"What are you doing to better yourself?" The Bob Baumhower Story
December 01, 2011| by John Battle
Being blind-sided is not a welcomed event, but once confronted with it you have two choices: allow it to lick you, or determine to better yourself because of it.
The later defines former University of Alabama and Miami Dolphins defensive standout, Bob Baumhower.
Robert Glenn Baumhower, Jr., was born August 4, 1955, in Portsmouth, Virginia, to his parents, Robert Glenn and Patti Baumhower, while his father was serving a stint in the Navy. Bob is the oldest of five children: brothers, David and Skip, and sisters, Debbie and Kathy.
His father’s civilian career was with the Kirby Vacuum Cleaner Co., which meant the family frequently moved. Due to that the Baumhower’s were never attracted to sports, having favorite teams, or participating in them, though they enjoyed the outdoors with fishing and horseback riding.
While being a distributor in Palm Beach County, Florida, his father was promoted to Regional Supervisor over seven states. In finding a home that was centrally located he placed an offer on a house in two cities, Mobile, AL and Tuscaloosa, AL. The family deal was the first offer to be accepted would be their new home.
Bob started late playing football with his first experience while a junior at his Florida high school. When the family moved to Tuscaloosa he continued to play for Tuscaloosa High . In his senior year, he was not recruited early as others were, though Tuscaloosa High had a team that several players received football scholarships. He managed to be overlooked by scouts, even at 6’5”and weighing over 230 pounds.
Scouts from Alabama did have a casual conversation with him, but nothing serious came of it. He finally received offers from Vanderbilt and Florida State, but it was a couple of months after the signing date.
Nestled in a booth at his Baumhauer's Wings of Tuscaloosa, a place of constant motion as guests enjoyed a beautiful fall day as the city was preparing for the next week's Alabama/LSU game, Bob talked of those days with candor as he revisited the events that lead to his eventual recruitment to the University of Alabama. He had just finished a meal of wings; the evidence was on his hands and a drip of Baumhower's Wings Sauce on his shirt, as he began to talk .
“I got an invitation to go to Nashville,” Bob relates, “and Coach Charlie Bradshaw, who played for Coach Bryant at Kentucky, was defensive line coach at Vanderbilt, and they offered me a scholarship. “
With no other offers on the table, Bob decided to accept.
He flew to Nashville from Tuscaloosa with an overnight bag, to meet with Coach Bradshaw the next day to formally accept the scholarship. That evening he made an expected phone call home to inform his parents of his safe arrival and talk of his decision. But his mother said, “No, don’t do anything, the coaches from Alabama just called. They want to meet with you.”
“It was just a random thing,” Bob says. “It had been a couple of months since I talked to anyone at Alabama, and those were not serious.”
He met with Coach Bradshaw and told him of his conversation with his mother.
Bob remembers, “He was very, very understanding about what was happening. He stood up and shook my hand and said, “Well, good luck, because we aren’t going to be seeing you again.”
An addendum could have been: At least not in a Vanderbilt uniform.
When the Southern Airlines flight arrived in Tuscaloosa directly from Nashville, Bob walked off the plane and was immediately met by several (seven or eight in Bob’s estimation) very nervous recruiters. Finally, after several minutes of awkward silence, one of them said, “Hey Bob, we’re here to pick you up and we’re going to see Coach Bryant in a little while.”
When he walked into Coach Bryant’s office, Bob says, “He was real apologetic about not recruiting me or showing me much interest and he offered me a scholarship there on the spot.”
His first impression of Coach Bryant was “Bigger-than-life,” Bob says, “John Wayne type. He was a big man with a real strong presence. Though he was a kind of quiet guy, but when he talked, you listened. You could tell that he was real confident in who he was. He had a commanding, intimidating presence about him. And it wasn’t by design; he didn’t go out of his way [to be that], it was something that just came natural. So, he had a big physical presence, and a deep voice; he was a painted picture that was pretty awe inspiring.”
On Coach Bryant, Bob explains that, “He taught life lessons before he coached you on the field. He cared more about what kind of man you were more than he cared what kind of football player you were. He believed that if you were a good man then you would probably be a good football player. If you were the good man first, he was always in your corner. And he walked the walk. He changed my life.”
Bob explained; “As my family moved around a lot, I didn’t have any vision for myself, any plan to be the best I can be. I just never thought that way. I had some physical abilities, but I had not developed any leadership skills or any championship mentality. Though I was a pretty hard worker, there was no plan behind it – there was no destination. I did okay, but I was not developing in to the best that I could be.”
He played offensive lineman that first year, and according to Bob’s own testimony, he was very mediocre because he didn’t like playing offense. He asked to be moved to defense and had a great spring practice. He worked his way up to number two defensive tackle behind Randy Hall (today a Doctor in Fairhope, AL).
That summer, his defense line coach helped him with a job that was physically demanding but he did not work out.
Bob sums it up as, “I didn’t have any type of plan as to how I was going to be better in the fall. So when I reported to practice, I was in less than stellar condition and I did not meet the coach’s expectations. When I got my practice jersey it was not a red one which meant I was not on first string. What I got was some jersey of non-descript color that told me that I was not where I wanted to be, or where I should be.”
After three days of practice, Bob quit. He reasoned he was a starter last year and he deserved better; he walked off the practice field that late summer morning.
Bob recalls, “I wasn’t thinking right. It really didn’t mean that much to me and I thought I had earned my job last year and I should have it this year.”
What happened next would change the course of Bob Baumhower’s life, forever.
“Coach Bryant gets word back to me that afternoon that he wants to see me,” he explains, after missing the second practice of two-a-days. “And not only me,” he continues, “he wants to see my Dad, too, in his office. And so I’m thinking that he thought he had made a mistake and he’s going to ask me to come back.”
Bob waltzes into Coach Bryant’s office with his Dad, ready to accept Coach Bryant’s apologies, when Coach Bryant looks directly at him and asks, “What are you doing here? “
“Well, I heard you wanted to talk to me,” Baumhower replies.
Coach Bryant quipped, “I don’t talk to quitters, but since you’re here, come on in and we’ll chat.”
That word ‘quitter’ struck deep into the core of Bob Baumhower. He was blindsided by the word; he had not thought through what he had done.
As he was repeating his prepared speech over in his mind, Coach Bryant asked Baumhower what he had done to prepare himself after spring practice to better himself.
As Baumhower thought about that - it was not part of his prepared speech - Coach Bryant said, “Let me tell you this…”
He then went down a list of guys, from memory, who he knew exactly where they were in their developmental stage and what they had done in the off season to prepare themselves to be better in the fall.
Coach Bryant then turned to Baumhower, and asked again, “What did you do to better yourself?”
Silence filled the air.
Finally Coach Bryant breaks the awkward moment and says, “I don’t think you’re a quitter, Bob. I think you are frustrated, and I don’t think you know what it takes to be a winner. I want you to make a commitment to be the best that you can be and do what is necessary to prepare to be a productive part of this team.”
By meetings end Bob was determined to sacrifice life and limb to dispel any notion of the label that Coach Bryant had placed upon him, and second, to do what Coach Bryant was asking him to do.
He was given the opportunity to correct his mistake.
Reminiscing, Bob says, “That meeting, and the things I learned afterward, seeing the fruits of my labors, drove me whether it was week to week, or year to year. Coach Bryant made you feel special, not in a cocky way, but he made you believe in yourself. And I always felt that was a gift (of Coach Bryant). And that meeting affected my dad, too. He didn’t have a sports background so he couldn’t relate directly, but he was in sales, he was a straight shooter – a stand-up guy – but he never forgot that meeting, and he still talks about it to this day. And I wasn’t the exception, I was the rule. He had those types of meetings with so many kids and it turned their lives around. It was those life lessons he taught.
“I learned through the years that this guy (Coach Bryant) really cared; he was invested in who you [were] and who you could become. “He [had] the ability to understand people first, then came the X’s and O’s. What he taught me, and I don’t know if others think this way, but it truly is the gift that keeps giving.”
After that meeting there was nothing that was going to get in Bob’s way - but it wasn’t easy - he had to prove himself. By Bob’s account, he received his chance against Southern Mississippi and sacked the quarterback that caused him to start the next game.
“It was funny because I knew that Coach Bryant had to say something during the Coach Bear Bryant Show,” Bob says. “We used to watch it every Sunday night, and if you had a good game you were hoping that the Coach would say something good about you.”
On this particular Sunday evening, Coach Bryant did have positive comments about his defensive lineman sacking the Southern Miss quarterback, “Uh, that’s, uh, Bob Belhause. He’s going to be a really good one, like Charlie Thornton…”
The next day a reporter asked Baumhower about Coach Bryant messing up his name. Baumhower retorted, “I’ve just got to play a little better so he’ll remember me.”
Coach Bryant did remember him, and others also took notice.
Bob was a two-time second team All-American at Alabama, and after his senior year of play, started in two All-Star games, one being the Senior Bowl. He was drafted by the Miami Dolphins with the 40th overall pick in the 1977 draft, coached by Don Shula - the defensive coordinator was Bill Arnsparger.
There was one other prize the Dolphins picked up from the Southeastern Conference – LSU’s A.J. Duhe.
Baumhower, taking up the position of nose guard, and Duhe, playing inside linebacker, formed the heart of the Dolphins' "Killer B's" defense of the late 1970s through mid 1980s.
Baumhower was flanked on the line by ends Kim Bokamper and Doug Betters, while other stand-outs of the unit included outside linebacker Bob Brudzinski and defensive backs, brothers Lyle and Glenn Blackwood. The unit was ranked first in the NFL in total defense in 1982, when Miami reached Super Bowl XVII.
Bob was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 1995, and then on December 14, 2008, he was inducted into the Miami Dolphins Ring of Honor during a ceremony at Dolphin Stadium (now Sun Life Stadium).
Bob would play in one other Super Bowl before retiring after the 1986 season.
Coach Bryant sent him several letters of encouragement as Bob went from defensive end to nose guard – a position he didn’t particularly relish.
“No one wants to be nose guard,’ he quips. “Even kids know better. They want to be running back, or quarterback, or linebacker – nobody wants to be nose guard.”
He had to sell himself on the position that he knew he had the size and talent for, but not the will. His mind took him back to the life lessons he had been taught by Coach Bryant: what’s good for the team. He took the role of nose guard as a personal challenge, and excelled.
His message to kids is simple: “I tell them that anything you do, if you are going to be special at it, you have to enjoy it. It’s what I was telling you about playing nose guard on defense – I didn’t want to play that - but I had to learn to like it. I sold myself that if I wanted to make a difference, if I wanted to be special, I had to a better opportunity at nose guard than at defensive end. I listened to what the coaches had to say. So you have to find a way to enjoy what you do.”
Without pausing, he continues, “It’s like this hospitality business; I really love making people happy. And it is the underlying reason why we do what we do – we are paid to make people happy. They are coming in here, one way or another, to reward themselves. And you have to appreciate that, and respect that. So, what I tell my kids, more than anything else, is that no matter what you are doing, you have to find a way to enjoy what you are doing if you want to be special at it. It doesn’t mean that you have a job that you don’t like, but it should be a stepping stone to get where you want to go. And I know it is easier said than done, but it comes from Coach Bryant; he made me buy into the fact that if I put my heart into it and be committed to it, then I could do something special. And I didn’t love football at first, I played it for all the wrong reasons, such as the girls liked you better (he dated actress Sela Ward who was a cheerleader and Homecoming Queen at Alabama). But it wasn’t to be the best that I could be.”
He concludes by saying, “Work really hard to find a way to love what you do. Then you’re going to have to apply yourself to be really good at it.”
Shifting to his start in the hospitality business, Bob says he entered into it because of Joe Namath, Richard Todd, and their agent, Jimmy Walsh.
Todd and he were buddies, and as Todd and Namath played for the N.Y. Jets and all former Alabama players, the three formed a tight bond, with Walsh in the mix.
Bob says of the union, “Richard and I bought a car together – a Bonneville - though he is playing for the Jets and I for the Dolphins, we had a condo together in one of Joe’s buildings in Florida. Whatever Joe bought, Richard had to have. And I fell right in line.”
Continuing, he says, “Joe Namath is the best – most people don’t realize what a class act Joe Willy is, he is the best.”
Namath was one of the first NFL players to get into the hospitality business. He first opened the restaurant, Bachelor’s Three, and followed it with Broadway Joe’s. After they closed, Walsh came up with doing another Bachelors Three in Ft. Lauderdale, with Namath, Todd, and Baumhower being the three.
“I thought, this is pretty cool,” Bob says.
Then one day a Dolphins teammate asked him out to lunch.
“Where are we going?” Bob asked.
“To a place called Wings and Things,” came the reply.
Bob’s mind rolled over as he asked himself, ‘What are wings?”
“What kind of wings?” he asked.
Bob thought he was some kind of weirdo.
“You want me to go somewhere and eat chicken wings?” he muttered as they drove to the destination.
The restaurant was a converted gas station in Ft. Lauderdale, and there was a line out the door with every demographic imaginable - white collar blue collar, white, African-American, you name it, it was well represented.
“And they are all eating these wings with just sauce on it,” Bob explains.
The owner, Eddie Hauck, was from Buffalo, New York, and a huge Dolphins fan. He and Bob struck up an immediate friendship that lead to the first opening of Baumhower’s Wings and Things in Tuscaloosa, along with a former high school friend of Baumhower’s, Phillip Weable, and Bob’s brother, David.
Though there was an immediate problem.
“We couldn’t sell them,” Bob attests.
“So I brought Richard [Todd] in to sign autographs and all kinds of stuff. Still couldn’t sell them.”
In Coach Bryant style, they came up with a plan. If you can’t bring the horse to water, you take the water to the horse – or buffalo wings in this case.
And who likes to eat – fraternity brothers.
“So we started taking them to fraternity parties and it grew from there.”
Over the years he has been repositioning the restaurants to simply Baumhower’s as he wants to differentiate himself from others as a family atmosphere where kids can feel welcomed, though it is a sports bar.
At Wings Too, he caters to a younger crowd.
“Everything here is made from scratch, except the mozzarella cheese, including the sauce and dough, and the hamburgers are hand patted,” Bob explains.
He also has two trendy restaurants at the beach that they are starting to grow.
“It’s like anything else,” he says, “when you get into the business you like, there is always something you want to do to make it continuously grow. And the more you learn the more you want to do.
“I love watching people enjoy what we do. It’s instantaneous gratification like fans at a football game - you know immediately when they are pleased, or displeased, and you get hooked on that.”
Then, something hit him more that was more powerful than two offensive linemen.
At a mutual conference with a mutual friend, the longtime bachelor was to meet an opposing force that was to rock his world.
Her name is Leslie.
She had a ballerina shaped body, in her early thirties, and gorgeous. Even from a distance, Bob Baumhower couldn’t keep his eyes off her.
“She was a vision,” he says.
Supposedly in conversation, his friend soon noticed that Bob was not paying him any mind.
He asked, “What are you looking at?”
Bob replied with a nod of his large head, and nearly whispered, “Over there.”
And there she was, with a group of ladies, and his friend asked, “Do you want to meet her?”
“Oh, no,” was the reply.
Bob mingled with other people and was in mid-sentence when he felt someone tap him on the shoulder.
It was his friend with the girl wearing a ballerina body in tow.
They were introduced, “Bob, this is Leslie. Leslie, Bob.”
Bob says of that evening, “We talked and we danced a little bit that night.”
Leslie was in graduate school at Florida State studying nutrition.
And, engaged to be married.
“It was one of those things that was meant to happen,” Bob says.
After a prolonged dating period they decided to get married with the intentions of a small wedding party – but Bob felt like he needed to invite his buddies from the Dolphins.
So it wasn’t a little bitty wedding.
Bob and Leslie were married in 1986, and as a trained nutritionist, she helps out with the restaurants.
“She is a remarkable mother, very creative, and she gets all the credit for the kids,” Bob says.
Continuing, he explains, “It was a magical union. You know the saying ‘things happen for a reason.’ I know I have a guardian angel [because] he definitely looked after me that night I got blind-sided. It was weird; if you go looking you never see anything.”
Bob admits that he is a very fortunate and blessed guy who appreciates all those who have given him a gift that has stayed with him all his life, including his mom and dad and Coach Bryant.
In conclusion, he says, “You must know that you don’t get very far in life without a lot of help.”