Bo Jackson doesn't do buses and he doesn't do bush leagues, and if he weren't absolutely forced to, he wouldn't do football practice. Right now Bo Jackson is sort of like the wealthy man who is asked how it feels to have all that money, and replies that it feels great.
Auburn's Heisman Trophy winner ambles into the latest of an incessant line of news conferences, and it is evident from his slump-and-lope carriage that he doesn't mind keeping the National Football League and all of baseball waiting. It seems the strangest thing happened on the way from the town of Bessemer, Ala., to Auburn: Jackson became a man with options.
The big business of being Bo Jackson is about to get even bigger. Auburn's tailback, who most notably rushed for 1,786 yards to win the Heisman Trophy, also happens to hit .401 as a center fielder. He has a 46-inch chest to prove it, and if you don't believe that, check Auburn's publicity book, which has outlined his physique for posterity, right down to the biceps (17 inches).
Jackson will play his final college football game in the Cotton Bowl against Texas A&M New Year's Day, and then he will start getting ready for his final college baseball season. He is a certain No. 1 NFL pick who has a pack of agents and all of Madison Avenue with fistfuls of endorsement contracts ready, awaiting his decision between the two sports. He also was drafted 20th by the California Angels and perhaps would have been a No. 1 pick if he hadn't made it clear that he would be playing football for the Tigers.
Not since John Elway swaggered out of Stanford three years ago with an offer from the New York Yankees and handpicked the Denver Broncos has an athlete had the potential to wield such power, and Jackson is getting ready to exercise it. Should he choose baseball, there's a chance he could negotiate a contract that sends him directly to the majors. Should he choose football, there's a chance he could pick his city.
"I don't like football practice," he said. "If the game were designed to make practice optional, I wouldn't do it. . . . I'd consider riding buses in the minor leagues like practicing for football."
Is there any place in the NFL he doesn't want to go?
"I'm not telling."
Jackson will wait until after his last baseball season to make a decision, and in the meantime is being maddeningly noncommittal. Auburn Coach Pat Dye says football, but Jackson calls that speculation and offers no hints.
"There won't be any deciding factors," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, I'll just draw a name out of a hat. If it says baseball, I'll play baseball. If it says football, then I'll play football. . . . Everyone has their own opinion. You're wasting your time to ask."
Options and their uses are not particularly new to Jackson. He has been courted and pursued since he was a senior out of McAdory High in McCalla, Ala., when he was offered a multiyear contract by the Yankees and was recruited by just about every school of note.
He has been under unrelieved scrutiny since he led the Tigers in rushing as a freshman, and in the interim has developed an eye and ear for pragmatism. For instance: "I don't talk to scouts," he says. "They talk to my coach. They're just like sales reps. They'll tell you anything."
Jackson has been usually gracious in the spotlight until now, but he is starting to flag under the strain of Heisman publicity. He has traveled everywhere this week with a three-ring escort and has changed his phone number three times in the last month. He spent today in bed with a slight case of strep throat but is expected to resume workouts Monday.
"The way life has changed is that you can't go nowhere, no place, without people noticing you," he said the other day. ". . . I'm more mentally tired than physically tired. It's doing the same thing over and over. At times it can play mind games with you. Sometimes I feel like saying to hell with all this and going off somewhere."
If Jackson is becoming somewhat weary of the attention lavished on him after four years, it is probably because of two now-famous incidents during the season that tarnished his image somewhat.
He took himself out of Auburn's games against Tennessee and Alabama with injuries -- both losses in which he was limited to fewer than 100 yards rushing.
The incidents may have been a factor in the Heisman voting, in which Jackson won by only 45 votes over Iowa's Chuck Long, the closest margin ever. Jackson is bitter toward his critics.
"Some people called me a coward," he said. "But I'd do it again. I can look back at my season and career at Auburn, and I know the critics won't be signing my paychecks."
What never has been in doubt is Jackson's gift for movement. His physical attributes are impressive: at 6 feet 1 and 222 pounds, he runs a 4.2 in the 40-yard dash, and he has a pair of cannon-fire legs that seem to keep wriggling long after the play is over. He has a wide-ranging style that lets him run around or over people, depending on his mood, and the result is an average of 162.4 yards a game.
"In his position, under the expectations, when he rushes for under 300 yards, that's a poor day," Texas A&M Coach Jackie Sherrill said. "That's the wrong thing to assess him on. The thing that really impresses you is how many tackles he breaks. . . . That, and look at the five-yard stripes on the sidelines and see how many he takes up with his stride. Well, he can go five and a half in two strides."
Jackson is perfectly serious when he says he doesn't like practice. He says that if he hadn't gone to Auburn, he would be working in a local plant in Alabama or as an enlisted man in the service. He seemingly would just as soon be hunting or fishing as he playing in the Cotton Bowl.
"I just do what I have to do to get by," he said. "I'm not an overachiever. I'd describe myself as a conservative runner. If I don't have to go all out, I don't.
"When I get past the line of scrimmage, I don't run for yards. I just run for my life, because I know they're all chasing me."