Al “Bubba” Baker says he cried after getting recognition for unofficial sack crown

Portrait of Al "Bubba" Baker
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The expansion of sack statistics from before the stat became official in 1982 has allowed the stellar 1978 season of former Detroit Lions star Al “Bubba” Baker to get the credit it deserves.

While pre-1982 sack numbers remain unofficial for league history purposes, the 23.0 sacks by Baker during his rookie season in Detroit would be the most in a single season in league history. Michael Strahan’s 22.5 sacks during the 2001 season is the official benchmark for most sacks in a single season.

Baker, in the Around the NFL podcast, said learning that his 23 sacks were being widely recognized by Pro-Football-Reference and other statisticians made him get rather emotional.

For some reason, and I’m not kidding you, without any prompting, tears just started running down my eyes,” Baker said. “And my wife was inside, I opened up the patio doors. And my wife, first thing she said was, ‘What’s wrong?’ And I said, nothing’s wrong and I said come look at this. And, you know, we hugged and then I lost about an hour and a half, two hours. My daughter called. It was really emotional for my family. I guess at 6-foot-8, 290 pounds, that doesn’t sound really tough, but, we were all crying.

“You know somebody tells you you’re a sack leader and what do you do, you start crying. And I guess it’s because none of us really sat around like some players and, ‘We want this and we want that.’ We hadn’t thought about it for at least, for at least, I’m not kidding you, 20 years.”

Through research that has included play-by-play logs, game books, game footage and other sources, Pro-Football-Reference estimates it has 99 percent of the sacks from the 1970 AFL-NFL merger through the 1981 season accounted for, as well as about 95 percent of sacks in both the AFL and NFL from 1966 to 1969, and about 80 percent of sacks from 1961 to 1965. Pre-1960 sack statistics are more challenging to reliably compile.

That has allowed the performances of Baker, Deacon Jones, Jack Youngblood and other standout pass rushers to have their success on the field quantified reliably.

Baker was the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1978 following his standout campaign. He was a three-time Pro Bowl selection and made the All-Pro team his rookie year. Baker finished his career with 131 sacks in 13 seasons played for the Lions, St. Louis Cardinals, Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings. The 131 sacks would put him 21st all-time.

21 responses to “Al “Bubba” Baker says he cried after getting recognition for unofficial sack crown

  1. Glad they are at least printing and acknowleging these stats. Congratulations to Bubba Baker and to all the pre 1982 players who had great careers. They paved the way for todays athletes to enjoy the sucess they do and make the Big Money.

  2. Bubba Baker is the all time single season sack king.

    Glad to know Strahan and Favre’s farce wasn’t enough to be the real record.

  3. The true and real will usually win over the false. Congrats to Bubba the Beast!

  4. On Coy Bacon’s 1981 Topps football card he was credited with 26 sacks for the Bengals in the 1976 season.

  5. Not to mention Bubba has become a multimillionaire selling bbq ribs since appearing years ago on Shark Tank. Can’t sack that!

  6. Glad to see the players the game was built off the back of, get the recognition the deserve in the statistic book.

  7. Now the question is would Brett Farve lay down a second time to give Michael Strahan 23.5 sacks if Baker had the record ?

  8. Nice story…. Seems like a humble guy….
    After that 23 sack rookie season he averaged a respectable 9 sacks per season over the remaining 12 years…..

  9. Joe Klecko (20.5) and Mark Gastineau (20.0) combining for 40.5 sacks in 1981 is an amazing stat also.

  10. Good for Bubba. Now make it official and recognize Baker’s legitimate season sack record and air out the stench of Strahan’s bogus record from the book forever. While they’re at it, retroactively fine Favre for taking a dive.

  11. Anything that can than be done to lessen Brent’s dive and Strahan’s fake record we should be all for it.

  12. What aboot an average sacks per game statistic… something like batting average in baseball? With the inclusion of players from 14-game seasons, the total sack numbers are misleading considering the decades of 16-game seasons which followed and now the 17-game seasons.

  13. Good for the game that they are expanding the stats and giving homage to the great players who have been forgotten.

  14. He did it. There’s nothing unofficial about it. The NFL doesn’t even know what a catch is, who cares what they say.

  15. So cool.. He also played basketball for Colorado State as well. He was my BB summer camp coach, and was a riot. Late in his FB career, he would spend time during the off season back in Fort Collins and play pick-up hoops at the gym I was at. Since I was 6′-4″, 220#, I always had to guard him. I could hold my own, but once he got inside, it was over… One of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet.

  16. I recall that when he played for the Vikings, he got ejected from a game and maybe even got a fine and suspension. Why? After a play, he nonchalantly walked up to an opposing player and gave him a two-fingered, ‘Three Stooges’ eyeball poke. I’ll see if the play is on YouTube.

  17. Well now that we moved to 17 games, all of these single season records are in artificial jeopardy.

    Great for Bubba to get this moment before someone breaks the record in more games. Feel good story.

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