Al “Bubba” Baker
Born: December 9, 1956
Al Baker was born December 9, 1956 in Jacksonville, FL and grew up in Newark. He outweighed and towered over his friends, who nicknamed him Bubba. Bubba’s father was a special services trainer at Ft. Dix and his mother was involved in several small businesses. They instilled in him a solid work ethic and kept him off the streets during vacations and summer breaks by sending him to stay with his mother’s brother, Melvin Jenkins, a rib master in Jacksonville. Uncle Melvin was known as Daddy Jr. and owned Jenkins Quality Barbecue, with multiple locations in northeast Florida.
During the school year, Bubba excelled in a number of sports, including baseball, basketball and track (shot put). His best sport was football. At 6’6” and 220-plus pounds, he was the star of the Weequahic High offensive line, following in the footsteps of his two older brothers. All played under coach Burney Adams. Charles Baker earned All-America recognition at Bethune-Cookman and later played for the San Diego Chargers. Bubba turned down offers from a couple of Big Ten schools and accepted a scholarship from Colorado State in 1974. He was seduced by the mountains, he likes to say.
Bubba developed into one of the most ferocious defensive lineman in the nation while playing for coach Sark Arslanian in Fort Collins. The Rams were basically a .500 team until Bubba’s senior year, when they scored several upsets on the way to a 9-2-1 record. The fans were outraged when Colorado State did not receive a single bowl bid. It had been almost 30 years since their last one.
Bubba was selected by the Detroit Lions in the second round of the 1978 NFL Draft. He won the starting job at right defensive end in camp and played all 16 games as the Lions went 7–9. Bubba was named to the Pro Bowl and was a first-team All-Pro, and was named Defensive Rookie of the Year. Bubba was named to the Pro Bowl twice more, in 1979 and 1980. In 1980 and 1981, the Lions just missed the playoffs. In his first four years in the NFL, sacks were not an official statistic. During that time, Bubba got to the quarterback more than 50 times—including 23 times in his first season (the "official" record was set by Michael Strahan with 22.5 in 2001). He was the leader of the team’s “Silver Rush.”
In 1983, Bubba was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for Mike Dawson. The deal was a relief to Bubba, who rarely saw eye-to-eye with coach Monte Clark. With the Cards he was reunited with assistant Floyd Peters, a mentor in his early days with the Lions. Bubba switched to the left side and racked up double-digit sacks in three of the four years he played in St. Louis. He signed free agent deals with the Browns in 1987 and the Vikings in 1988, serving as a reserve both season. He returned to Cleveland in 1989 and was a starter for his final two NFL seasons. In 1989, the Browns made it to the AFC Championship Game, but lost to the Broncos. Bubba led Cleveland in sacks that year. Bubba retired in 1991 after Bill Belichick was named coach of the Browns. Never one to embrace tough training regimens, he knew at age 34 that training camp would be hell.
After football, Bubba put to work the skills he had learned as a teenager working beside his uncle in Jacksonville. He devised a patented method for de-boning spare ribs and opened Bubba’s Q World Famous Bar-B-Que in a Cleveland suburb. He ran his company, Queen Ann Inc., with his children Brittani and James and later sold a 30% share to Daymond John on Shark Tank. In 2004, Bubba was named the 9th greatest pass rusher in history by Sports Illustrated. In 2007 he was inducted into the Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame.