Tuesday night, after Gus Malzahn had been introduced as head coach, I greeted Bo Jackson with a handshake. He greeted me as he almost always does: "You mean you're still here?"
Jackson, at 50, is everything we can all wish the greatest athletes and stars among us would be. He doesn't seek, need or want the spotlight. He uses his fame to help people less fortunate. He is loyal to his school. He's a supreme family man. He's what anybody would like his or her son to grow up to be.
It's been more than 30 years since I met Bo for the first time. He actually was widely known then by his given name of Vincent.
It was 1982 and signing day was getting close. I was sports editor of The Montgomery Advertiser. Bo was at Garrett Coliseum for the state indoor track meet. Pat Dye already knew Bo was going to sign with Auburn, but Bo had not publicly committed.
I found Bo sitting in the stands waiting for his next event. Auburn assistant Bobby Wallace, who recruited him, was sitting behind him. Based on the rules of the time, Wallace could not speak to him. But he was there to be seen if not heard.
Talking to Bo was not that easy. He had a stuttering problem and he really didn't like to be interviewed. I asked him if he knew where he planned on going to school. "Auburn or Tennessee," he said. I asked him if he planned to visit Tennessee, and he said he didn't. I asked him about Alabama.
"My mother would never get a good night's sleep if I went to Alabama," Bo said.
I didn't know at the time what had transpired, that Alabama assistant Ken Donahue had told Bo that he might start by the time he was a junior, that if he went to Auburn he would never beat Alabama.
Days later, Bo signed with Auburn and the rest is history. He remains the greatest pure athlete I've ever seen. At Auburn and later in the NFL and in major league baseball, he did things that had to be seen to believed. The bigger the moment, the more likely he was to do something that left mouths hanging open.
Once you'd watched Bo for a while, nothing surprised you anymore. The catastrophic hip injury that ended his career much too early robbed us all of the opportunity to see more feats of athletic greatness.
But those things aren't what impress me most about Bo, not now.
Already wealthy, he returned to Auburn to get his degree because he promised his mother he would. In 2009, he delivered the commencement speech at Auburn's graduation, something that would frankly have seemed impossible when he arrived at Auburn 28 years earlier.
Even at Auburn, Bo never sought fame or attention. He played football for fun. And it must be fun to play anything when you are as good at it as was.
When Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs asked Bo, his former teammate, to help choose Auburn's next football coach, he readily accepted, along with Pat Sullivan and Mac Crawford. Just having those names attached to the process gave it credibility.
Bo Jackson, perhaps the greatest athlete of our time, has lived his life the right way. And sure enough, I'm glad I'm still around to witness it.
You Don't Know Bo," a 30 for 30 documentary, premiers tonight at 8 on ESPN.
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