For a man who doesn't like flying, Arena Football League commissioner David Baker made a strange demand last year when he was renegotiating his contract: a round-trip airline ticket to every USC football game. Baker, who works in New York, seriously considered giving up his job so he could watch his son Sam, now a redshirt freshman offensive tackle for the top-ranked Trojans. AFL team owners, knowing how much Baker has meant to the league since he became its commissioner in 1996, agreed to cover Baker's travel costs. "Ownership has been very supportive of me," says the commissioner, who wears his son's number 79 cardinal-and-gold jersey to every game. "I also try to mix business with family business if I can. When we played at BYU [on Sept. 18], the following Monday we announced in Salt Lake City that they would get an expansion team in 2006."
Baker, who stands 6'9" and weighs close to 400 pounds, is a nervous flier and is constantly fearful that his next flight could be his last. (He calls Sam and his eldest son, Ben, a former lineman at Duke, before every flight.) Still, he logs about 180,000 miles a year, and he's missed only one of Sam's games since peewee--even though Sam played his high school ball at Tustin (Calif.) High. Unable to get a flight out of New York after 9/11, Baker had his girlfriend in California go to Sam's high school game and hold up a cellphone so he could hear the public address announcer for the entire 48 minutes. "Fortunately they only ran the ball, so I could hear everything that was going on," says Baker. "It was the most expensive game I've never gone to."
His absence was noticeable, as the gregarious commissioner tends to stand out in a crowd. "Everyone knows my dad," says Sam. "When I was in high school, he used to come out to our practices, and everyone thought he was in the Mafia because he would be wearing these brand-new suits and his hair was slicked back and he'd be yelling on the cellphone. Just seeing my dad there and knowing that he's always supporting me is great." --Arash Markazi
David (left) has missed only one of Sam's games.