Al Bubba Baker
My Elite Network: Why did you decide to attend Colorado State University?
Al “Bubba” Baker: I was a basketball and football player. I actually thought I was going to be drafted into the NBA. During my rookie year, I was invited to a basketball camp that turned out to be a horrible experience. All they did was run! I don’t think the average person realizes that an NBA player is a superior athlete. In the NBA they do one thing and one thing only – they run. That’s all they do. They throw like eight balls and do drills. Most of the players are 180 – 200 pounds. They don’t think twice about running. I realized pretty quickly that basketball and the NBA wasn’t for me!
My Elite Network: When you first arrived in Fort Collins for college, how difficult was the transition coming from New York?
Al “Bubba” Baker: My first year at Fort Collins, I walked around with my fists clinched, it took almost a whole year for me to relax and to finally realize that I was safe. It was a completely different atmosphere than what I was used to. I also played for a very conservative man. He was probably the first man to invest into my character. But, when you’re 18 years old and people are talking to you about character, it means absolutely nothing. I think it was Socrates that said, “you don’t let wisdom get in the way of your education.” That comment is so true. I got book knowledge from attending Colorado State. The people in my life, my children, my wife, have all changed me. I was like a rock being chipped away. To create what I consider, at this point of my life, was a piece of art.
My Elite Network: Do you remember how you were notified that you were drafted?
Al “Bubba” Baker: The draft back then was very different today. First, there was no Combine. You would be invited to play in Bowl Games and the professional scouts would come to the games to watch you. If you were lucky, one of the coaches would notice you and you could get drafted. I got a phone call on May 2, 1970 from this guy telling that I was drafted and I was expected to be there by Monday. So, I immediately drove to Denver to get on a plane to Detroit.
My Elite Network: Do you remember the first time you walked out on the field?
Al “Bubba” Baker: Back then, there was no training facilities or a training table. We would eat at Popeye’s Chicken or something similar. As soon as I arrived in Detroit, I was on my way to the Silverdome. Once there, they gave me a helmet, a jersey, and shorts. That was it. When the veterans reported to camp and they saw how intense I was, they realized that I believed in myself and that I could play at this level – that’s what separated me from the rest of the rookies I just knew I could play at that level.
My Elite Network: Do you have a memory from a favorite game?
Al “Bubba” Baker: Oh yeah, but it is not one I want to remember. There was a guy on the team who told me that I really wouldn’t know what it was to play in the NFL until I got my bucket knocked off. I was thinking he was crazy, I had no idea what he was talking about. I mean, here I’am 20 years old. My rookie year, we played New England on Thanksgiving Day. It was third and long and I knew what I was supposed to do – get a piece of the quarterback. I just took off down the field and this player hit me in the side of my helmet. I was toppled like a bowling ball right in front of my sideline. There was no question that I had a concussion. The next thing I remember was that I was on an airplane coming back from New England. Everyone was asking me if I was OK. I thought that maybe this is not the game for me. I even thought about going back to Colorado and getting my masters’ degree. I called my mother and told her that I didn’t think that this is what I wanted to do. She said that I wasn’t coming home and that I just needed to face it. Looking back, it was probably the best thing that happened in my professional career because it made me step up. It was the most embarrassing and humbling moment in my playing career. The lesson that I learned was how to keep my butt low to the ground. You learn from your failures. If you get too high, you fall from grace and that is a bitter pill for anyone to handle. That hit, made me the man that I am today.
My Elite Network: How did you get on Shark Tank?
Al “Bubba” Baker: My daughter is a huge fan of the show. In 2013 my daughter completed the online application and she filled out everything except for the description, I did that. Once I submitted the application, I was told it was a 2 1/2 year waiting list. A few months later I get a call and I thought it was some friends messing with me, so I hung up. Lucky for me they called back! It was the associate producer for Shark Tank. Apparently, the Bankers loved my product – boneless ribs. I think playing in the National Football League prepared me for my presentation on the show. The process was intense and nerve racking. But, we got through it!
My Elite Network: What do you think you bring to other people?
Al “Bubba” Baker: I hope that people will look at me and see that I was successful in the NFL because of my hard work and dedication to the game. To be successful, you need to take life’s lessons and apply them to the new. I call it a “new adventure.” I think it’s important to show your children and your grandchildren perseverance. I always talk to my children about the difference between a brave man and a coward. The brave man doesn’t let fear stop him from moving forward. I remember when I had the crap knocked out of me on national TV and I wanted to quit the National Football League. We all have had those moments when we want to quit. But it’s how we handle those moments that turns it into life’s defining moments.
My Elite Network: What have you learned from your life?
Al “Bubba” Baker: I’m on this wonderful journey, every day I’m learning new things. Sometimes the hardest part is if something happens and it’s not part of your plan, how you react. Now, when something unexpected happens, I get all the facts and figure out how we can fix it and how we get things back on course. My wife and I wake up every morning and we say let’s make sure that it’s not about the money. That’s my story, way more humbling than most people think. I can’t say this enough, I am so grateful that I have my children. Sure, I’ve got pain from my playing days and I’ve got some things that don’t work. It is all about appreciating life and being humble. I can hear music and I can taste it. My life is so simple, I have been blessed.
Author: Celi Leggett
Recently retired from a successful 25 year career in education/administration, Celi Leggett, is known as an amateur photographer being featured in several Mississippi Cookbooks and Colorado College sports publications. Her eye for detail and personal relationship skills bring a sense of thoughtfulness to her writing.