Former Lion ‘Really Emotional’ Over Becoming Unofficial NFL Sack King

Al Baker

Getty Al Baker sacks a quarterback with Tampa Bay in 1988.

Al “Bubba” Baker isn’t the first name NFL fans think when they they consider the greatest pass rushers in league history, but it’s potentially time for that to change.

The former Detroit Lions defensive end was long recognized for having a phenomenal season in 1978 as a rookie when he burst on the scene with 23 sacks. The one problem? The league didn’t register that as an official stat, rendering Baker’s great season largely unknown.

Now, however, that’s beginning to change. While the league has not made the stat official, it can now be found on football database sites, meaning there is a level of reputability coming to Baker’s records that might help render him ahead of Michael Strahan as the league’s single-season sack king. It’s a fact that Baker was understandably thrilled to learn.

Joining Around The NFL, Baker was asked about his reaction, and he said it was surprise followed by instantaneous tears for his whole family.

He said:

“We hugged and I lost about an hour-and-a half, two hours. Because my daughter called. It was really emotional for my family. I guess at 6-8, 290 pounds, that doesn’t sound very tough, but we were all crying like little girls. Somebody tells you you’re the sack leader and what do you do? You start crying.”

As Baker also explained in the same interview, he simply moved on and ignored the fact that the record was not recognized through the years. Still, he felt as if Strahan’s record was tainted given the fact that Brett Favre seemed to give himself up on the play and allow the sack to happen.

As he explained:

“You just say to yourself, move on. That’s what I did, I went on with my life. The only conversations I would have is when people would come up to me and talk abut Michael Strahan’s 22.5th sack. That was a problem with me the way that went down. Because Michael had a great year. To see that, it had nothing to do with my 23, it just had to do with well why does he need to do that? Now it’s tainted in my opinion, and that bothered me.”

Baker was not a one-trick pony either, seeing as he went for 16 sacks in 1979 and 17.5 sacks in 1980, representing a phenomenal run in Detroit and a solid career that lasted 13 seasons. While the league still hasn’t made the stat official, there could be a measure of finality for Baker with this news.


Why Baker Became NFL’s Unofficial Sack King

The league didn’t recognize the stat of a sack prior to 1982, but in compiling the numbers, Baker had one of the best seasons in history that year when he managed to put up 23 sacks. As a result, he was always seen as the sack king albeit in an unofficial capacity. Michael Strahan was recognized as the official sack king with his 22.5 sack season in 2001.

Now, though, a football website is putting a whole new spin on the record books. As Pro Football Talk writer Michael David Smith pointed out, it’s to Baker’s advantage given his phenomenal season in 1978.

He wrote:

“Several football researchers have been compiling sack statistics from before 1982, using game books, play-by-play logs and other sources, and the statistical website Pro-Football-Reference.com has now collected them all in one place. Pro Football Reference now 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. (For 1960 and earlier, it’s harder to track sacks reliably.)

This represents a watershed moment for the kinds of football fans and researchers who obsess over statistics and want to know how many sacks Deacon Jones had (173.5), or who led the league in sacks in 1979 (Jack Youngblood). And it turns out that Strahan, when he recorded 22.5 sacks in 2001, fell just short of the record. The actual record was set by Lions rookie Al “Bubba” Baker in 1978, when he recorded 23 sacks.”

While Baker may not be the official sack leader in the NFL record books, the numbers are now registered on the internet for all to see from the past. Obviously, rushing the quarterback didn’t start in 1982 even if that was the only time the league started recognizing the stat.


NFL’s All-Time Sack Leaders

Obviously, Baker is on of the league’s best at getting after the quarterback right up there with names like Strahan, Jack Youngblood, Bruce Smith, Reggie White, Kevin Greene and Richard Dent. Currently, Smith is the all-time leader in the stat with 200 career sacks to his credit. That’s followed by White’s 198, and Greene’s 160. Baker himself would finish his career with a total of 131 sacks, which would be good for around 15th on the career sack list if all of his sacks counted.

While they might not count for real in the NFL record book, it’s getting harder to ignore that Baker was the all-time leader for sacks in a season and was one of the most prolific pass rushers of his time.

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