While centers are often overlooked, every play from scrimmage in the NFL begins with the center.
Centers play a key role on the offensive line, helping with run blocking and pass protection.
One of the top centers in Cleveland Browns history was Mike Baab.
Over a 10-year NFL career, Baab played with Cleveland from 1982 to 1987 and in 1990 and 1991.
Most notably, Baab started every (except for three “replacement” player games) regular season and playoff game at center for the Browns in the 1986 and 1987 seasons – the last Browns teams to advance to the AFC championship game in consecutive seasons.
Mike Baab today 11 to 1 $15 per auto Triple Play Westerville pic.twitter.com/TFGkaKJlv6
— R & J Promotions (@RJPromos) October 29, 2016
We take a look at the life of Mike Baab – before, during, and after his NFL playing career.
The Early Years Before College
Michael James Baab was born in Fort Worth, Texas on December 6, 1959.
Baab was raised in Euless, Texas.
Euless is a suburb of Dallas and Fort Worth.
After Baab was cut from his seventh-grade football team, circumstances occurred that changed Baab’s football career.
“The coach called and told my mom that some kid had broken his ankle or knee and asked if I would be willing to play center. Basically, he was telling my mom that all I had to do was snap the ball. Who knew that if that didn’t happen to that poor kid, I would have never played football.”
Baab attended Trinity High School in Euless.
He played center.
After Trinity High School had an undefeated regular season during Baab’s junior season there, Baab started to attract the attention of college football recruiters.
Trinity High School (Euless, TX)
Mike Baab ’78
Sam Tevi ’13
Ryan McBean ’03@IAR2_Football pic.twitter.com/B4Ewt01e3w
— Prep2ProDB (@Prep2ProDB) December 23, 2021
“We hadn’t been that good my sophomore year, so I really didn’t start getting recruited until that undefeated year and I started getting some honors and stuff like that. But after that year and into my senior year, I got a letter from about every college in the United States.”
In 1977, as a senior, Baab earned All-America and first-team All-State honors.
He also was selected to play in the 1978 Texas High School Coaches Association All Star Game.
Baab ultimately decided to attend the University of Texas.
“What drew me to UT was that I wanted to be the best I could, and Texas offered the best in athletics and academics. I was fortunate enough to be a High School All-American and therefore blessed to have the opportunity to get into almost any school I wanted. I remember coming for my recruiting trip. I met Coach Akers, saw everybody and was brought around by a guy named Lance Taylor, who was an All-American middle linebacker and a great guy overall. I just realized that The University of Texas had the best team, best coach and the best academic program. It was the best school. It took no contemplating at all and so I made the call and said, ‘Ok, save me a spot.’”
In 1978, Baab headed to Austin, Texas to attend the University of Texas.
The College Years
Baab lettered playing football at the University of Texas in each year from 1978 to 1981.
In 1978, as a freshman, Baab principally was a back-up offensive lineman at guard.
The Longhorns had a 9-3 record in 1978, including a 28-21 victory over Arkansas (then ranked third in the nation by the Associated Press) on October 21, 1978, and a 42-0 shutout of Maryland (then ranked 13th in the nation by the Associated Press) in the Sun Bowl on December 23, 1978.
For 1978, the University of Texas was ranked ninth in the nation in the final Associated Press poll.
Baab, in 1979, again principally was a back-up offensive lineman at guard.
The University of Texas again had a 9-3 record in 1979, including four wins over ranked teams (21-0 over Missouri, then ranked fifth in the nation by the Associated Press., on September 29, 1979, 16-7 over Oklahoma, then ranked third in the nation by the Associated Press, on October 13, 1979, 21-13 over Houston, then ranked fifth in the nation by the Associated Press, on November 10, 1979, and 13-0 over Baylor, then ranked 17th in the nation by the Associated Press, on November 24, 1979), before losing to Washington (then ranked 13th in the nation by the Associated Press) 14-7 in the Sun Bowl on December 22, 1979.
For 1979, the University of Texas was ranked 12th in the nation in the final Associated Press poll.
In 1980, Baab became a regular starter, playing guard and center.
The Longhorns posted a 7-5 record in 1980, including a 23-17 defeat of Arkansas (then ranked sixth in the nation by the Associated Press) on September 1, 1980, a 20-13 triumph over Oklahoma (then ranked 12th in the nation by the Associated Press) on October 11, 1980, and a 16-7 loss to North Carolina (then ranked 13th in the nation by the Associated Press) in the Bluebonnet Bowl on December 31, 1980.
As a senior, in 1981, Baab was a regular starter at center.
He also was a co-captain of the Longhorns in 1981.
In 1981, the University of Texas compiled a 10-1-1 record, including four victories over ranked teams (14-7 over Miami (Florida), then ranked 14th in the nation by the Associated Press, on September 26, 1981, 34-14 over Oklahoma, then ranked 10th in the nation by the Associated Press, on October 10, 1981, 9-7 over SMU, then ranked eighth in the nation by the Associated Press, on October 24, 1981, and 14-12 over Alabama, then ranked third in the nation by the Associated Press, in the Cotton Bowl on January 1, 1982).
With the Cotton Bowl win over Alabama, the Longhorns were ranked second in the nation in the final Associated Press poll for 1981.
For his play in 1981, Baab received second-team and third-team All-American and first-team Southwestern Conference honors.
Its Mike Baab Russell Gaskamp @MSUCoachGraf @JustinMader1 days until @TexasFootball #54 Days 🤘🏻 pic.twitter.com/lNcgmzdq8V
— CB (@chrisgb002000) July 12, 2021
Baab enjoyed his time with the Longhorns.
“During my time at UT, the football team was doing better than ever before, the city was so alive and it seemed everyone and everything was covered in burnt orange. Within a month-and-a-half or so of being here, I met my wife. To me, the whole experience was incredible. We went to championship games. I made lifelong friends I still talk to today, and I got to be part of something that was so much bigger than myself, something historical.”
Over Babb’s four years at the University of Texas, the football team had an aggregate 35-12-1 record.
The Pro Football Years
Baab was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the fifth round of the 1982 NFL draft (he was the 115th overall pick).
He was one of 10 rookies (joining defensive end Keith Baldwin, linebacker Chip Banks, linebacker Tom Cousineau, running back David Green, defensive back Bill Jackson, defensive back Mark Kafentzis, linebacker Scott Nicolas, running back Dwight Walker, and defensive back Mike Whitwell) to make Cleveland’s roster in 1982.
In 1982, Baab (at a height of six feet and four inches and a weight of 270 pounds) played in seven, but did not start any, regular season games.
Because of a players’ strike, the 1982 NFL regular season was only nine games.
With a 4-5 record, the Browns made the 1982 NFL playoffs (which used a special 16-team playoff format).
In the 1982 NFL playoffs, Cleveland played the Los Angeles Raiders on January 8, 1983.
Baab started the game at center (his first NFL regular season or playoff game as a starter) and recovered a fumble.
However, the Browns lost to the Raiders 27-10.
In 1983, Baab became the regular starter at center for Cleveland.
He played in and started 15 regular season games.
With Baab at center, the Browns accumulated 410 total yards (including 307 “net pass yards”), in a 30-24 victory in overtime against the San Diego Chargers on September 25, 1983.
On October 30, 1983, Baab helped Cleveland rush for 188 yards, in a 25-19 win in overtime against the Houston Oilers.
In a 41-23 defeat of the Baltimore Colts on November 27, 1983, Baab’s play helped the Browns gain 417 total yards (including 307 “net pass yards”).
Cleveland’s offense, with Baab at center, in the 1983 NFL regular season, ranked 10th in total passing and rushing yards (5,583), sixth in passing yards (3,661), tied for ninth in passing touchdowns (27), and tied for fourth in fewest sacks allowed (33).
In addition, in the 1983 NFL regular season, Browns quarterback Brian Sipe ranked sixth in passing yards (3,566) and tied for fourth in passing touchdowns (26), Browns running back Mike Pruitt ranked ninth in rushing yards (1,184) and tied for seventh in rushing touchdowns (10), Browns running back Boyce Green ranked tied for fifth in average rushing yards per rushing attempt (4.8), and Browns tight end (and future Pro Football Hall of Famer) Ozzie Newsome ranked second in pass receptions (89).
In 1983, Cleveland posted a 9-7 record.
Baab, in 1984, started all 16 regular season games.
On September 23, 1984, Baab helped the Browns accrue 413 total yards, in a 20-10 triumph over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Baab’s play helped Cleveland rush for 211 yards, in a 13-10 defeat of the Buffalo Bills on November 4, 1984.
The Browns, with Baab at center, on December 16, 1984, rushed for 254 yards, in a 27-20 win over the Houston Oilers.
In the 1984 NFL regular season, Baab helped Cleveland quarterback Paul McDonald rank eighth in passing yards (3,472) and Ozzie Newsome rank second in pass receptions (89).
The Browns had a 5-11 record in 1984.
Baab again started all 16 regular season games in 1985.
In a 21-7 defeat of the San Diego Chargers on September 29, 1985, Baab’s play helped Cleveland accumulate 440 total yards (including 275 rushing yards).
The following game, on October 6, 1985, with Baab at center, the Browns gained 447 total yards (including 301 “net pass yards”), in a 24-20 victory over the New England Patriots.
Cleveland did not allow a sack in the game.
On November 17, 1985, Baab helped the Browns rush for 201 rushing yards, in a 17-7 triumph over the Buffalo Bills.
For the 1985 NFL regular season, Baab’s play helped Cleveland’s offense rank fourth in fewest sacks allowed (36), eighth in rushing yards (2,285), and tied for eighth in average rushing yards per rushing attempt (4.3).
In addition, for the 1985 NFL regular season, Browns running back Kevin Mack ranked tenth in rushing yards (1,104) and fifth in average rushing yards per rushing attempt (5.0).
With an 8-8 record, Cleveland won the 1985 AFC Central Division title.
The Browns met the Miami Dolphins in the 1985 NFL playoffs on January 4, 1986.
Baab started the game and helped Cleveland rush for 251 yards, but the Browns lost to Miami 24-21.
In 1986, for the third consecutive year, Baab started all 16 regular season games.
With Baab at center, on November 10, 1986, Cleveland accrued 558 total yards (including 390 “net pass yards” and 168 rushing yards), in a 26-16 victory over the Miami Dolphins.
Baab helped the Browns gain 536 total yards (including 414 “net pass yards”), in a 37-31 win in overtime against the Pittsburgh Steelers on November 23, 1986.
In the game, Cleveland did not allow a sack.
In a 34-3 defeat of the Cincinnati Bengals on December 14, 1986, Baab’s play helped the Browns not allow a sack.
The following game, on December 21, 1986, with Baab at center, Cleveland accumulated 462 total yards (including 345 “net pass yards”), in a 47-17 triumph over the San Diego Chargers.
Cleveland’s offense, with Baab at center, in the 1986 NFL regular season, ranked fifth in total points scored (391), ninth in total passing and rushing yards (5,394), eighth in passing yards (3,744), tied for seventh in average passing yards per passing attempt (7.5), and fifth in rushing touchdowns (20).
In addition, in the 1986 NFL regular season, Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar ranked fourth in passing yards (3,854) and Kevin Mack ranked sixth in rushing touchdowns (10).
Cleveland, with a 12-4 record, again won the AFC Central Division title in 1986.
In the 1986 NFL playoffs, the Browns first played the New York Jets on January 3, 1987.
With Baab starting the game, the Browns gained 558 total yards (including 483 “net pass yards”), in a 23-20 win in overtime against the Jets.
The following game, on January 11, 1987, in the 1986 AFC championship game, Baab again started, but Cleveland lost 23-20 in overtime against the Denver Broncos.
Baab also attracted attention for something off the field in 1986.
He starred in a 17-minute live action short film, “Masters of the Gridiron” (produced by his wife).
The film, which raised money for the United Way and featured various other Browns players, was based on the “Conan the Barbarian” movie.
The film remains a good memory for Baab and other players who appeared in the film.
“When we meet each other now, [our lines and character names] are the first thing we say to each other. When I see [Cleveland linebacker] Clay Matthews now, I call him Clayrock. They all call me Baabarian. It’s just what we do. All the names came from this silly video.”
The film increased the popularity of Baab among Browns fans.
Even before the film, Baab was a popular player, as a small subsection of fans in Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium called themselves “Baab’s Barbarians” and dressed in medieval costumes and carried (fake) swords.
In 1987, Baab played in and started 12 regular season games.
Because of another players’ strike, the NFL regular season was only 15 games, and most players such as Baab played in only 12 regular season games (“replacement” players played the other three regular season games).
On November 8, 1987, Baab helped the Browns rush for 173 yards, in a 38-3 win over the Atlanta Falcons.
Cleveland did not allow a sack in the game.
The following game, on November 15, 1987, Baab’s play helped the Browns gain 421 total yards (including 337 “net pass yards”), in a 27-21 defeat of the Buffalo Bills.
In the next game, on November 22, 1987, with Baab at center, Cleveland accrued 457 total yards (including 200 rushing yards), in a 40-7 triumph over the Houston Oilers.
The Browns did not allow a sack in the game.
Baab helped Cleveland accumulate 421 total yards and not allow a sack, in a 24-17 victory over the Los Angeles Raiders on December 20, 1987.
For the 1987 NFL regular season, Baab helped Cleveland’s offense rank third in total points scored (390), ninth in total passing and rushing yards (5,200), fifth in passing yards (3,455), tied for fourth in passing touchdowns (27), tied for third in average passing yards per passing attempt (7.5), tied for seventh in fewest sacks allowed (29), and tied for seventh in rushing touchdowns (16).
In addition, for the 1987 NFL regular season, Bernie Kosar ranked sixth in passing yards (3,033) and sixth in passing touchdowns (22), Browns running back Earnest Byner ranked tied for third in rushing touchdowns (8), and Browns wide receiver Webster Slaughter ranked tied for seventh in receiving touchdowns (7).
Cleveland had a 10-5 record in 1987 and won the AFC Central Division title for the third consecutive year.
The Browns, in the 1987 NFL playoffs, first met the Indianapolis Colts on January 9, 1988.
"The Audible" Bernie Kosar and Mike Baab… pic.twitter.com/TE550NlEgJ
— m. c. richardson (@auchnafree) May 28, 2021
Babb started the game and helped Cleveland gain 404 total yards (including 175 rushing yards) and not allow a sack.
The Browns defeated Indianapolis 38-21.
The following game, on January 17, 1988, in the 1987 AFC championship game against the Denver Broncos, Baab again started and helped Cleveland accumulate 464 total yards (including 336 “net pass yards”).
However, the Browns lost to the Broncos 38-33.
On August 29, 1988, Cleveland traded Baab to the New England Patriots for a fifth-round draft pick in the 1989 NFL draft.
The Browns had decided to play Gregg Rakoczy at center instead of Baab.
Cleveland head coach Marty Schottenheimer said:
“I don’t think Mike would have been comfortable in a non-starting position.
He has been an outstanding player for us and he will be missed.”
Baab played for two seasons with the Patriots.
In 1988, Baab played in 15, and started 12, regular season games.
The Patriots had a 9-7 record in 1988.
Baab, in 1989, started all 16 regular season games (and recovered one fumble).
In 1989, New England had a 5-11 record.
It turned out that Baab’s departure from the Browns was not permanent.
As a free agent, Baab signed with Cleveland on March 6, 1990.
Before he signed with the Browns, Baab stated that returning to the Browns “would be a pleasant scenario for me”.
“I still live [in Cleveland]. My wife works [in Cleveland]. I have many, many friends [in Cleveland]. I will go to the situation where I have the best chance of playing. I’m not going to pin it down to Cleveland, but that would be nice. I just want a fair shot to start.”
In 1990, Baab was a starter for the Browns, starting all 16 regular season games.
On October 8, 1990, Baab’s play helped the Browns gain 415 total yards (including 318 “net pass yards”), in a 30-29 defeat of the Denver Broncos.
Cleveland did not allow a sack in the game.
The Browns had a 3-13 record in 1990.
Baab again started all 16 regular season games in 1991.
He recovered one fumble.
In a 17-14 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 27, 1991, with Baab at center, Cleveland did not allow a sack.
Baab helped the Browns offense rank in the 1991 NFL regular season ninth in passing yards (3,304) and tied for 10th in passing touchdowns (19).
In addition, in the 1991 NFL regular season, Bernie Kosar ranked fifth in passing yards (3,487) and sixth in passing touchdowns (18), Kevin Mack ranked tied for 10th in rushing touchdowns (8), and Browns running back Leroy Hoard ranked tied for seventh in receiving touchdowns (9).
Cleveland posted a 6-10 record in 1991.
The Browns released Baab on August 18, 1992.
Baab continued his NFL career, signing as a free agent with the Kansas City Chiefs on December 8, 1992.
In the remainder of the 1992 NFL season, for Kansas City, Baab started three regular season games and one playoff game (the Chiefs had a 10-6 record and earned a “wild card” playoff berth, before losing to the San Diego Chargers in the 1993 NFL playoffs 17-0 on January 2, 1993).
1992 was Baab’s last season in the NFL.
The Years After Professional Football
Baab married his college sweetheart, Lolis.
He has two daughters, Micaela and Larissa.
After his NFL career, Baab resided in Austin, Texas.
Baab was a participant in the Scottish Highland Games, winning the Masters World Championship in the 45-49 age class in 2005.
Since his retirement from the NFL, Baab also has been a motivational speaker, a car dealership manager, and a personal trainer.
Baab, in 2008, was inducted into the Football Hall of Honor at the University of Texas.
In 2016, Baab was inducted into the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame.
While it is always difficult to evaluate the career of an offensive lineman because of the lack of individual statistical information, Baab stands out in several respects.
First, Baab was dependable.
In the seven seasons including 1983 to 1987, 1990, and 1991, the Cleveland Browns played 116 regular season and playoff games; Baab started 112 of them at center.
Feeling Safe With My Old School Linemen Dan Fike & Mike Baab 🏈 #UMatter Go #Browns pic.twitter.com/PKTNn1OvlZ
— Bernie Kosar (@BernieKosarQB) September 25, 2021
Three of the games he missed were “replacement” player games during the 1987 NFL players’ strike.
Second, Baab helped other players perform better.
Whether it was quarterbacks (such as Brian Sipe, Paul McDonald, and Bernie Kosar), running backs (such as Mike Pruitt, Boyce Green, Kevin Mack, Earnest Byner, and Leroy Hoard), tight ends (such as Ozzie Newsome), or wide receivers (such as Webster Slaughter), Baab’s play helped these “skill position” Cleveland players achieve higher statistical rankings.
Third, Baab helped his team perform better.
In part, this impact of Baab was evidenced by the Browns offense achieving higher statistical team rankings in various categories.
Even more importantly, this impact of Baab was evidenced by Cleveland winning games.
He played on three consecutive division-winning teams from 1985 to 1987 and four playoff teams in 1982 and from 1985 to 1987.
His teams won playoff games and advanced to the AFC championship game in both 1986 and 1987, just missing the Super Bowl in two consecutive seasons (both close losses to the Denver Broncos).
Mike Baab Just Sent this to me!The Ending Still hurts but I’m So Blessed To Have Been in these”Life Lessons”Situation Watching NFL films Top 10 Games of All Time. Glory days qb. pic.twitter.com/HlqoVBDIZz
— Bernie Kosar (@BernieKosarQB) January 11, 2019
“The NFL was a tremendous experience. Being a Cleveland Brown was just simply the best job you could have in the world.”
Browns fans should all become part of “Baab’s Barbarians” and return the appreciation to Mike “Baabarian” Baab – one of the top centers in Cleveland Browns history.
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