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Heisman redux for Terry Baker

Anniversary of 1962 honor comes just after Civil War clash


by: PORTLAND TRIBUNE: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Terry Baker, former Oregon State star quarterback and 1962 Heisman Trophy winner, enjoys some down time at home in Portland with his wife, Barbara.The banquet was held on a Wednesday evening at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City nearly 50 years ago.

It was Dec. 5, 1962, the night the 28th annual Heisman Trophy was bestowed upon Oregon State quarterback Terry Baker as the outstanding college football player in the United States.

There was no live television coverage, but the event was broadcast on radio from coast to coast via the Mutual Broadcasting System.

There was a cocktail reception and dinner and then the awards ceremony in the DAC’s gymnasium, with closed-circuit viewing available on the club’s seventh and eighth floors. The keynote speaker was the honorable Robert F. Kennedy, younger brother of the president and the country’s attorney general.

There was a post-awards reception and autograph session followed by a party in the third-floor cafe, with music provided by Skip Strong and his Dixieland Band.

A little primitive compared to the Heisman festivities of today, but still heady stuff for Baker, the schoolboy from Portland’s Jefferson High who became the first Heisman winner from the West Coast.

Memories will surely come flooding back as Baker and his wife, Barbara, fly to New York for the 78th annual Heisman presentation Dec. 8 at the Best Buy Theater in Times Square.

Baker, 71, will be honored with a tribute to the 50th anniversary of his award.

Fifty years? Can it really be?

“It has gone by quickly,” Baker says, resting in an easy chair of the family room in the Council Crest home he shares with Barbara. “I was 21 when I received the Heisman. If you had told me I’d be back there 50 years later, I’d have bet you every dime I had that I wouldn’t. Just to live to be this old is something.”

He smiles, then adds drily, “I don’t think I’ll be back there for the 100th anniversary.”

by: PORTLAND TRIBUNE: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - At his home in Southwest Portland, Terry Baker keeps some mementos of his outstanding career at Oregon State.Past Heisman recipients are invited back each year, but Baker has attended only twice since 1962 — “both times a long time ago,” he says. In truth, Baker — never big on pomp and circumstance — dreaded the idea of going back to attend.

But this time is different. Barbara wanted to go, and since he is being honored, it would have been hard to turn down the invitation.

“They’re going to make something extra out of it,” Baker says. “They make a charitable contribution in your name if you attend.

“They are bending over backward to make this a wonderful experience. They do a fabulous job, really. I have more time these days, so it’s a good chance to get back there again. I’m really excited about it.”

• • •

It has been an eventful year for Baker. He is now fully retired after a 40-year career practicing business law, having gone inactive from the Oregon State Bar in January.

In September, his 1962 Liberty Bowl team entered the OSU Athletic Hall of Fame. During the weekend, he was reunited with more than 60 coaches and teammates, including Vern Burke, the All-America end whom he hadn’t seen in more than 45 years.

Last week, the Liberty Bowl team was enshrined in the Oregon Athletic Hall of Fame — another chance to relive good ol’ times.

Now a reporter is making a withdrawal from the memory bank of Baker from that trip east a half-century ago.

One of the highlights was the company of his mother, Laura Baker, who raised Terry and his two older brothers, Richard and Gary, in a single-parent household in North Portland. It was Laura Baker’s first airplane flight. A limousine picked her up at the airport and was at her beck and call through the week.

by: COURTESY OF OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY - Terry Baker warms up at quarterback for Oregon State, en route to winning the Heisman Trophy in 1962.
“They took her shopping, took her sightseeing, showed her the sights of the city,” Baker says. “She was treated like a queen.”

Baker can offer only a few nuggets from the trip.

“It was just a wonderful time,” he says. “The main thing I recall is the banquet and Bobby Kennedy’s speech, which was hilarious.”

Baker and Kennedy became friends, and Baker wound up stumping for Kennedy during the the 1968 presidential campaign.

“I remember spending time with him in the bar at the Benson Hotel,” Baker says. “I sat next to (wife) Ethel on a flight during the campaign. She was a white-knuckled flier. Her fingernails were in my arm the whole way.

“The night he was (assassinated), I would have been there but for the fact I was leaving the next morning back to Oregon and my wife and I were having dinner with my in-laws that night.”

Not everything was wonderful about Baker’s Heisman trip to New York.

“There was a big press conference before the event,” he says. “I was like the bumpkin from Corvallis dropped into New York City — I’d never seen anything like it.

“All the reporters clamoring around and asking you questions about your father and why did he leave your mother and all sorts of hare-brained stuff.”

Max Baker left the family when Terry was 5, leaving Laura — who worked as a checker at stores such as Fred Meyer, Owl Drugs and Sears — to raise the boys alone “without any help whatsoever from any other source,” Terry says.

Laura Baker never owned a car, never had a paid vacation, never saw her son play a game until he got to college, largely because she was always working late and had no transportation to and from games.

Terry is very much his mother’s son. It’s the proverbial rags-to-riches story of a kid who rose from humble beginnings to the Heisman and two Sports Illustrated covers to the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft to a lucrative law career.

The story behind Baker being a right-handed baseball pitcher is legend, but it’s true. There wasn’t enough money in the family for a new baseball glove. Older brother Gary was right-handed. Terry got the hand-me-down.

“I’m not ambidextrous,” Baker insists. “I’m left-handed. I can only throw a baseball with my right hand. I can only throw a football with my left.

“I write and eat left-handed. I bowl right-handed and kick a football right-footed. I play golf right but batted left in baseball.”

Kind of sounds ambidextrous, but don’t tell Baker that.

• • •

The state of Oregon wasn’t fertile recruiting ground for college athletes in the ‘60s, but scouts found Baker, who ultimately chose Oregon State to play both basketball and baseball — but not football.

As a junior, the three-sport star for the Democrats made a recruiting trip to Stanford. Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State and California were also in pursuit for both football and basketball. Even Air Force got into the picture. Coach Pepper Rodgers flew to Portland in an Air Force jet and took Terry and Barbara, his high school sweetheart, to dinner at the Ringside.

“It was like, ‘Wow,’ ” Barbara recalls.

Shortly after his senior baseball season, Baker played in a pair of national all-star football games in Louisiana and Pennsylvania. There were plenty of college coaches sniffing around both places, but Baker still hadn’t made up his mind.

Then he returned to Oregon for the Shrine Football Game in June and became fast friends with another multi-sport athlete, Beaverton’s Steve Pauly. They decided they’d be a package deal and made several recruiting visits together that summer, including an unforgettable trip to Stanford, which had offered an academic scholarship to Baker but not quite the same deal to Pauly.

“Stanford furnished us with a rental car — a new Buick — and a credit card, and we drove down from Portland,” Baker says. “Ironically, (OSU football coach) Tommy Prothro was at my house the day we left. He recruited me a lot more than Slats Gill (the basketball coach). He recruited the hell out of me, took my mother and I to dinner several times.

“Once we got there, we had a nice weekend. On Sunday, (football coach) ‘Cactus’ Jack Curtis got us around a table with a bunch of their coaches and said, ‘Can we announce you guys are coming?’ I said, ‘We’ll let you know after we get back to Oregon.’

“Jack just blew up. I’d never seen anything like it. ‘Do you know how much trouble we had to go to to get you two guys admitted? We had to go to the board of trustees, and you’re telling me you haven’t made up your mind?’ ”

Baker and Pauly promptly drove the Stanford-billed rental car across the Bay to Berkeley, where they spent a couple of days allowing Bears coaches to show them around. On the drive home to Portland, Baker was pulled over and ticketed for speeding.

“When I applied for a California driver’s license after I went to play for the (L.A.) Rams, there was a warrant out for my arrest,” Baker says. “I guess I never paid the ticket.”

By September, Baker had decided on Oregon State. Pauly still wanted to check out Washington. The pair went on a visit to OSU the week of registration for school. OSU coaches and administrators convened for a meeting with them at the Phi Delta Theta fraternity house.

Someone told Baker and Pauly they had arranged for something for them to do that weekend when the Beavers played at Texas Tech — a salmon fishing trip, which not coincidentally would keep Pauly away from the clutches of the Huskies.

“Well, Steve doesn’t like to fish,” Baker told the group.

Asked what they would prefer to do, Baker said, “Neither one of us has ever been to Texas.”

The next morning, Baker and Pauly were at the airport, flying to Texas with the team. Two days later, they had both committed to become Beavers.

• • •

Baker wasn’t going to play football at Oregon State. Prothro, sly dog that he was, kept tabs on the eventual superstar, using Baker and Pauly as ballboys to fulfill work-study obligations at home games.

“I worked the home side, and I’d be throwing footballs to Pauly on the other side, and fans were yelling down from the stands, ‘Why aren’t you playing football?’ ” Baker recalls with a grin.

Soon enough, Baker was. Prothro enticed him to take part in spring practice his freshman year, and Baker wound up never playing baseball. He split time with veteran Don Kasso at tailback as a sophomore, then took over the team at quarterback when Prothro switched from single wing to T formation as a junior.

His senior year, Baker became the most-decorated athlete in college sports history — the Heisman Trophy winner, the guy who ran for 99 yards for the only score in a 6-0 Liberty Bowl win over Villanova, an all-tournament selection as the Beavers reached the Final Four in basketball, the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year.

“It was phenomenal,” Baker says. “It doesn’t happen like that in real life.”

• • •

Baker’s pro career was less idyllic. The NFL’s top draft pick started the first game of his career with the Rams, “and I shouldn’t have,” he says. “I wasn’t ready.”

It was the only game Baker was to start in the NFL. He played in only 18 games in his three years with the Rams, rushing for 210 yards and a TD, catching 22 passes for 210 yards and two TDs and completing 12 of 21 passes for 154 yards and no TDs with four interceptions.

“I think I came 50 years too early,” he says. “The game has evolved. It’s changed so much. The West Coast style used by so many teams today is more my style. I could throw the 5-yard pass — probably still could.

“But I don’t think I was as good a drop-back passer as was required in those days. It was sink or swim, and I sunk. And we were the worst team in the league.”

Baker was switched to halfback by coach Harland Svare his second season in L.A.

“I had some good games,” Baker says. “Caught a touchdown pass that beat Chicago. Then I started getting beat up and injured.”

When George Allen took over as coach in 1966, Baker was waived in the preseason. He had a chance to sign with the New York Giants at midseason after Y.A. Tittle got injured, but had already enrolled at the Southern Cal Law School. He played one year in the Canadian Football League, then went full-time at his new career.

“I would have liked to play football a couple of more years and have had more success,” Baker admits, “but that’s not the way it worked out.”

• • •

Baker married his college squeeze, had two children, settled in with Tonkon Torp LLC, and made a good life in Portland. He divorced and remarried, becoming one with Barbara, who had been widowed a few years earlier. They wed in 1996 and the next year moved into their three-bedroom, split-level 4,000-square-foot house with a scenic view of Portland. In the basement are an indoor driving range and a well-stocked wine cellar — staples of any good home.

The Bakers share four kids and eight grandchildren. Terry’s son, Brian, is co-owner of an investment firm in Portland while daughter Wendy lives in Venice, Calif.

A year ago, Baker had back surgery to repair three vertebrae. It has given him a new lease on life.

“It had gotten to the point where I could only walk four or five blocks without the pain getting to me,” he says. “I told the surgeon I wanted to be able to play golf and walk a little bit, and I can do that now. Barb and I do a little loop on the Vera Katz Esplanade, about 3 1/2 miles, pretty regularly. If I can do that, I’ve accomplished my objective.

“I’m not going to run a marathon. I’m not going to play tennis anymore. You just do the best you can, and my best is to play golf and walk a little bit.”

Retirement and improved health have helped Baker’s golf game.

“My handicap is lower than ever,” he says. “It’s a 9 now, but it was 7.8.”

The Bakers are members of Waverly Country Club. Barbara — a pert, can-she-really-be-70? type of woman — walks, works out at the Multnomah Club or plays golf every day. The Bakers have a place at Indian Wells, Calif., where they spend three to four months every winter.

“I’m enjoying this time in my life,” Terry says. “There’s a lot of freedom.”

Baker owns season tickets to OSU football, attends most games with Barbara and has become friends with Mike Riley, regularly giving books to the coach — like Baker, an avid reader — the past four or five years.

Baker has been too successful and well-rounded in life to be defined by the Heisman Trophy, but the association with college football’s premier award is permanent. He seems to have grown more comfortable with it as the years have gone on.

“It’s like a tattoo on your head,” he says. “Everybody associates you with it. People introduce me as, ‘Terry Baker, Heisman Trophy winner.’

“And that’s fine. It seems like it’s bigger than if you won an Oscar or an MVP. There’s only one person who gets it (a year). And it’s gotten bigger over the years. I get stuff in the mail virtually every day wanting me to sign something related to the Heisman.”

Baker never ran for public office, something many of his friends and acquaintances — Bobby Kennedy among them — pushed him to do. Now is the time for Baker to reap dividends from the fruits of his toils.

“I enjoy my life now,” he says. “Barb and I get to do a lot of wonderful things. I like to stay active. We enjoy playing golf. We enjoy our kids and grandkids.

“I feel good about what has happened in the past. I’ve been fortunate and blessed. A lot of good things have happened. Having an abbreviated pro (football) career was a hiccup in the road, but Mo Tonkon getting me to go to law school and going into practice with him and what happened after that has made up for it tenfold.”

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Twitter: @kerryeggers