catch of the night).
The Seahawks were far less successful running the ball, gaining just 37 yards on 16 carries. Curt Warner led the way with 26 yards on 11 attempts. Dave Krieg went to the air 31 times and completed 17 for 170 yards with two touchdowns and two intercepted. WR Paul Skansi caught 4 passes for 54 yards.
“He’s awesome…he’s just awesome,” said veteran Raiders LB Rod Martin of Jackson afterward. “I mean, with the talent he has, I don’t know why he’d be looking for a curveball to hit.”
Bo Jackson would keep making it look easy, and would impress both football and baseball observers with his talent before a devastating hip injury curtailed both careers. In 1987, over the course of seven games he ended up running for 554 yards on just 81 carries for a 6.8-yard average and four touchdowns; Jackson added a career-high 16 catches for 136 yards and two scores.
As for the Raiders, it was a highlight in an otherwise gloomy year. In the 15-game season (the players’ strike resulted in the loss of one week of play), they finished with a 5-10 record, their worst since 1962, for fourth place in the AFC West. Seattle went 9-6 to place second in the division and secure a wild card spot in the postseason. The Seahawks lost to Houston in the first round.