An Alleged Shady Deal Turned Bo Jackson Into A Baseball Legend

Bo Jackson isn't history's only multi-sport professional athlete. Jim Thorpe was doing it decades earlier, and Deion Sanders was plating both baseball and football — the same two sports as Jackson — but you'd be hard pressed to find someone willing to argue that Jackson wasn't the best all-around athlete of his era. It's close, but as Bleacher Report put it, you have to give the edge to Jackson.

According to Pro Football Reference, Jackson spent his entire NFL career as a member of the Los Angeles Raiders, but his career was limited to just four seasons after he sustained a hip injury in a 1991 playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals that ended his football career. Jackson returned to Major League Baseball after the injury, but he never quite achieved the same level of achievement he had before the injury, per Baseball Reference.

It's hard to picture Bo Jackson not wearing the Raiders' iconic black and silver, but that nearly happened because Jackson was nearly a Tampa Bay Buccaneer, had it not been for a bit of a shady move on the part of the team's then-owner, Hugh Culverhouse.

Jackson's somewhat unusual draft history

Given Jackson's status as a two-sport star, there was a lot of interest between teams in both Major League Baseball and the National Football League. Jackson was first selected in the 1982 Major League Baseball Draft, where he was selected in the second round by the New York Yankees (via Baseball Reference). This was as Jackson was leaving high school, and instead of going right to professional baseball, Jackson played both baseball and football at Auburn University, a decision he made even after the Yankees offered him a reported $200,000, per the Los Angeles Times.

"I didn't see the need to ride a bus for three or four years (in the minors) when in about the same length of time I could get a college degree," Jackson said of his decision. Jackson was picked in the 20th round of the 1985 draft, this time by the California Angels, but again he chose not to sign and returned to Auburn. In 1986, he was looking to top the draft board, only this time it would be in the NFL Draft.

Jackson and the Buccaneers

According to Fansided, all eyes were on Jackson ahead of the 1986 NFL Draft. He was the consensus first overall pick, and that year, such a pick belonged to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was known at the time that Jackson's true passion was with baseball, and this concerned the Buccaneers, fearful that they'd take Jackson — using their valuable first overall pick in the process — only to lose him to Major League Baseball.

Buccaneers owner Hugh Culverhouse sent his private plane to Auburn where Jackson was preparing for his senior baseball season. The plan was for Jackson to meet with the team ahead of the draft. The team insisted that this didn't run afoul of NCAA or SEC eligibility rules, but it did. According to some reports, Jackson only learned of this breach of the regulations when his coach told him during warmups.

Jackson was understandably upset, and some believed the Buccaneers did this was done intentionally to get Jackson's 1986 MLB draft stock to plummet so far that he'd turn all of his attention toward football (via Sportscasting). Jackson told the Bucs not to take him, but they did anyway, and it blew up in their face.

Jackson turns his attention to baseball ... then back to football

When the 1986 MLB draft rolled around, the Kansas City Royals selected Jackson in the fourth round, per Baseball Reference. He stayed true to his word and flat-out refused to sign with the Buccaneers. Jackson started in the minors with the Royal's Double-A affiliate at the time, the Memphis Chicks, but made his Major League debut that same season.

Now, if you're the Buccaneers, at this point the best-case scenario would've been that Jackson simply stays in baseball. You burned a No. 1 pick, but you lick your wounds and move on. However, that's not at all how it worked out. In 1987, Jackson was eligible for the NFL draft once again, and while he was selected much later — this time in the seventh round, 183rd overall, per Pro Football Reference — he had been selected by the Los Angeles Raiders. Just to twist the knife that little bit more, he happily signed with the Raiders and went on to have a brief but legendary career as one of history's greatest multi-sport athletes.