Of all the personal heroes I've never actually met, Bo Jackson is one of the two who stand on top. "He was the greatest athlete in American history" would be reason enough for him to be there, but for me, his greatness goes a little past that.
It's typical for folks to look back on his hip injury, which ended his football career and severely compromised his baseball career, and see tragedy -- as though he, and we, missed out on another decade or so of two-sport dominance we were supposed to get. That Bo's story is sad, and that he's someone to be pitied. I find it absolutely impossible to feel that way after learning what Bo's been up to since he retired, including and not limited to bear-hunting at point-blank range.
The way Bo tells it, he waited as long as he could, then he fired a slug into that bear's skull. The bear kept coming. His buddy yelled, "Shoot him again!" and Bo shot him again, firing another bullet directly into the bear's noggin. Bo 2, Bear 0. And then Bo skinned that bear on the spot and dragged the 70-pound hide the half-mile back to camp.
At the end of the excellent 30 for 30 documentary "You Don't Know Bo," we see Bo in the dimly-lit, semi-finished basement of his house. He just sits down there and makes arrows for his crossbow. Bo Jackson was once a global megastar, arguably bigger and more celebrated than any American athlete playing today. For a little while, by some measures, one could argue that he was even bigger than Michael Jordan. Now he is a regular guy in his basement with a dorky hobby.
He seems really happy with this arrangement, too. Last year I wrote a piece on Bo with Bomani Jones, who said:
[E]very time you'd see an interview with him after his career, he sounded like he couldn't be more comfortable. Imagine being so confident in yourself, as a man, that you could have so much ripped from you in a single moment, yet grow and become someone who seems just as happy without it. That is Bo's most underrated feat: he moved on.
There is a list that includes "runs up an outfield wall," and "guns down Harold Reynolds at home from 350 feet away," and "snaps his bat over his knee," and "pushed his hip back into place all by himself, which the doctor believed to be impossible," and "trucked the Hell out of Brian Bosworth," and "hit 32 home runs and gained 1,000 yards from scrimmage in the same calendar year."
That is the list of things he did that you and I cannot do, and we can add "got the hell over it" to that list, even though he was the one who stood to lose so much. He seems, from my removed perspective, to be genuinely happy. He seems to have won in the only respect that truly matters.
So this week's Breaking Madden doesn't come from a place of regret or lament. We got to see him play football for four years, and this is a celebration of those years.
This will be a three-step experiment.
I. RECREATE TECMO BO.
Madden NFL 25 features some player customizations that allowed me to re-create Bo Jackson to my satisfaction, right down to the 1980s vintage Nikes, the giant floppy shoulder pads, and the neck roll he was usually wearing.
Anyone who played Tecmo Bowl is well aware of Bo's contributions to video gaming (the 30 for 30 documentary spent a full minute or two talking about it). By virtue of his speed and tackle-breaking ability, Tecmo Bo was perhaps the greatest athlete in the history of video gaming, and that is the Bo we aim to recreate here.
Predictably, I gave him 99/99 ratings in every conceivable category. Here's how they look side-by-side:
Even after beating the secondary, Tecmo Bo had to zig-zag up the field like he was running away from crocodiles. Thanks to some adjustments, which I'll get into shortly, Madden Bo sort of had to do the same. At any rate, Madden Bo is at least as quick as Tecmo Bo, which is good enough for me.
II. GIVE BO THE BEST OUTSIDE BLOCKING OF ALL TIME.
In order to ensure that Bo produces the sort of ground attack we witnessed in Tecmo Bowl, I've given the Raiders a collection of enormous super-blockers for his benefit whenever he decides to swing to the outside. As always, I found them on Twitter.
if you would like to be in the next Breaking Madden, please give an example of a thing that you know— Jon Bois (@jon_bois) November 18, 2013
As it turns out, y'all know a lot of things! In total, I received about 700 responses, and I thank you for all of them.
These are the six Twitterfolk who are suiting up:
Tight end: SB Nation's Chris Mottram (@ChrisMottram)
Chris is among my staunchest allies in the perpetual and costly Pie v. Cake war. There is not a single thing in this life more satisfying than a cup of coffee and a slice of apple pie. Meanwhile, cake segregates its flavorful parts (frosting) from its bland parts (the unnaturally-colored and -textured sponge), resulting in a wonky, unbalanced flavor. Never has something as decadent as sugar been pressed into the service of something so abjectly boring. To all the cakes who may be reading today: I hate you.
Fullback: ESPN.com's Pablo S. Torre (@PabloTorre)
I looked it up. This is true. If a dog kills 2,500 rats in seven hours, that's a rate of one dead rat every 10 seconds. Let's back up for a moment, though, and consider a barn with 25 rats in it. That's a lot of rats! Let's multiply that by ONE HUNDRED.
For extra credit, write up a character sketch of the individual who took it upon himself or herself to count 2,500 dead rats. I'm picturing a guy in a Safari hat, khakis crudely cut off halfway down the shins, and a trench coat with denim pockets everywhere. Like, even on the back of the coat. He keeps fish hooks and cigar cutters and whatnot in pockets on the back of his damn coat. He sewed them on himself. He's at the grocery store, but he doesn't have a cart. He brought in a red wagon, which he pulls behind him via a 10-foot rope he's tied to his waist. Every time he rounds an aisle, he knocks Cheerios and shit off the end cap. The wagon is full of frozen chicken nuggets and vinegar. He's going to make soup. He's gonna cook it in a giant sack over a bonfire. The bonfire is fueled by old furniture people leave out in the alleys. He calls it "burniture." He laughs and laughs.
Wide receiver: Andrew Del Toro (@stonecutter7)
The "today" is actually in reference to Monday, since that's when I tweeted the question. I mentioned at the start that Bo Jackson is one of my two greatest heroes I've never met. The other one is Bill Watterson. Like Bo, he produced timeless, all-surpassing greatness in the late '80s and early '90s, stopped before everyone wanted him to, and now lives a quiet life with quiet pursuits. And like Bo, he seems pretty happy with that.
Wide receiver: Ty O'Bryant (@TyOBryant)
As long as we're in the realm of video games, I may as well cop to my greatest gaming failure. I never beat the Water Temple. Ocarina of Time was an absolute masterpiece, and if you called it the greatest video game ever, I wouldn't be mad at you. I have so many nostalgic feelings toward that game -- a game I never beat. I hit the switch to make the water level rise in the Water Temple, and then, for the life of me, I couldn't figure out how to switch it back down when I needed to. My younger siblings further emphasized my failures by beating it when they were, like, seven years old. Had I beaten it, I might have grown up to be an architect or an engineer instead of a 31-year-old man who makes 400-pound wide receivers in Madden and giggles. I have no bridges or buildings to offer you.
Wide receiver: SB Nation's David Roth (@david_j_roth)
Company Man Favoritism Tour 2K13 rolls on with Mr. Roth, who brings up a verse of Jay-Z's "99 Problems" that I've taken a personal interest in. Specifically, the bit in which Mr. Carter claims the officer accused him of driving 55 miles per hour on a road with a speed limit of 54 miles per hour. I feel that that is a strange speed limit to post, and would further like to suggest that the officer in Mr. Carter's report should not have applied such an inflexible interpretation of the law, especially given the unusual nature of the speed limit posted.
Wide receiver: Nico Savidge (@NSavidge)
Apparently this is actually no longer true, but was until recently. They used kale to decorate a salad bar. Like, they used leafy vegetables to decorate a dispenser of leafy vegetables. What did they do, just tape leaves on the sneeze guard? I am trying and failing to visualize what this even looked like, because I haven't been inside an eat-in Pizza Hut in like 15 years. I don't think anyone else has, either. Those buildings are the Radio Shacks of food.
III. TOOL AROUND WITH THE TITANS, THE RAIDERS' WEEK 12 OPPONENT.
I got pretty far into this before realizing that this makes the Titans' third Breaking Madden appearance in four weeks, and every time, they've been on the short end of the stick. In Week 9 they had to go up against Brett Favre, and in Week 11 they were destroyed by Pat McAfee, Punt God. I totally didn't pick a Titans game on purpose, and at some point I'll make it up to y'all Titans fans.
But Lordy, that is so not going to happen today. I edited every single member of the Titans' defense. They are now a 0/99 in Strength, Tackling, Pursuit, Play recognition, and Stamina, which ought to ensure the quantity of broken tackles we saw in Tecmo Bowl.
The thing is, the defenders actually have to get to Bo in the first place to be able to miss a tackle. As such, I turned around and gave them perfect 99/99 ratings in both Speed and Acceleration. They are horrible, but they are fast.
Kill 'em, Bo.
Firstly, I would like to illustrate the dangers of fielding a super-fast, 400-pound, 7-foot-tall man at the fullback position. Mr. Torre proved well-meaning, but disastrously overeager.
This happened at least a half-dozen times. Torre was so excited to block for Bo that he would inadvertently bowl over quarterback Terrelle Pryor (I should have started Matt McGloin, but counterpoint: eh) before he even had a chance to make the handoff.
Pryor really seemed to hate this after a while.
Oh come onnnnnn now, that's a little overdramatic, isn't it? Getting knocked down a few times is no excuse to stagger away like a wounded samurai in a Kurosawa film. At any rate, I stopped calling plays that asked Torre to block on the opposite side of the line. The problem was solved, and the blockers were free to block like they were supposed to.
We've seen this in many a Breaking Madden episode, but I have yet to get tired of it. POWWWWWWW.
At one point, the Titans managed to tackle Bo at the 2. This interested me, because I thought I might be able to recreate his goal-line jump into the end zone during his Auburn days. You want to know something? Sliding a defense's Strength rating all the way down to zero tends to take a lot of drama out of the goal-line stand.
With varying degrees of success, I tried running a few circuitous, loop-de-loop runs, like we all used to in Tecmo Bowl. But once these guys are on the field for more than 30 seconds or so, they seem to run out of programming. They just don't know what to do. While Bo was running for his life back at his own 20, the rest of my team would congregate 40 yards upfield and just sort of hang out.
At one point, Madden stopped bothering to even animate members of the Titans' defense. Rather than actually block for me, my blockers decided it was more worthwhile to knock over the dude at the far corner of the field who wasn't moving.
I am satisfied with the brokenness of my Madden this week.
And finally, let's get to Bo himself. He trucked, stutter-stepped, and juked his way into the end zone a record number of times.
After a while, scoring on every play from scrimmage was almost a given.
It's important to note that I kept the game's master "Stamina" slider at its default level. Bo could, and did, get tired, and on a couple of occasions I had to call a timeout to keep him on the field.
He was effective even when tired. At full strength, he was immortal.
Raiders 238, Titans 47.
96 rushing attempts (NFL record)
2,533 rushing yards (single-game NFL record, also a single-season NFL record)
26.4 yards per carry
31 touchdowns (NFL record)
180 yards after first hit
- Yep, 47 points for the Titans. You might score 47 points too if your opponent only ate up 20 seconds per possession.
- Only one player this season, LeSean McCoy, has rushed for 180 yards in a single game. Bo piled up that many yards after his first hit.
- Bo's 2,533 rushing yards nearly matched his real-life career rushing total of 2,782.
- Bo's 31 touchdowns, of course, shattered the record. No entire team has scored that many rushing touchdowns in an entire season since the 2006 Chargers.
- Bo totaled 1.44 miles of rushing.
God, that was fun. We missed you, Bo. Here's one last, long look:
Music: "Do The Walls Come Down" from Carly Simon's 1987 album, "Coming Around Again"