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SPORTSMAN OF THE YEAR: TERRY BAKER

Jan. 07, 1963
Jan. 07, 1963

Table of Contents
Jan. 7, 1963

Packers, Yes!
Champions
Boxing

SPORTSMAN OF THE YEAR: TERRY BAKER

'He called upon himself to transmute peril into triumph'

This is an article from the Jan. 7, 1963 issue Original Layout

'A genus that had seemed on its way to becoming as extinct an American joy as the rumble seat'

'The first college football player in all the years of the game to be so unanimously decorated'

'An amazing athlete...a tremendous runner...intelligent...and an outstanding leader'

On an arctic Saturday afternoon in December of this past year the Oregon State football team was playing Villanova in the Liberty Bowl in Philadelphia, one of the first of the intercollegiate bowl games that proliferate around the country at the end of each autumn. The game was scarcely five minutes old when Oregon State found itself in possession of the ball a mere 99 44/100 yards away from the opponent's goal line. At that moment Terry Baker, the Oregon State quarterback (see cover), did exactly what he had done whenever his team had been in trouble during the three years of his varsity football career. Like a James Bond in shoulder pads, he called on himself to transmute imminent peril into triumph.

Baker—all 6 feet 3 of him, a skinny geometry of knees and elbows—loped from the huddle to his quarterback station behind the center and bent down to receive the ball. The Villanova line tensely crouched to spring on Baker behind his own goal line for a two-point safety. When the ball was snapped, he casually tucked it into the crook of his left arm and ambled in long-legged strides across the frozen turf toward the sidelines. With the help of some furious blocking by his teammates, Baker escaped from the grasping arms of two Villanova tacklers, emerged from the end zone, shook off another tackier and ran the full length of the field for a touchdown. It turned out to be the only score of the game and, typically, it was this performance of Baker's in the face of disaster that brought a 6-0 victory to his team.

Thinking back over the last 12 months, one is impressed by the fact that 1962 produced no pioneers of sport, no revolutionists. There was no Roger Bannister to demonstrate that man is an animal without limitations. There was no Jackie Robinson to make a social weapon out of sport. There was no Babe Ruth or Red Grange to launch into outer space the imaginations of narcissistic youth or earth-bound middle age. It was a sporting year that retrenched and entrenched the established skills.

The men of sport who left the biggest mark on 1962 were the perfectionists. There was Emil (Bus) Mosbacher, the 40-year-old yachtsman whose passionate devotion to detail preserved the America's Cup from the 18th foreign challenge (Australian rather than British, for a change) and thereby confirmed that in heavyweight yachting the nation's prestige was still intact (see page 22). There was Sonny Liston, a man of dubious background but indubitable fists, who easily and quickly lifted the heavyweight boxing championship from Floyd Patterson's neurotic shoulders. There was Maury Wills, the spidery and determined shortstop of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who stole 104 bases in a season and, in doing so, demonstrated that baseball can still be the game of thrilling inches that it was in the days when Ty Cobb was wowing Wills's grandparents and their generation. There was Bart Starr, the intellectual and imperturbable professional quarterback, who led the apparently insuperable Green Bay Packers to their second consecutive National Football League championship, a summit from which no one seems likely to dislodge them. And finally there was Jim Beatty, the middle-distance genius who proved—with a world record in the two miles and the world's first sub-four-minute mile indoors—that with the right training Americans can win races longer than the dashes.

But 1962 also produced another kind of sportsman, a genus that had seemed on its way to becoming as extinct an American joy as the rumble seat and the ukulele: namely, the college football hero. Such was Terry Baker. In an era when the celebrated college athlete is turning into a special kind of mercenary, living and competing in a culture apart from that of the ordinary undergraduate, it is fitting that Baker, a throwback to an epoch in which the likes of Barry Wood and Byron (Whizzer) White inspired the undergraduates at Harvard and Colorado, should emerge from a bucolic campus deep in the forests of the Northwest, where the simple verities of small-town American life are still held in high esteem.

As a climax to the regular 1962 season, when Baker broke virtually every important Oregon State football record and led the nation in individual offense, he guided his team to a last-minute, come-from-behind 20-17 victory over the University of Oregon, State's traditional rival. After the final gun, Baker's teammates hoisted him to their shoulders and carried him off the field in triumph, almost as if he were a coach. "In all my years of football," said Tommy Prothro, the 42-year-old head coach of football at Oregon State, "I have never seen the players do that to one of their teammates."

One morning some 10 days later Dr. James Jensen, the president of Oregon State, was looking out the window of his office, watching the students who were hurrying this way and that across the sylvan campus. "Look at them," he said to a visitor. "They're a quiet, very well-behaved group, and they don't demonstrate the way students do on many campuses. On the Monday morning after the Oregon game—we call it the civil war—they were going to their classes just as they are today. But there was a difference, because they were all so proud of Terry. He's one of them in every way. That's because Terry is always the first to realize he is just one of a group."

Approximately 15,000 young Americans win a varsity letter playing intercollegiate football each fall. Of these, about three dozen are named to at least one of the most widely recognized All-America selections. Baker was named to all of them (see box page 21). Eight players who are in their senior year are given $500 scholarships for postgraduate work because they are considered the outstanding scholar-athletes by the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame. One wins the Maxwell Award and one wins the Heisman Award, each of which is its donor's designation of the best college football player of the year. Baker won all of these honors this past fall and is the first football player in all the years of the game to be so unanimously decorated.

Naturally enough, he was the first draft choice of the pros when the college players were put on the block in December. Although the Los Angeles Rams, who chose him, already had three quarterbacks on their squad, they had a simple explanation for why they selected Terry. "Baker is so outstanding we couldn't afford not to take him," said Elroy Hirsch, the Rams' general manager.

But Terry Baker's 1962 achievements went well beyond football. Last winter and spring he played guard superbly on Oregon State's fine basketball team and helped drive it to the semifinals of the NCAA western regional championships. After the tournament was over, he was selected as one of the two best guards in the western region.

Throughout the college year of 1961-62 Baker also served as president of the Oregon State chapter of his Phi Delta Theta fraternity, and during the summer he was chosen as the outstanding undergraduate in the national fraternity. Meanwhile, Baker was majoring in mechanical engineering, one of the most demanding courses in the Oregon State curriculum. In it he maintained a grade average of 3.04, which is between a B and an A and not far short of Phi Beta Kappa standards.

A few days after the final football game against Oregon, Baker flew across the country to New York City to accept some of the cornucopia of awards awaiting him at banquets and television shows and do a bit of twisting at a nightclub called the Roundtable. After six frantic days he flew back to Corvallis on a Friday night, arriving in time for a late-afternoon football practice in preparation for the Liberty Bowl. For the next five days he practiced more football while studying for and taking his final exams for the fall semester. On Thursday, Dec. 13, he flew to Philadelphia with the team for the Liberty Bowl game, which was played on Saturday afternoon. That night he flew back to Portland, drove the 90 miles to Corvallis with his mother and brothers, arriving in time for some Sunday basketball practice, his first of the season. The following Wednesday he flew all day with the basketball team to Lexington, Ky. for the University of Kentucky Invitational Tournament, and on Friday night he played his first basketball game of the season against West Virginia. Oregon State lost that game 70-65, but Baker's 15 points led State's scoring. The next night his 14 points fired the team to a 61-55 victory over Iowa, and Baker was voted one of the two best guards in the tournament.

Through no fault of Baker's, the superlatives fly so thick and fast around his long, narrow, crew-cropped head that they tend to become worn and tedious. Hence, it is a pleasant discovery to learn that Terry Baker is an exceptionally warm and personable young man, full of the uncertainties of everyday youth, anxious to please and apparently grateful for small favors.

Above all, Baker is a 190-pound bundle of curiosity. There is a pleasant, unhurried boyishness in the way he talks, but, inside their deep sockets, his light gray eyes are always darting back and forth, searching and probing for the answers he doesn't always get. "He'll ask you more questions than you can ever ask him," is the first thing a reporter is told before he meets Baker. "I'll never forget," recalls John Eggers, the Oregon State publicist who has done so much to project Baker's reputation beyond the confines of the Northwest, "the first time I had to interview Terry when he was a freshman. I'd hardly had time to ask him where he was born and how old he was before he started firing questions at me. He wanted to know all about my job, how I did my work, how much time it took, everything. He was interviewing me."

There was nothing in Baker's background that foretold the kind of young man he would turn out to be. His father, Max Baker, and his mother, the former Laura White, both came from the iron-range country of northern Minnesota, and when Terry Wayne Baker was born on May 5, 1941 the family was living on a small farm outside Pine River. Max Baker had been an athlete of sorts in high school, but even in the backwaters of Minnesota he inspired no headlines.

There was a thin strain of Indian blood in Baker's veins, a fact that stuck in young Terry's spongelike brain. When Baker enrolled at Oregon State he listed his nationality as "Indian," but the entry went unnoticed until a few weeks ago when its revelation caused a small swivet among some of his coaches and friends. Asked about it. Baker looked dumfounded. "Gee, did I do that?" he asked. "Well it's true my dad's family does have a little Indian blood, but it's nothing much. I must have just put it down as a gag."

When Baker was only 9 months old, the family, which included two older brothers—Richard and Gary, now 28 and 23 respectively—moved to Santa Monica, Calif. and a couple of years later moved again to Portland, Ore. Soon after the war was over Max Baker left home for good, and after Laura Baker divorced him in 1948 he was scarcely heard from again.

In fact, Terry saw his father for the first time in many years during the half time of a football game against Washington State in 1960. As Terry was leaving the field a man came down from the stands to speak to him. The conversation between father and son was brief and abrupt. During the second half Baker's performance on the field fell well below par, and Coach Prothro removed him from the game, not realizing what might have been bothering the boy. A year ago last Christmas, Terry received a watch from his father in the mail, but after thinking it over he returned it. "I thought it would have been better if he had spent the money on us when we really needed it," Baker explained later with characteristic frankness. "When I was 8 I nearly died from a ruptured appendix, and my mother had to take care of all the medical expenses without any help from my father. I wanted him to know now how I felt toward him."

Laura Baker, a small, slight lady of 47 with reddish hair, supported her sons by working first in one of Portland's large chain stores, then for the Owl Drug Co. and finally, since 1955, for Sears, Roebuck. Richard, the oldest boy, was on the scholarly side. He became an electronics engineer and is now taking a master's degree in mathematics. As introverted and shy as Terry is extroverted and gregarious, Richard had an important effect on his youngest brother. "It was Richard who got Terry to do his homework," Mrs. Baker says. "Terry would always listen to him."

Gary and Terry, only two years apart, were inseparable and spent most of their spare time playing games at Peninsula Park, near the family's neat, white, three-room frame bungalow in north Portland. Gary preceded Terry to Oregon State, where he played varsity baseball, and after a brief fling at minor league ball in Raleigh, N.C. and Santa Barbara he has recently married and settled down to a business career in Portland.

All through his 12 years at the Ockley Green grade school and Jefferson High School, schools which 27 years earlier had produced Stanford All-America Bobby Grayson, young Baker was full of promise. "I remember the first time Terry ever played in a varsity basketball game in high school," brother Gary reminisces. "I was a senior and Terry was a sophomore. We were playing Lincoln High, and our regular guard, Ron Langos, fouled out. Terry replaced him, and the game went into sudden-death overtime. I came down the court with the ball and was just about set to shoot when I saw Terry and passed over to him. He shot with about three guys hanging on him, and the ball went in the basket. It was the first time he ever played in a varsity sport at Jefferson. It was his first shot and his first basket, and it won the game.

From that point on Terry never stopped. He just kept right on going—into baseball and then into football. He was a great competitor. Terry has a touch. He can do things out there. He can visualize things that other players can't. He thinks a lot quicker than the average person."

Gary Baker particularly remembers how hard his brother Terry used to work for perfection. "He didn't just go over there to Peninsula Park for exercise, you know. He would work on one specific thing every weekend. He'd master it and then he'd go on to something else. He actually used to have a system worked out. He would try to master one thing a week. At the end of the year he would have mastered 52 things.

"Take his left-handed hook shot. He'd work on it the entire weekend. He'd get it down good, and then he'd go on to something else."

Thanks in large part to Terry Baker, Jefferson High School dominated adolescent athletics in the state of Oregon. Baker was all-city and all-state in football, basketball and baseball in his senior year at Jefferson, and the school won the city title in all three sports, the state title in two. "Every major West Coast college, most of the Ivy League and at least three Southwest Conference schools were after Terry," says Tom DeSylvia, the Jefferson football coach, who was as close to Baker as any of his elders. "Every time I looked up, there was another college coach coming down the hall wanting me to get Terry out of class so he could talk to him. I had more free dinners in Terry's senior year than I've had in any other 10 years. Pepper Rodgers, of the Air Force Academy, was around so much I thought he was one of our staff."

In the end, however, it was Amory (Slats) Gill, who has been the Oregon State basketball coach for 35 years, who persuaded Baker to enroll at Corvallis.

"His brother Gary was in school here by then," Gill recalls, "and that was an influence. Terry had always been a believer in our basketball program, since he'd been coming to games here for three years. He wanted engineering, and that was available here. I think he was impressed, too, with our approach. When I told him I couldn't promise him a starting spot, that he'd have to come out and earn it, Terry said, 'You know the trouble with you, coach? You're too honest.'

"I remember saying then, before I ever knew he'd make it in college athletics, that he was the most personable high school senior I had ever met."

Coach Prothro and the Oregon State football department weren't too impressed with Baker as a prospect, however. "I wasn't too sure he liked contact," Prothro has since explained, "although I had to change my mind after watching Terry play in a high school all-star game the summer before he entered college." In those days Prothro taught the head-banging single-wing football he had learned as an assistant to Red Sanders at Vanderbilt and UCLA, and what he wanted was rough, tough blockers and runners rather than deft and artful T quarterbacks. "Terry had never run with the ball before he came here," Prothro observes as he looks back on the situation. "Everyone told him he couldn't play single wing—everyone but us, that is. We told him he could. At first he didn't believe us, and he didn't play freshman football."

Instead, Baker decided to concentrate on basketball in his freshman year. He was the team's high scorer with an average of 17.8 points per game. That spring he went out for baseball. "It was the worst spring we ever had," Baker remembers. "It rained all the time and we couldn't get a game in. About halfway through the season, spring football practice began, so I decided to give it a try."

"After the first three days that Terry was out for football that spring," Slats Gill recalls, "I asked the coaches about him. They said no he wouldn't make it. Three days later they said yes."

During Baker's sophomore year, when he alternated with a well-proven senior at the unfamiliar position of single-wing tailback, he set a new Oregon State record for total offense—about half of it running and half passing—and finished sixth among major college players throughout the entire U.S. It was then that Coach Prothro decided to convert to T-formation football to take full advantage of Baker's unusual talents.

The conversion was not an instant success. Baker's statistical table ceased to escalate as Oregon State plodded and stumbled through a humdrum 5-5 season. "We had no other quarterback," says Prothro, "so we couldn't risk letting Terry run with the ball as much as we would have liked. Without the threat of the option, he wasn't as effective as he could have been." Nonetheless. Baker's total offensive yardage of 1,230 placed him 11th in the national rankings.

The basketball season was a partial palliative. With a 7-foot sophomore named Mel Counts to dip the ball into the basket, Oregon State became one of the best teams in the Far West, and Baker was the spark that urged it on. "It's his passing, his maneuverability and the way he directs our offense that are his strong points," says John Eggars. "We call him our quarterback. Counts clears the ball off the backboards, passes it right to Baker, and Terry takes it down the court. He's not a good outside shot, but he's a great playmaker, and he drives in under the basket very well. He's the kind of player who can make a college team go, and he always comes up with the big play when you need it."

One of Baker's most remarkable attributes is the speed with which he can adapt from football to basketball, a process that generally takes an athlete as long as three weeks because of the completely different set of leg muscles that are required for the game. Baker, as he proved after the Liberty Bowl game, can make the switch in a week or less.

Still, it is football that Baker plays best. During this past season, when he passed for a total of 1,738 yards and ran for another 538, his total offensive record beat the runner-up, Eldon Fortie of Brigham Young, by the length of more than three football fields.

"I couldn't have done it," Baker said generously, "without Vern Burke, our new left end. He was one of the best ends in the nation—had the most receptions for the most yards. They used to call us the B-B Boys. You ought to see him. He stands 6 feet 4 and weighs 225."

Because Oregon State this year had two sophomore quarterbacks who were capable of relieving Baker, Coach Prothro designed most of his plays as roll-outs in which Baker might cither pass or run. and opponents could never be sure which he would do. As it turned out, the substitutes weren't needed, for Baker is an amazingly durable athlete with legs like a six-day bicycle rider. "From the waist up he looks like a literary student." Coach Prothro once said, "but he has the perfect build for football." When Baker is carrying the ball, unlike most T quarterbacks, he never hesitates to barrel into the most awesome tangle of bodies if it will get him a few extra yards. Yet his only injury in three years of play was a slight bruise on the point of his right shoulder in that final cliffhanger against Oregon.

The Los Angeles Rams' scouting report gave Baker the highest rating there is for a college prospect. One of their scouts put it this way, "An amazing athlete, excellent passer either short or long. Throws well under pressure, concentrating on the receiver rather than the rush. A tremendous runner whose speed has improved with his passing each year. Very intelligent, very good signal-caller and an outstanding leader."

The future for Terry Baker is full of exciting promise. As a professional football player he will have plenty of money for the first time in his life, and he intends to use part of it to retire his mother to a life of leisure. With his excellent scholastic record as an undergraduate, he is all but assured of getting into any postgraduate school he should choose.

"I don't intend to stay in football all my life," he said to a friend the other day. "I look at pro football as a means to an end. I'm definitely going to graduate school to study either medicine or business, but I haven't decided which. What do you think I ought to do? I sat next to Attorney General Kennedy at the Heisman Award dinner and talked to him for almost three hours, and he said he thought I ought to go to Harvard Business School. That's the best, isn't it? I think maybe that's what I ought to do. What do you think?"

Among all his other considerations. Baker can't rule out entirely the one of marriage. "Do you remember the girl I was going out with when I saw you last year?" he asked during his visit to New York a few weeks ago. A big happy grin crossed his face, and he said, "Well, I'm still going with her."

The girl's name is Marilyn Davis, and she is an Oregon State sophomore, aged 19, whose father operates a successful paper box factory in Long Beach. Calif. and lives with his family in the posh Corona Del Mar neighborhood of Newport Beach. There are those who think Marilyn's father would like to have Baker come into business with him as a son-in-law, and perhaps that might be in the future, although Baker is not likely to be anyone's man but his own.

Coach Prothro, who is now as close to Baker as any of the older men who have been a part of his life, best summed up the feeling that most people have about his star back. "I'd probably have never known him if he hadn't been a football player," Prothro said, "but if he hadn't been a football player and I'd known him. I'd still think he was one of the most unusual boys I'd ever known—if not the most unusual."

TWO PHOTOSPHOTOScholar Terry Baker studies in library with his best girl, Marilyn Davis, daughter of a wealthy southern California industrialist.

TERRY BAKER'S 1962 HONORS

INDIVIDUAL AWARDS

SPORTS ILLUSTRATED SPORTSMAN OF THE YEAR
HEISMAN AWARD
MAXWELL AWARD
FOOTBALL FOUNDATION SCHOLAR ATHLETE
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: AP, UPI, SPORTING NEWS
BACK OF THE YEAR: AP, UPI, WASHINGTON TOUCHDOWN CLUB

REGIONAL AWARDS

OSU MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
ALL PACIFIC COAST, AP AND UPI
ALL WESTERN REGIONAL BASKETBALL, AP
ALL-OPPONENT ELEVENS: WASHINGTON, WEST VIRGINIA, OREGON

ALL-AMERICAS

FOOTBALL COACHES ASSOCIATION
FOOTBALL WRITERS ASSOCIATION
SPORTING NEWS
NEA (CAPTAIN)
TIME
ASSOCIATED PRESS
UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL
CBS-TV
FOOTBALL NEWS
WILLIAMSON RATING SYSTEM
ACADEMIC
PLUS NUMEROUS CITY NEWSPAPER ALL-AMERICAS