Mike Baab’s story begins, as many young Texan stories do, on an open area of land made to resemble a football field.
It was the early ’70s and he was a seventh grader living in Euless, a small town situated between Dallas and Fort Worth.
Football tryouts were there.
“It seemed every single boy tried out for football back then,” Baab said. “Unless you couldn’t walk or were blind, you were out there on that field.”
There were tests performed on each budding athlete. There were the typical throwing, running and tackling drills and the more intricate sessions of tire pulls and navigating through several series of ropes. Baab, who will be inducted into the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame May 7, remembers that day like it was yesterday.
“There were maybe 120 of us in the worst fitting uniforms in the world trying to learn how to play football,” he said. “I didn’t do that great, I can tell you that, because I was cut and sent home.”
But a phone call to his house soon after he turned in his uniform changed Baab’s life forever.
“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,” he said. “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.”
The series of unfortunate events that led Baab to be the anchor of the offensive line proved to be that of fate. Baab racked up the awards as the center for Euless Trinity High School as a teenager, grabbing All-America and first-team all-state honors as a senior in 1977 despite playing for 4-5-1 Trinity squad. Even as a junior the year before, the Trojans enjoyed an undefeated regular season before losing to Midland Lee in the first round of the playoffs.
“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,” Baab said. “But after that year and into my senior year, I got a letter from about every college in the United States.”
There was a college just over 200 miles south of Euless that had rarely crossed Baab’s mind. The University of Texas had a new coach in Fred Akers, a former assistant of recently retired Darrell Royal who previously served as the head coach of Wyoming.
“I will tell you the truth,” Baab said. “It was just as much Earl Campbell as it was Fred Akers that got me interested in Texas. The year before I went to Texas, Fred Akers did the smartest thing and handed the ball to Earl Campbell as much as he possibly could.
“All of a sudden, Texas exploded onto my screen,” he said. “So I decided that my parents had spent a lot of money taking care of me and feeding me that I needed to stay in Texas where they could come watch me and play in the Southwest Conference.”
Though a center by trade, Baab played guard for the Longhorns for two years before moving back to snapper. He had his best season as a senior, as Baab was voted first-team all-SWC, second-team all-American and guided his team to an upset of No. 3 Alabama in the Cotton Bowl, leading Texas to a No. 2 final ranking. The Longhorns posted a 35-12-1 mark in his four seasons in Austin.
“I think sometimes my parents had more fun those four years than I did,” Baab said. “They would come down and watch me play and we all would go eat steaks after. They were good weekends.”
Baab left the state after being drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 1982. He played 11 successful seasons in the NFL that included two trips to the AFC Championship Game in 1986 and 1987. After retiring in 1993, Baab served as a motivational speaker, a successful car dealership manager and is currently a personal trainer. But the native Texan looks back on his days in the Lone Star State with a sense of endearment.
“You know, I love my life because I get to help high school football players all the way up to 80-year-old ladies get better mentally and physically, so it’s rewarding,” Baab said. “But thinking back on my days in Euless, it was a town of just big, open fields that gave a small town feel right smack in the middle of DFW. I was fortunate enough to get on a great football team where everyone in the town loved and went crazy on Friday nights. How can you beat that?”