Honoring the Best
The Detroit Lions Honor Their 75th Season All-Time Team at Ford Field
Defensive linemen Al 'Bubba' Baker (left)DETROIT, Mich.
and Doug English. (Photo: G. Smith)
-- Bubba Baker had only one regret about Sunday's ceremony honoring the Lions' 75th anniversary team.
It's that Floyd Peters wasn't there.
"If there was no Floyd Peters, there would have been no Doug English and no Al (Bubba) Baker," said the former defensive lineman who recorded 23 sacks in 1978 -- a club record that stands today. "He made us what we are with the high standards he held us to."
Peters was Detroit's defensive line coach when Baker and English arrived on the scene.
"Every Monday, Floyd would come over to the seven of us (linemen) and criticize our play," Baker said. "He'd tell us what we could do better, and close by saying, 'you fought like a man.' That was the standard thing. It would start to tick you off."
Until one Monday in 1978 before the Lions were scheduled to play the San Diego Chargers and their outstanding quarterback, Dan Fouts. Then Peters changed his tune.
"That week he came in and said, 'nobody gets to Fouts, not with their line and his quick release,'" Baker related. "He said, 'Bubba, you're playing against Billy Shields and nobody beats him.' I just want you guys to fight like men. Then he lit a cigarette and walked off.
"We thought to ourselves, 'what a horse's rear.' Wednesday it was the same thing. Thursday, he told us, 'just don't get embarrassed.' By Sunday, we were so mad we got 11 sacks, and almost killed Fouts. Then Monday, Floyd comes in and the normal routine started over again. Talk about brilliant coaching. Before that game I remember the skin on the back of my neck crawling, wanting to get at the San Diego Chargers."
Peters died not long ago, and Baker struggled to write his family a note of condolences.
"It took me three weeks to write it," Baker said. "I loved and hated Floyd. You can't write to a grieving family and have to swear. I remember when he made me practice with a torn-off toenail. I remember when he tried to choke me at halftime. But I wouldn't be here today without Floyd Peters."
Being part of the 75th anniversary team had special meaning for each of the players chosen.
"It's like a dream come true," said Roger Brown, the massive -- at the time -- defensive tackle who sacked Green Bay quarterback Bart Starr seven times, including once for a safety, in that memorable Thanksgiving Day game in 1962.
Defensive lineman Roger Brown, who played with the
Lions from 1960-66 and was one of the cornerstones
of the Lions "Fearsome Foursome." (Photo: G. Smith)
"The only thing that could surpass this would be my enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. To be considered one of the Lions' all-time greats -- I'm excited. The biggest thrill I've had is having my picture taken with these guys."
Wayne Walker, who held the Lions record for games played with 200 until Jason Hanson -- another member of the all-time team -- broke it, was excited when he was notified of his spot on the team.
"It ranks up with being in the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame and the Idaho Sports Hall of Fame," said the man who was a fixture at linebacker for 15 seasons. "It's just wonderful because a lot of us are at the age where we are what we are.
"There's no phoniness. There's no edge to anybody. Everybody's loose and relaxed. It's wonderful to be together again. It's like a fraternity. You don't pull that jersey over your head as much as we did and not have a special feeling for the Lions. These guys are the Lions."
Walker said that it was difficult to single out a special moment in his career.
"I remember the guys in the locker room more than the games," he said. "When I came up, Bobby Layne was the quarterback and he was different from anybody. At the end of my career I played with guys like Lem (Barney) and Charlie (Sanders) and they were wonderful young guys. I remember the guys a lot more than any individual things that I did."
Walker joined the team in 1958 as a fourth-round draft pick out of the University of Idaho. Being a rookie on a team that had just won the NFL Championship was no easy chore.
"It was tough then," Walker said. "There were only 33 on the team and I was a fourth-round draft choice. I didn't consider not making the team, but it was tough. Training camp my rookie year was the most pressure I've ever been under in my life."
Brown joined the Lions in 1960, and pro football was a lot different than it is now.
"I signed for $8,000 in 1960 and our general manager, Bud Erickson, said he'd give me a $300 signing bonus," Brown recalled. "When you're in college and cashing in wine bottles for money, that's a lot. When I got my contract, it was for $7,700. He took out the $300 bonus.
"To stay in pro football in those days, it was love. You could make more money outside of football. Why did Jim Brown quit when he did? He could make more money. I stayed with it 10 years and I'm happy I did. If I could suit up today, I would."
Members of the All-Time team in attendance for the halftime ceremony.
(Photo: G. Smith)
When Brown was playing there was a postseason game called the Runner-up Bowl. It matched the two second-place teams in each conference.
"I played in five of those -- three with the Lions and two with the Rams," Brown said. "These days we might have had a chance to get to the Super Bowl with those teams, but then only two teams had a chance to win the title."
Brown isn't happy with the amount of penalties in today's game.
"It's getting like basketball," he said. "You can't play football anymore. Football's a hitting business."
Brown is also adjusting to the large coaching staffs and front office folks in today's game.
"You don't know who's in charge, who's running the team," he said. "When I played the office staff had six people -- and that included the janitor."
There were a lot of stories told among the players who attended the weekend's festivities, but it was something they'll never forget.
Hanson thought about it when he first got word that he was a member of the team.
"You look at some of those names and think, 'they have to say my name at the same time that they say theirs," said the Lions' career scoring leader. "I've played with some of them and some were legends way before my era."
For Baker it was a chance to renew old acquaintances and make a few others.
"Without Doug English, there would have been no Bubba Baker," Baker said. "Here I stand on the same team with him. That's cool. I hadn't seen him since 1982, but when I saw him yesterday, he gave me a big, old Texas hug.
"Today, I'm going to be a groupie. I'll get my picture taken with Barry (Sanders). Something like this washes away all the losses and heightens the wins. Right now, I'm in football nirvana."