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I hear one woman say to another over lattes and chai, "We're having about 14 people over for the game. Kevin went to Arizona State but he's a huuu-uuuge Trojan football fan." I laugh to myself as I sit a few tables away, typing feverishly on the story of the biggest Trojan football fan of them all. No, really, this guy is at every single game on USC's schedule, even though he lives in New York City.
|You definitely don't want to mess with these guys.|
Mary: Commissioner, you've actually had the travel to SC games written into your contract, right? David: Yes, I'm so fortunate, I've never missed one of their games. From little league soccer right up till today -- well, except for 9/11 when I couldn't get a plane ride out from New York -- that was the only one. Mary: Sammy did your dad make some kind of verbal promise to you that he was going to be your superfan and be at every game? How did it come about? Sammy: I was in high school and he always talked about how his dad, my grandpa, always went to all of his basketball games and there was only one that he missed because my dad was playing in Hawaii. So he just made a point to come to all of my games. It's awesome having him there. My dad does amazing things to get to the games. Whether it's flying in from meetings somewhere, or having all kinds of crazy connecting flights just to make it on time. And Big Ben gets out here whenever he can and it's just so great to get to see him as often as I do. I really appreciate what they go through to get here.
|The boys, before they became men.|
Sammy: I knew my dad would say he wants to beat Notre Dame more! But being here in Los Angeles, I want UCLA. Mary: Commissioner, you've been at the helm of the AFL for 10 years now. Back in 1996 an AFL expansion team was valued at $400,000, these days a team goes for $20 million. What has it been like watching something develop like that?
David: As thankful as I am for the Arena Football League, and watching it grow -- and it has grown so much -- I can certainly tell you that the most fun I have is watching my boys grow up. We love sports in this family. I truly believe that sports can bring about enormous development of character and teach some of the most significant lessons in life. Ben may have learned more at Duke in that one record-setting season of losses than Sammy has through three losses in three years at SC. The point is, when we sit down at the table we have both. There are great lessons that come from wins and losses and the AFL -- it's all a learning and living process. Mary: You're a family man, David. A lawyer, the commissioner and a family man, but very systematic, always. David: It's funny. There was actually one point in time that we would negotiate contracts -- Baker family contracts. The only thing I knew was being a lawyer and being an athlete, so me and their mom [Patty] negotiated a 13-page contract with the boys. We went over each paragraph. Mom was the general manager, I was the coach and the kids were the players. It was a lot of fun.
|Clearly these guys are UCLA fans.|
Mary: That's still sports. [Silence] David: The midnight buffets? [Laughs] I can remember when we were at the Quarterback Challenge in Hawaii and I wanted so badly to take my boys on that helicopter ride in Kauai. If you ever get out there, it's great, for about 150 bucks they'll take you on this amazing ride, up and around where they filmed "Jurassic Park" and everything else. So this was back -- oh I don't know -- Ben had already committed to Duke and Sam must have been just a sophomore in high school or so, but we were all good-sized -- I mean, we could all kill a buffet. And I remember being so excited about being one of those dads, taking my kids on this experience of a lifetime. So we get to the place and we meet the helicopter guy and he says, OK I can take you three up there but I'm going to have to charge you for five! It was like that other time, when we had Sammy back here in New York and I took them to Blue Man Group and it never occurred to me until then that we couldn't all three sit next to each other because our shoulders were so big! Those are two memories that have nothing to do with sports! If I had 10 seconds to live I would think of Christmases and smiles and wrestling on the floor with kids and dogs and then of course I'd think of where we all were, and what we all were doing and the day that Matt Leinart scored behind Sam Baker at Notre Dame last year. If you recall, Matt Leinart kind of went up the middle and then slid left and got the Reggie Bush push and it was right over the tackle Sam Baker to beat the Irish. It just comes full circle, Mary! Mary: What's it like for three lives to be so constantly rooted in football? Ben: I'll tell you right now, Mary, the only thing constant in my life is food. [Laughing] No, actually, football really wasn't a part of our lives early on. Sam and I played basketball growing up. We thought that if we were going to be athletes then we were going to be basketball players because in Pop Warner, there's a size limit. So I was out of the running by the time I was about seven or eight.
David: It's funny. My parents were loving, hard-working people but they weren't very sophisticated. They couldn't read or write. When I went down to try out for football as a kid, I weighed too much to be on a team, and by the time I got to high school, I had a football body -- I should have played football -- but I was into basketball. I loved it and that turned out to be my scholarship to college, and then I got a partial post-graduate scholarship to law school [at Pepperdine] and played some professional basketball overseas. My life was similar to [former NFL] commissioner [Paul] Tagliabue's. We've laughed that we were both basketball players who became lawyers, and were in charge of all these football players.
|Jon Bon Jovi just informed the commish he's a UCLA fan.|
Sammy: Oh yeah. Ben is definitely bigger and stronger than me!
David: But Sammy loves football. When you play at USC, you only get like a week off a year, so you better love it. Ben, on the other hand, loves the business of football. I always think of this old Ronald Reagan movie, I think it was about Grover Cleveland Alexander, where he was always rushing to sweep up the store he worked at so he could tear off his apron and get out to the ball field. Ben was the exact opposite. Ben could not wait to get out of practice to come over to the little AFL office we had out in California so he could look at the business plans. I've never seen a kid love business as much as Ben.
Mel Kiper's top junior offensive tackles
1. Sam Baker, USC|
2. Jake Long, Michigan
3. Jared Gaither, Maryland
4. Barry Richardson, Clemson
5. Kirk Barton, Ohio State
5a. Pedro Sosa, Rutgers
Mary: Sam, your dad is your biggest fan. What's your favorite aspect of his support?
Sammy: I love how he is always telling me that he'll be there for me, wherever I end up and whatever I do. He always says that he's 100 percent behind me, but if I do make it to the NFL then he says he'll be right there to tell me I'm a momma's boy. That's what he always says -- he'll be there at the tunnel when I come out in the NFL and say, "Sam Baker's a momma's boy." Mary: Your dad and [Ben] say they want the best for you in the NFL, but tell us the truth -- is there any pressure to pass on the NFL and have a go in the Arena Football League? Sammy: No, there's no pressure. They're behind me completely but my dad does say that if I go to the AFL, he'll let me play quarterback.
Mary Buckheit is a Page 2 columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.