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Alfred Wright
January 07, 1963
'He called upon himself to transmute peril into triumph'
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January 07, 1963

Sportsman Of The Year: Terry Baker

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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."

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