I built a section of the story I wrote on Bo Jackson around my memory of racing him before a football game when I was four years old. It was at the 1984 A-Day game, which I only learned after meeting David Rosenblatt, former curator for the Lovelace Athletic Museum.
Imagine this as your first Auburn memory (age 4): a person, a presence, a power, some all-powerful something is somewhere behind you. You know it’s there. But you can’t see it. People are cheering. You’re knocked to the ground. Millions of kids are running toward something called a touchdown and you realize that you’re not with them and that you will never catch up, you won’t get to participate in what you were told was a once in a lifetime event. He was among us and you missed him. You cry and your dad comes over and you look up and all you know is that it is now in front of you, out of sight, untouchable, but actually real, the winner before it started, something in orange and blue, something that defines your imagination more than He-Man, Luke Skywalker, or Santa Claus.
Something called Bo Jackson.
For years, I thought it was a dream.
“No, that actually happened, that’s real,” David Rosenblatt tells me. “My daughter raced against him, too.”
David told me there was a picture of the race. He was right. I found it at photographic services. Then I lost it. A couple of months ago, Paul Henson, a TWER reader, emailed me a scan of a clipping from The Birmingham News. It was the picture.
It can’t be — he’s too old, and yeah, I was on the ground crying somewhere along the 20 yard line — but I swear the kid in the hat furthest to the left looks just like me. I wore nothing but ringer tees back then and totally had a conductor’s hat like that.
Here’s how Pat Dye remembered the race when I interviewed him for the Bo story in October:
Me: I raced against him the at ‘84 A-Day game… or I kinda did.
Coach: Ya’ did?
Me: Yeah. I didn’t beat him.
Coach: I tell you what, that was a damn… well, you know what happened, did we put’em at the 10 or the 20 (yard line)? No, he was on the goal line, so they must have been on the 20 yard line then. But the cheerleaders lined up down the middle of the field to form an alley for Bo to run in. I started the race. On your mark, get set… and them damn chilluns took off. And when I said ‘go,’ Bo took off. Well, that alley lasted about two seconds. There was chilluns everywhere. That alley, I mean it evaporated. Well, Bo goes running down that field and he’s dodging chilluns the whole way. That’s probably the best run he’s ever made in his life. Dodging damn six years olds, going to the other end of the field, laughing the whole time. And he passed the last one at about the five-yard line.
Me: I didn’t know that. There’s a picture of it I found and there’s kids running and he’s got a grin on his face.
Coach: I asked a little ol ‘boy comin’ off the field, I said ‘did you beat Bo?’ His eyes were big as saucers. He said ‘No, but I almost did.’
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