Did you know that Bo … has already had his own video games?
Bo Jackson, a former NFL running back for the Los Angeles Raiders and Major League outfielder, is the only player to be named Pro Bowler in football and All-Star in baseball. So in 1990, American toy maker Tiger Electronics released a portable game that allowed users to play with Jackson on soccer and baseball fields. The following year, Nintendo abandoned Bo Jackson’s Hit and Run for Game Boy and Bo Jackson Baseball for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
Still, his trio of games probably wouldn’t have been possible without the virtual stardom he gained at the 1989 Tecmo Bowl, the first console game to be licensed by the NFL to feature players by name, image and likeness. To this day, Jackson in Tecmo Bowl and the 1991 Super Bowl Tecmo is considered one of the greatest avatars in video games, along with Madden NFL 2004’s Michael Vick.
Madden was first released on PC in 1988 during Jackson’s second season in the NFL. But due to licensing issues and a hip injury during the 1990 NFL season that forced his early retirement from football, Jackson never appeared in Madden. during his playing days. It wasn’t until 2014 that Jackson made his Madden Debut as a Special Edition player in the Ultimate Team game mode.
On Wednesday, EA Sports announced that not only will Jackson be returning to the game for the first time since Madden NFL 15, but he will also have the honor of becoming a Madden cover athlete. Almost 35 years after starting his NFL career in 1987, Jackson will be making special digital coverage of Madden NFL 22. And starting Friday, players will once again be able to play with him virtually. EA Sports has also partnered with Nike to revisit the famous sportswear brand. Bo knows advertising campaign by incorporating a digital version of its iconic shoe, the Nike Air Bo Turf, into the game.
Jackson is the seventh running back to be named Madden Cover athlete, after Eddie George (Madden 2001), Marshall Faulk (Madden 2003), Shaun Alexander (Madden 2007), Peyton Hillis (Madden 12), Adrian Peterson and Barry Sanders (both Madden 25).
Ahead of the cover unveiling, The Undefeated’s Aaron Dodson sat down with Jackson to talk about his Tecmo Bowl days, how Bo knows came to life, its Madden back and more.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
What does it mean to you to finally be a cover athlete for the game, 35 years after starting your career?
This has been in the works on and off for years. The timing had to be right for my brand. Working with the folks at Madden to smooth things over, dot all i’s, cross all t’s – once we were done the rest was just going to do it. I thought that somewhere in my past I had done something right so that I would still be considered one of the iconic athletes of over 30 years ago. Madden still thinks enough of me to do something like this.
Your video game heritage dates back to 1989 when you became the star of the Tecmo Bowl. What was it like to see you virtually back then?
I always see myself in the Tecmo Bowl. I still have the video game. I still have the machine to play it. But it’s in a box somewhere in storage. It is emblematic. It really does me good to have mature men in their forties who say, “Hey, my cousin and I got into the biggest fight of our lives because we both wanted to be. you at the Tecmo Bowl when we were young. So our parents took the game and my dad locked it in his tool cabinet. We couldn’t play with it for a month because the fight was so intense. I hear that a lot. When I’m on sports memorabilia, people make up this video game. They say, ‘I still have the machine to play. My children play there. My grandchildren are playing it… and everyone is still arguing over who Bo Jackson will be. ‘ Tecmo Bowl… it was a lot of technology back then. You look at it now and it’s like, ‘Wow, that’s an antique.’
Is it true that you have never played Tecmo Bowl?
I have never played the Tecmo Bowl. It is the honest truth of God. I watched people play it a lot. But I knew what I could do. I knew what the Tecmo Bowl man could do. It makes me happy to listen to people compliment me on this game.
Part of Your Video Game Return to Madden Includes Celebrating the Iconic Nike Bo knows campaign. Take us back to the beginning. How did the brand present the idea of Bo knows for you?
We came across Bo knows accidentally. Directors, writers, designers – we were sitting reviewing some storyboards for our next shoot. We wanted to cut it because it was a bit too long. Everyone was giving their opinion on this and that. I just said, ‘Why don’t we do this? … Why don’t you move it here, put it here, combine it and cut it for about five or six seconds? ‘ They looked at me and said, ‘Wow. It will probably work. Then someone across the table looked at me and said, “Bo Knows! And it stuck. No one sat down and racked their brains or lay awake all night thinking about that slogan. It just happened sitting around the war table, examining the gunfire.
Before you got a signature shoe, the Nike Air Bo Turf, in 1990, you were headlining the Nike Air Trainer 3, known as the your shoe. What memories do you have of the Air Trainer 3?
Well, I’ll tell you like that. In 1969, when I was in my first year of childhood in the Alabama countryside, during the winter it was in the mid-1930s outside. And I had to go to school barefoot. No shoes. I’m not saying this out of sympathy or as a bloody story. But I remember my brother standing a block from the house. I am at the front door. My sister was standing one block from my brother and my other sister was at the bus stop. When my sister at the bus stop saw the bus up the hill a few blocks away, she yelled at my other sister, who was yelling at my brother, and my brother was yelling at me. Then I walked out the door barefoot. And by the time my brother got to my first sister, I would have caught him already. By the time we get to the bus stop, I have 15, 20 meters in front of my brother and my sister. From going to school barefoot during the winter of 69 to growing up and having a sneaker inspired by me… I was blessed.
After 30 odd years, people still brag about this shoe and collect this shoe. A few weeks ago a good friend of mine, Anthony Anderson, the comedian, texted me, “Hey, Bo! I do a show on all my sneakers. I can’t find your Air Trainers. I need a pair of your shoes! I happened to have a pair sitting in my office. I said, ‘Hey, well, I got a pair here. I can just send them to you. It’s times like this that I sit down and say “Wow”.
This NFL season, New York Giants running back and Nike athlete Saquon Barkley received their own version of the Air Trainer 3. How did you feel to see him pay homage to you through the sneaker?
I blessed him with these shoes. It was like saying, ‘Grasshopper, now is the time to carry this torch. And you have to wear it well. I know he will do a good job. Saquon is a good boy. He reminds me a lot of myself. Works with power and has a straight head. This is what impresses me the most. These are not his statistics. I like the way he behaves.
There will always be a Bo Jackson. But when you think of the NFL running backs that followed you, which one reminds you the most?
I can only think of two – Saquon and Derrick Henry – about brute strength, power and knowing how to navigate the pitch and defense. They don’t necessarily have the speed I had. But they made it work for them. They are very successful at what they do. And that’s why they’re considered the best running backs in the game right now.
When you think back to your career, what is a piece that you did that you think could have come out of a video game?
The one that no one talks about except the Denver Broncos fans is when we went to Denver and I went over their defense on a play like a hot knife in butter. I’m not bragging, but it’s just being the size I was then and how well I learned in college to run behind my towels. Which means you would never catch me running standing up unless someone 5 or 6 yards behind me is trying to chase me. But when I was in traffic, in the thick of the action, it only took me once to realize that not running behind your pads is bad for you. I can’t think of the gentleman’s name, but he was a Cardinals linebacker when they were in Phoenix. He blew me up. He hit me on the 6 or 7 yard line and dropped me on the 2. He helped me up and said, ‘Hey, Bo, listen, you gotta save me my check. You have to run harder. I look at him like, ‘You’ve lost your mind. I don’t go up in this hole anymore. The next piece, I bounced it outside and used my speed.
Editor’s Note: In the fourth quarter of a Raiders-Broncos game on Dec. 2, 1990, Jackson scored a 62-yard rushing touchdown, breaking five tackles en route to the end zone. He finished the afternoon with 13 carries for 117 yards and two scores.
This [Denver] game, once I got through the linemen, I ran over a linebacker, I jumped over someone else. And if I’m not mistaken, I hit their All-Pro linebacker, [Karl] Mecklenburg, and passed the defensive back to the goal line. It’s a game that marked me because I had to do everything, miss someone, jump, go down low and go 60 meters for a touchdown.
What went through your mind when you first saw yourself on the cover of Madden?
I just sat down and said, “Dude, you still have it.” I did something good. And that’s what I preach to guys like Derrick Henry and Saquon Barkley: Do it right. If you do it right the first time, you will remember it forever.
Madden’s Curse can’t affect you at this point, can it?
Madden’s curse? [Laughs.] It can’t affect me.
You haven’t played the Tecmo Bowl with yourself. Are you going to play with yourself in Madden?
I do not know. But what I’m doing right now is spending a lot of time with my new grandson. So I’ll probably get the game back and keep it for him. But I can’t wait for it to come out. Believe me, I’ll have my Madden gaming case to give away for Christmas presents.