"This is the first time I've watched this," says Bengal linebacker Kevin Walker as he settles into a chair in front of a VCR and a 19-inch monitor. A coaches' tape of the Bengal-Raider AFC playoff on Jan. 13 is playing. Bo Jackson, number 34 in a black Raider jersey, is lined up at the L.A. 16-yard line in the Los Angeles Coliseum. Walker, number 59 in white, goes into his stance at the 24, a yard off the line of scrimmage and outside the right end.
We are about to watch what may turn out to be the last play of Jackson's pro football career.
Raider quarterback Jay Schroeder takes the snap and wheels to pitch to Jackson. "My job's to watch the reverse and the bootleg," says Walker as he watches Jackson on the tape, sprinting around his right end, away from Walker. "Now I've got to pursue the ball." Walker watches himself slashing through Raider blockers, toward Jackson. Bo? He's weaving through Bengals cleanly.
"I thought he had a chance of breaking it, right about here," Walker says when he sees Jackson evading a shoestring tackle near the Raider 32. Into the picture bursts Walker, lunging for Bo at the 50 and collaring him. "Regular play," says Walker. "Regular tackle."
When the tape is slowed, you can see Walker hanging onto Jackson's waist at the Bengal 46 then sliding down around his knees as Bo—straining, straining, straining—takes one final stride with his left leg in an attempt to break free at the Cincy 43. "I wasn't letting go for nothing," says Walker. "The play's over, and I didn't hear Bo say anything. I had no idea he was hurt."
Jackson had no idea he was hurt as seriously as he turned out to be—he suffered a small fracture in the back of his left hip socket and cartilage sheared away in the hip joint.
As Walker watches the play six more times, he's polite and devoid of feeling. His reaction might stem from his own career-threatening injury, torn ligaments in his left knee midway through the '88 season, or maybe from the way a football player has to condition himself emotionally. The end of any player's career might be one play away.
"Anything can happen in life. Anything can happen in football," Walker says. "Each snap can be your last. We all know that. I don't feel bad—or sorry. It's just two guys playing a game hard, the way it's supposed to be played. I'm sure Bo realizes the risk."