What Is The Bo Jackson Curse?

Bo Jackson is often regarded — rightfully so — as one of the greatest multisport athletes ever. According to History, there was a time in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Jackson was one of Major League Baseball's premier outfielders and one of the National Football League's best running backs. There was a stretch where he was an MLB all-star and an NFL Pro Bowl athlete in the same calendar year, a relatively unheard-of feat.

However, just as well known as Jackson's onfield prowess is the unfortunate fact that his athletic career was cut short, thanks to a hip injury. That same injury is thought to have not only affected Jackson physically, but to superstitious fans, it also placed a supernatural curse on the Cincinnati Bengals, the team who Jackson and his Los Angeles (now Las Vegas) Raiders were playing when he sustained the Injury. The curse — if you believe in it — wound up preventing the Bengals from seeing any postseason success for over 30 years (via ESPN).

Jackson quickly caught everyone's attention

Bo Jackson hails from Bessemer, Alabama, and quickly asserted himself as a talent to watch while still in school. As a teen, he excelled not just in baseball and football at McAdory High School, but in track and field too. He won a pair of state titles in the decathlon. On the diamond, he threw multiple no-hitters, and on the gridiron, he played every snap on both offense and defense. As if that wasn't enough, according to Britannica, he was also the team's kicker.

Fresh out of high school, Jackson was recruited by the New York Yankees, but instead of immediately going pro, he instead went to Auburn University. There he continued participating in baseball, football, and track and field, and managed to letter in all of them. At Auburn, Jackson's talents on the football field really stood out. He was named a consensus All-American twice and won the Heisman Trophy in 1985. He even qualified for the Olympics as a track and field athlete, per Biography,

Pro career

Jackson made his professional debut in 1986. He started with the Kansas City Royals AA affiliate, the Memphis Chicks, but was called up to the big league club the same season, per Baseball Reference. Jackson went full-time with the Royals in 1987, but that wasn't all he did that season. Jackson had been drafted first overall by the Buccaneers in the 1986 NFL draft, but he never joined the team. He was redrafted in the 1987 draft — this time by the Los Angeles Raiders in the seventh round, 183rd overall, per Pro Football Reference — and made his debut with the Raiders that same season.

That season, Jackson appeared in seven games and scored four touchdowns, rushed for 554 yards, and had the league's longest rushing attempt of the year, in which he managed to scamper 91 yards downfield. He also came in second place in Offensive Rookie of the Year voting.

The injury

By 1991, Jackson had asserted himself as one of the best players in both the MLB and NFL, but it all came crashing down on a single play. On January 13, 1991, Jackson's Raiders were hosting the Cincinnati Bengals for an AFC divisional playoff game (via Pro Football Reference). The Raiders wound up winning, 20-10, but the game is best remembered for when Bengals linebacker Kevin Walker tackled Jackson, which gave the multi-sport great a hip injury that effectively ended his athletic career (per ESPN).

Jackson never played another game in the National Football League, though he did return to baseball, where he played for the Chicago White Sox and California Angels, according to Baseball Reference. Still, he was unable to reach the level of play he had achieved prior to the injury.

According to many superstitious sports fans, it wasn't just Jackson who suffered from the injury. They'll tell you that the Bengals suffered, too.

The curse

The Bengals lost the game in 1991 in which Jackson was injured. That game also marked the Bengals' final postseason appearance for the next 15 years, per ESPN. The Bengals finally made it back to the NFL Playoffs in 2005, but that was just the start of another streak of playoff losses. Between 2005 and 2020 the Bengals made the postseason seven times and were not out in the wild card round each time, including five consecutive seasons from 2011 through 2015. The 2015 loss alone has been blamed on the curse, as it came in a penalty-filled matchup with the Bengals' division rival Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Bo Jackson curse, as it has come to be known, was also blamed for an injury to the Bengals' prized, first overall draft pick in the 1995 NFL draft, Ki-Jana Carter. The highly touted running back out of Penn State suffered a torn ACL ahead of his rookie season. According to Pro Football Reference, Carter played seven seasons in the NFL — four of them with the Bengals — but he never achieved the level of success he was thought to be capable of before the injury.

Did the Bengals break the curse?

The Bengals had a stellar 2021 season that put them at the top of the AFC North. They looked to be in good shape for a solid postseason run, but, of course, they had that pesky Bo Jackson curse to contend with. Because this is how the universe tends to work, their Wild Card Round opponents were the Las Vegas Raiders. The Bengals wound up winning the game 26-19, and it looked as if the curse could be over. It took 31 years, but the Bengals finally had another playoff victory.

The Bengals moved on to defeat the Tennessee Titans and the Kansas City Chiefs to reach Super Bowl LVI. There they took on the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California. It seems like there may be some remnants of the Bo Jackson curse floating around southern California, because the Rams ended up coming from behind to win the game on a one-yard passing play from Matt Stafford to Cooper Kupp, per Pro Football Reference.