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The Clown Prince Of Football
Paul Zimmerman
August 05, 1985
Sack specialist Bubba Baker gets a kick from the juicier tabloids, and he would rather joke than fight, but he's one of the best
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August 05, 1985

The Clown Prince Of Football

Sack specialist Bubba Baker gets a kick from the juicier tabloids, and he would rather joke than fight, but he's one of the best

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By the end of the 1982 season his hostility toward Clark and the Detroit Lions had reached the breaking point. He begged for a trade.

"It seemed they were always checking me for something," Bubba says. "I'd take any test—as long as Wild Turkey's not illegal.

"After the '82 season I heard Monte tell Larry Lee, whose weight had gone up to 290, 'You show up for minicamp like that and you're gone.' So I gambled. I gained 66 pounds from February to April, up to 332. I'd even eat pasta in the morning. The three biggest friends in my life were my wife, my God and my refrigerator."

The Lions finally gave in and traded him to St. Louis and Jim Hanifan, whom he calls "my kind of coach. He treats us like men, instead of the animals we are." He played the first year heavy ("310 pounds and inside I was dying") but trimmed down last season to 270. He hopes to play at 260 or under in '85.

In Detroit he had played the right side, the sacking side, for five years, but St. Louis decided to move him over to left end, the power end. Play the run, play the pass, square up on your man and control him.

"I was neither fish nor fowl," he says. "That wasn't me. This year you're gonna see the old pass-rushing Bubba Baker. I'm gonna discontinue trying to be Lee Roy Selmon. I can't jack up a 300-pound man and pin him down, but I can line up on his outside shoulder and say, 'Hey, buddy, you're gonna throw the ball 40 times, no way you'll block me 40 times. You can trap me, run the draw on me, but by golly, on third-and-10 I'll be so wound up you'd better worry.'

"I'm obsessed with this now. All I've been doing is running, a dozen quarters, a dozen 220s, then sprints of 100 and 40 yards, with 15 seconds' rest in between. People have criticized me. They've said, 'Bubba Baker, all he does is rush the passer.' Well, you've got a guy in New York named Gastineau. All he does is rush the passer and he makes something like $800,000 a year." (Last year Gastineau had 22 sacks, Baker 10.)

A return to doing things his own way actually makes sense in a way. In college Bubba got so disgusted with the fraternity system that he started his own fraternity, Bubba Phi Bubba. In the NFL the players he admired most were always the individualists, such as Matt Millen, the Raiders' linebacker.

Dave Pureifory, his teammate on the Lions, was another alltimer on Bubba's character list. "I roomed with him, and I sincerely believed he was the toughest guy in pro football," Bubba says. "He was mean, ornery; he didn't talk to anyone else on the team. He used to say, 'Al, don't trust anyone.' He used to make a tape for every game and go in a room by himself and listen to it, stuff like 'pain is only mental.' He played with two bad shoulders and a bad knee that had a loose piece of bone floating around—it would crack when he walked—and he played the strike year with a lot of pain. He'd work on my mental attitude, and there were times when he'd have me going crazy out there, actually gritting my teeth and everything like that. Against Denver he had me so psyched that I actually walked up to the line saying, 'Kill, kill, I'm gonna kill Claudie Minor.'

"Then on the first play, Claudie bent me backward so far that I sprained my toe. As I limped off, Pureifory yelled at me, 'It's only pain,' and I yelled, 'Hey, Pureifory, shut the hell up! That stuff doesn't work for me.' "

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