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The Most Interesting Person of the Divisional Round: The Hall of Fame Guy

Who is David Baker, the man who made Bill Cowher and Jimmy Johnson cry?

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The first two weekends of the playoffs might be the only time all season long that I watch NFL pregame shows. On a typical NFL Sunday, I’m trying to tune in exactly when the games start before watching 11 hours of football. But on the wild-card and divisional weekends, there are four games—two on Saturday, two on Sunday—with a significant gap in between the early games and the late ones. What am I supposed to do in that gap? Go outside? My couch seat could get cold!

So I was absentmindedly watching the CBS pregame show on Saturday when Bill Cowher was standing up talking about Lamar Jackson. He was suddenly joined by a large man in a suit louder than a howler monkey. At first, I wasn’t sure why this large man was there—he spent about 30 seconds using his rare appearance on national television to work some Catskills lounge-quality schtick—but soon it became clear. This man was Pro Football Hall of Fame president David Baker, and he was letting Cowher know he had been selected for this summer’s class.

Cowher was caught completely off guard, and he was soon holding back tears. I had no idea who Baker was and have no particular affinity for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but I was also soon holding back tears. (Also thrilled about this: The Hall of Fame bust creator. That chin is gonna be fun to sculpt!)

Before Saturday, I had never heard of Baker. But when a mountain walks onto your TV wearing a full stage curtain from a Broadway theater and does a brief standup comedy bit before reducing a no-nonsense Football Guy to tears, you Google him. Search “Hall of Fame Guy”—it works—and you will find out about his incredible life story. This man is 6-foot-9, 400 pounds, played professional basketball in Switzerland, was convicted of forgery for trying to finance an unsuccessful congressional campaign with a $48,000 check he wrote to himself, became commissioner of the Arena Football League right before it went bankrupt, and is now going around America surprising football legends with the greatest news of their lives while wearing suits designed to fit Shrek, But a Pimp. I want him on my television all the time.

I got my wish. Sunday, Baker showed up on Fox to do the same thing for Jimmy Johnson. He was wearing an equally loud but different color suit. You’d think a surprise wouldn’t work the second time, but guess what. It was just as good.

Johnson truly couldn’t contain his emotions—and his former quarterback, Troy Aikman, also let some tears slip while watching the surprise ceremony from the broadcast booth in Green Bay.

The reason this surprise worked so well is that the process by which Hall of Famers find out they’ve been selected is generally highly formalized. The week of the Super Bowl, HOF finalists stay in a hotel at the site of the game. Baker comes around, knocks on the doors of the people who are selected, and welcomes them “to Canton, Ohio.” Honestly, that system sucks. Why do all the unselected guys have to stay in a hotel room waiting for a call that doesn’t come?! Why are we treating great-but-not-legendary players like they’re women with brown hair on The Bachelor? There is a better way: having Baker show up and stun football legends with the greatest news they’ve ever heard.

It seems like this won’t be a regular occurrence—the Hall of Fame decided to do early reveals this year as part of the celebrations surrounding the NFL’s 100th season. (The rest of the class will be revealed Wednesday.) But the Hall of Fame should reconsider. The element of surprise is what made these moments so wonderful—you could see the moment when Cowher and Johnson went from performing a mundane task to realizing their entire lifetime of work had been validated. These were two of the best television moments of the football season, and it’s only a little bit because of my newfound obsession with Real Life Bill Brasky.