It didn’t take long Wednesday. A few welcoming handshakes, an introduction to the new faces on the roster, a quick skimming of the playbook, a few sprints up the middle at practice, a couple of swing passes and Bo Jackson, on Day I, Year II, Career II, had an announcement.
“I’m ready to play now,” the Raider running back said. “I know the plays. If we were playing tomorrow, I think I would be ready.”
That won’t be necessary. The Raiders don’t play until Sunday, which will give Jackson plenty of time to refine his skills.
Jackson, who is starting his second year with the Raiders after completing his season as a Kansas City Royals outfielder just 10 days before, figures he’s already off and running.
“It feels better than last year,” he said. “I’m not nervous. I’m not coming here uncomfortable. I’m not a new person around here anymore. There is nothing here I don’t already know. The system is new with different names, different terminology, but I’m comfortable. The players who have been here since training camp don’t know all the plays.”
Nobody has questioned the football talent of Jackson, the 1985 Heisman Trophy winner. Certainly not anyone who saw his performance against the Seattle Seahawks on a Monday night last season. Jackson set team records for total yards rushing (221) and longest run from scrimmage (91).
The question has always been his stamina and health. Jackson is the first to attempt to play both sports at the same time. He will take the field for the Raiders after appearing in 124 games for the Royals, with whom he hit 25 home runs and stole 27 bases this season.
But Jackson just shrugged off such concerns, as he has done in the past.
“Idle time is something that doesn’t fit into my agenda,” he said. “I try to keep myself busy. That’s just the way I am.”
But what does he do, he was asked at a press conference at Raider headquarters in El Segundo, to avoid physical and mental fatigue?
His reply: “Try to have as few press conferences as possible.”
Despite all his optimism, when Jackson was asked whether he would play Sunday, he would only say: “That is my secret.”
Maybe so, but it’s the worst-kept secret in town. His coach, Mike Shanahan, indicated that the question concerning Jackson’s participation Sunday is not if, but how much.
Some of the answer may lie with tailback Marcus Allen. Allen, who sat out last week with a broken bone in his left wrist and a lacerated left hand, will attempt to play Sunday with a new, smaller cast.
“There are a lot of question marks,” Shanahan said. “Can Marcus play? How effective will he be if he does play? Is Bo Jackson comfortable with the system coming in? I think he is.
“I’m not thinking of Bo coming in as a starter, but coming in having the ability to play. I think he will be able to play Sunday.”
Ironically, Sunday’s game is at Kansas City, the place where Jackson just performed in baseball cleats, and the place where he last performed in football cleats before an ankle injury prematurely ended his first Raider season.
When Jackson made his first and only Kansas City appearance in silver and black, he was the target of outraged fans, many of whom thought he was being disloyal.
“I think I was a victim of circumstance,” Jackson said. “With the rivalry the Chiefs and Raiders have, the people dislike the Raiders. I was just caught in the middle of it. It took time for people to let off steam.
“I’ve been accepted there as a baseball player. I’m looking forward to going back Sunday. It’s a good way to start, picking up where I left off.”
The fans may have been placated on the matter of Jackson’s unique hobby, but Kansas City management has not. The team is reportedly going to attempt to sign Jackson to an exclusive baseball contract before spring training.
His feelings on the matter, however, will have to wait until baseball is again on his speaking agenda.
“This summer, when people asked me anything about the Raiders or football, I had no comment,” he said. “The same thing goes now. I left the Royals in Kansas City. I’ll see them whenever. But I’d rather not talk about it.”
Defensive back Ron Fellows, who was cut earlier this season and then re-signed by the Raiders, will replace rookie Dennis Price at left cornerback Sunday. Opposing quarterbacks have been taking advantage of the inexperience of Price, a fifth-round draft choice out of UCLA. . . . Vann McElroy may be back at his free safety spot Sunday. Sidelined since opening day with knee problems, McElroy returned in substitute situations last week. But the current starter, Eddie Anderson, is listed as questionable for Sunday with a sprained elbow.