Former Los Angeles Rams quarterback Terry Baker could have been one of the greatest signal callers of his generation.
There was only one glaring problem – Baker didn’t have much of a throwing arm.
Baker, the 1962 Heisman Trophy and Maxwell Award winner, just couldn’t pass like an NFL quarterback. No matter how hard he tried, his passes just did not have any zip.
Experts thought he would take the NFL by storm. Regrettably, they never expected him to end his pro football career so abruptly after a short-lived stint with the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos in 1966.
Had Terry Baker developed a rifle arm, he would have had a more successful career in the National Football League.
Terry Wayne Baker was born to parents Max and Laura in Pine River, MN on May 5, 1941.
Max Baker uprooted his family in early 1942, moving them to Santa Monia, CA that year.
The Bakers eventually settled in Portland, OR several years later. Unfortunately, Max and Laura divorced when young Terry was just seven years old in 1948.
It would be another twelve years before Terry saw his father again.
Laura White-Baker raised her three boys in the City of Roses. She worked for the Owl Drug Company and as a checking clear at a local Sears warehouse to help make ends meet.
Terry recalled that she worked long hours to provide for his and his brothers’ needs. Despite her frantic work schedule and dire financial situation, she still found time to manage her sons’ athletic careers.
Terry and his family felt the impact of his father’s absence when he ruptured his appendix when he was just eight years old. The harrowing ordeal nearly cost Terry his life. His mother shouldered all of his medical expenses without any financial assistance from his father.
Terry has two older brothers: Richard and Gary. All three Baker siblings attended Jefferson High School and Oregon State University, per Sports Illustrated’s Alfred Wright.
Although Richard, the eldest brother, became somewhat of a delinquent in high school, he became a civilian worker at Pearl Harbor. He worked on a component of the electrical system for nuclear-powered submarines.
Richard acted as Terry’s de facto father figure while they were growing up in the Beaver State. The latter made sure his youngest brother always did his homework. Their mother Laura told Sports Illustrated in 1963 that Terry always complied.
On the other hand, Gary and Terry forged a tight bond considering they only had a two-year age gap.
Homegrown at Jefferson High in #DamCity: Terry Baker!
• First West Coast player to win the @HeismanTrophy
• Only player in history to win the Heisman and play in the Final Four
— Oregon State Football (@BeaverFootball) April 18, 2019
Gary was a baseball enthusiast who introduced his younger brother to the game. The former allowed Terry to tag along and play baseball with his friends at a nearby park while they were growing up in the Pacific Northwest.
Terry eventually excelled as a baseball pitcher in high school. He became ambidextrous after he developed a strong right throwing arm with his brother’s glove for right-handers – the only one they had at home.
Terry Baker made the Democrats’ basketball roster as a 16-year-old sophomore in 1957.
After starting guard Ron Langos fouled out in a game against Lincoln High, Terry picked up the slack in spectacular fashion.
Terry’s brother Gary was about to shoot the potential game-winning shot in overtime when he saw Terry jockeying for position.
Gary passed the ball to Terry, who made a twisting shot with three defenders draped all over him to win the game. It was Terry Baker’s first shot attempt in high school basketball.
Baker was locked in as a pitcher for the Jefferson Democrats’ baseball team. Behind Baker’s masterful performance on the mound, Jefferson high reached the state finals in 1959.
Not only did Terry Baker blossom into one of the finest high school athletes in the Beaver State, but he also set the bar high in the classroom.
According to Sports Illustrated, Baker’s grades were so impressive, that Yale and Harvard alumni took notice of him.
Although the thought of becoming an Ivy Leaguer was tempting, Baker ultimately decided to remain in-state and commit to the Oregon State Beavers.
Baker chose Oregon State because he wanted to major in engineering – one of the school’s most challenging courses. Baker told Wright that majoring in engineering will bring out the best in him and maximize his potential.
“The trouble with places like Harvard and Yale and Stanford, I thought, was that I didn’t have any money,” Baker told Sports Illustrated in the fall of 1961. “I realize now now it probably isn’t that way but that’s how I felt at the time.”
Ironically, the Oregon State Beavers football team wasn’t aggressive in pursuing the talented Baker. Their head football coach, Tommy Prothro, told Wright in 1961 that he got the impression Baker disliked hard hits during his high school days with the Jefferson Democrats.
Consequently, Prothro and Co. softened their stance on Baker. Fortunately for the latter, Beavers head basketball coach Slats Gill thought he was too good to pass up, so he recruited him. Thus, Baker earned a basketball scholarship to strut his wares in Corvallis, OR.
Before long, Terry Baker would become one of the best alumni of the Oregon State Beavers football and basketball programs.
College Days with the Oregon State Beavers
Terry Baker attended Oregon State University in Corvallis, OR from 1959 to 1962. He majored in mechanical engineering.
Baker, who has a scant amount of Indian blood from his father Max’s side of the family, indicated “Indian” as his nationality when he enrolled at OSU, per Wright.
Baker was a two-sport star for the Oregon State Beavers. He was a point guard for their basketball team. On the other hand, he played quarterback and halfback for the football team.
Terry Baker was not your usual interview subject. He typically asked more questions than he answered.
Oregon State University publicist John Eggers told Sports Illustrated in 1963 that he remembered interviewing Baker when he was a freshman four years earlier.
Eggers could not get any information from the young freshman because the latter turned things around in a heartbeat asking question after question. Before long, Baker became more of the interviewer.
Baker got off to a hot start on the college hardwood. He averaged 17.8 points as a freshman point guard for Beavers head basketball coach Slats Gill.
Baker, who stood 6’1″ and weighed 191 pounds, held his own against much bigger players on the basketball court.
While Gill admitted to Sports Illustrated that Baker wasn’t much of a threat on the boards against taller counterparts, his speed, quickness, and intelligence made him a cerebral talent in college basketball.
While Terry Baker was dazzling the fans on the basketball court, he had put his aspirations on the college gridiron aside after he accepted a basketball scholarship from Gill in 1959.
Baker began playing for the Beavers baseball team at the beginning of his sophomore season in 1960.
When he dropped by Beavers football spring practice, he soon realized how much he missed football. He quickly ditched his baseball cleats for a pair of football ones.
“I didn’t like all that idle time I had had in the fall,” Baker told Wright in the fall of 1961. “I guess I was like a businessman who puts his whole life into a business and doesn’t want to give up.”
Terry Baker’s decision to revive his football career soon made him one of the most celebrated gridiron warriors in Oregon State Beavers football history.
Baker made such a profound impact on the Beavers football program, head football coach Tommy Prothro ditched his traditional single-wing type offense to a T formation. Prothro felt the latter offensive scheme was a better fit for Baker’s scrambling abilities and left-handed throwing arm.
Before his debut with the Beavers football team in the fall of 1960, Baker was strictly a pocket passer with the Jefferson Democrats in high school.
Happy Birthday QB Terry Baker, Oregon State Beavers. 1962 #HeismanTrophy winner. Baker was the 1st player from the west coast to win the Heisman & only player to win the Heisman & play in the Final Four. #CollegeFootball @ClintKPoppe @BeaverFootball #BuildTheDam #TrailBlazer22 pic.twitter.com/79cG6P09qy
— History of College Football (@HistColFootball) May 5, 2022
That all changed when he suited up for Tommy Prothro. The latter helped develop Baker’s running prowess and elusiveness in the pocket.
While Baker was getting a feel for Prothro’s T formation scheme, he split carries with Don Kasso in 1960. When Kasso had to sit out two games due to injury that year, Baker picked up the slack with 576 all-purpose yards in both contests.
Baker’s 610 rushing yards as a Beavers tailback in 1960 and his 1,473 all-purpose yards as a sophomore set a new single-season record in Oregon State Beavers program history. Baker’s all-purpose yardage also ranked him sixth in the entire nation, per Sports Illustrated.
Baker had no idea what made him so effective on the ground attack as his college football career evolved. Although he wasn’t the fastest player on the football field, he put his basketball smarts to good use on the college gridiron.
Terry Baker’s exemplary play on the gridiron soon convinced Oregon State to change his scholarship from basketball to football.
Baker ran into his father Max during halftime of the Beavers’ game against the Washington State Cougars on November 5, 1960. The last time Terry saw him was in 1948 when his parents divorced.
According to Wright, Max Baker made his way down the stands as his son was headed toward the Oregon State locker room. The two spoke briefly before Terry received halftime instructions from Coach Prothro.
Prothro noticed Terry played poorly in the second half so he yanked him from the game. Nevertheless, Oregon State prevailed, 20-10.
Max Baker then sent Terry a watch in the mail as a Christmas gift in December 1961. After giving it some thought, Terry gave it back to his father.
“I thought it would have been better if he had spent the money on us when we really needed it,” Terry Baker told Sports Illustrated as his college athletics career wound down in January 1963.
After saying that, Terry gave Wright a flashback to his ruptured appendix ordeal shortly after his parents divorced when he was still in grade school.
Baker, who resided in the Phi Delta Theta frat house in his college years, served as its president in his junior year in 1961. It was a major accomplishment considering seniors usually held that position, per Wright.
Terry Baker also continued excelling in the classroom. For instance, general engineering professor Admiral Daniel B. Miller lauded Baker for his intelligence, neatness, and his intense focus in the classroom.
“You could shoot a gun off in the room when he is studying, and it wouldn’t disturb him,” Miller told Wright in October 1961.
With that, Miller concluded Terry Baker was one of the best students he ever had the pleasure of teaching.
Baker told Sports Illustrated that he considered attending medical school in his junior year, so he could focus on psychiatry.
One of Terry’s former high school coaches took him on a camping trip in the summer of 1961. Terry promptly picked his brain on behavioral sciences, which piqued his interest.
Baker also had another option if medical school fell by the wayside – a career in professional sports.
Baker, a talented right-handed baseball player who threw left as a football quarterback, did not consider Major League Baseball because he thought the minors were a waste of time.
On the other hand, if he played in the National Football League, he could earn his paycheck right away.
Terry Baker further solidified his chances of playing in the NFL with his stellar play in the 1962 NCAA campaign.
Terry Baker won the Heisman Trophy in 1962. He was a basketball star as well for Oregon State. pic.twitter.com/cpkYz3zkKf
— Miles Commodore (@miles_commodore) June 14, 2022
Baker spearheaded a 20-17 comeback win against the Beavers’ in-state rivals, the Oregon Ducks, on November 24, 1962. His teammates carried him off the field in jubilation after the final whistle.
“In all my years of football,” Prothro told Wright in January 1963. “I have never seen the players do that to one of their teammates.”
Baker had a 99-yard rushing touchdown – Oregon State’s only points of the game – in a 6-0 shutout victory over the Villanova Wildcats in the 1962 Liberty Bowl three weeks later.
On the other hand, Baker had led the Beavers men’s basketball team to an NCAA western regional championship semifinal appearance several months earlier.
Tournament organizers chose him as one of the two best backcourt players from that particular region.
Baker told Sports Illustrated’s John Walters that he met President John F. Kennedy at the Army-Navy game in 1963.
Kennedy, who knew more about Baker’s schedule than he did, told the Beavers quarterback he would meet his younger brother Robert in the upcoming Heisman Trophy banquet.
Baker sat right next to Robert F. Kennedy at the 1962 Heisman Trophy banquet. The two hit it off with Baker eventually accompanying RFK during his presidential campaign in Oregon in 1968.
Baker, who had 2,276 all-purpose yards and 24 total touchdowns as a senior in 1962, made history as his college football career wound down.
According to Wright, Baker is the first player in college football history to win both the Heisman Trophy and Maxwell Award in the same season (1962).
That was just the proverbial tip of the iceberg for Terry Baker. He also earned Consensus All-American honors and won the UPI College Football Player of the Year Award and the Pop Warner Trophy following his senior season in 1962.
Baker told Walters in 1997 that he had given all of his trophies to his alma mater, Oregon State University, except for his 1962 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year award.
Baker also met his first wife, the former Marilyn Davis, during their college days at Oregon State. He finished his four-year tenure at Oregon State with a respectable 3.04 GPA.
Baker finished his stellar college football career with 4,909 all-purpose yards and 39 total touchdowns from 1960 to 1962.
The Beavers averaged seven wins per year during that three-season stretch. They made just one bowl game appearance in Baker’s three years at Oregon State – the 6-0 win against the Villanova Wildcats in the 1962 Liberty Bowl.
With Terry Baker having won virtually every conceivable award in the college football ranks in 1962, nobody ever thought he would play well below expectations in the National Football League from 1963 to 1965.
Pro Football Career
The Los Angeles Rams made Terry Baker the first overall selection of the 1963 NFL Draft.
On the other hand, the San Diego Chargers selected Baker 90th overall in the 1963 AFL Draft. Baker ultimately decided to join the NFL and signed with the Rams.
Although the Rams already had a logjam at quarterback (they already had Roman Gabriel, Zeke Bratkowski, and other signal-callers prior to the draft), they just could not pass up on the talented Baker.
“Baker is so outstanding we couldn’t afford not to take him,” Rams general manager Elroy Hirsch told Sports Illustrated in January 1963.
According to the Los Angeles Times’ Rich Roberts, Baker signed a contract with the Rams that paid him $25,000 annually. He also received a $15,000 signing bonus.
“I thought I was wealthy,” Baker told Roberts.
Terry reported to Rams training camp two weeks late because he played in the Chicago College All-Star Game in the summer of 1963.
With Terry Baker under center, the College All-Stars beat Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers, 20-17. It was the final time a college football team prevailed against their NFL counterparts. The series ultimately ceased operations in 1976.
Rams coach Harland Svare knew something was off with Baker the moment he saw him perform at training camp in 1963.
Baker initially impressed Svare with his swagger, confidence, and leadership. However, Baker wasn’t throwing the ball as hard as Gabriel and Bratkowski as the weeks passed.
A concerned Svare approached his backfield coach Don Heinrich and told him to tell Baker to put some zip into his passes.
Heinrich followed his coach’s orders and made his way toward Baker. After the two whispered to one another, Heinrich told Svare that Baker was already throwing as hard as he could, per the Los Angeles Times.
— LA Rams Fan Zone (@LARamsFanZone) April 28, 2016
Terry Baker, a lefty quarterback, had grown accustomed to throwing rolling out to his left during his college days with the Oregon State Beavers. The 1962 Heisman Trophy winner never had a reputation for throwing long bombs downfield.
When Baker entered the NFL in 1963, his passes didn’t carry well. They often lost momentum in mid-flight before dropping to the ground. Football experts and fans alike criticized him harshly.
“He was a tremendous field general and very intelligent,” Svare told Roberts in 1987. “He did everything he was supposed to do, except he didn’t have an arm…Had he been able to throw the ball, he would have been one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.”
Svare’s fears became a reality when he decided to start Baker in the season opener against the Detroit Lions on September 14, 1963.
Detroit had a fearsome secondary that featured cornerbacks Dick “Night Train” Lane and Dick LeBeau and safety Yale Leary.
The Lions were relentless. They forced Terry Baker into throwing three interceptions in the first half alone. To make matters worse for Baker, LeBeau scored a defensive touchdown on one of his errant passes.
Detroit won in lopsided fashion, 23-2.
“I got thrown – literally and figuratively – to the Lions,” Baker, who was already an accomplished lawyer, told Roberts in 1987.
Baker attributed his woeful performance to the Rams’ disorganization and lack of preparation.
Baker soon slid down the Rams’ quarterback depth chart because of his atrocious play. Svare eventually tapped Gabriel to become his starting quarterback as the 1963 NFL season wore on.
After Baker’s disastrous rookie campaign ended, the Rams made him go through off-season training to improve his throwing arm.
Svare and the other coaches tried their best to salvage Baker’s once-illustrious football career.
They even asked him to play halfback – a throwback to his sophomore season at Oregon State in 1960 when he ranked sixth in the country in all-purpose yardage. Alas, his lack of strength ultimately did him in.
Rams public relations executive Jack Teele thought Baker’s inability to specialize in one area of strength in the pro football ranks resulted in his demise on the gridiron.
Baker agreed with Teele’s assessment. He admitted he did a little bit of everything in Tommy Prothro’s system at Oregon State.
However, his failure to become a passing threat as a quarterback became detrimental to his pro football career, per the Los Angeles Times.
On the field, QB Terry Baker
The 1st player from state of Oregon to win it. 1st overall pick by the Rams in 1963. In just 3 seasons in the NFL, Baker passed for a total of 210 yards and 1 touchdown. He then played one season in the CFL before leaving football for good. pic.twitter.com/j72Nth8ORk
— Sports Plus (@PrepSportsPlus) January 2, 2021
Baker and Svare spent three full seasons together on the Rams’ sideline from 1963 to 1965. Los Angeles averaged just five wins per season during those three years.
Since winning the 1951 NFL Championship, the Rams had missed the postseason twelve times in fourteen years.
Baker and Svare also left the Rams’ organization after the 1965 NFL campaign. Rams owner Dan Reeves fired Svare while new head coach George Allen released Baker.
Terry Baker never played another down in the National Football League. He finished his underwhelming NFL career with 154 passing yards, no touchdown passes, and four interceptions.
Baker attended law classes at USC in the months leading up to his release from the Rams. He then suited up for the Canadian Football League’s (CFL) Edmonton Eskimos in 1966.
Baker led the Eskimos to a respectable 10-5-1 record that year. Unfortunately, Edmonton lost to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in overtime in the postseason.
After playing well in 1966, Baker re-aggravated an old groin injury he had sustained in college. Baker’s contract situation with the Eskimos became tenuous after he failed to attend some of their exhibition games the following season. He was taking the bar exam in Oregon at the time.
After the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement, Terry Baker promptly retired from pro football in 1967.
“It was kind of miserable in some respects but, in general, I look back on that experience of playing pro football as fun. I’m glad I did it,” Baker told The Los Angeles Times in 1987.
Terry Baker and his first wife, Marilyn, have a son, Brian, and a daughter, Wendy. Terry divorced Marilyn and then married his high school girlfriend, Barbara Ginther, some time later, per Sports Illustrated.
Baker currently resides in the Portland, OR area. He become a renowned lawyer after he retired from pro football in 1967.
He is a founding member of the Tonkon Torp law firm. In that role, Baker specialized in contract, eminent domain, and product liability litigation. His law expertise includes cases at the state and federal levels.
Baker has been an arbitrator of the Multnomah County Circuit Court Arbitration Panel for the past thirty-six years.
Terry Baker also served as chairman of the board and director of the American Automobile Association (AAA).
Huge thanks to Legendary Oregon State Football Alum and Heisman Trophy Winner Terry Baker for coming to practice and talking to the team! pic.twitter.com/RrkP0uaZ5G
— Jonathan Smith (@Coach_Smith) September 25, 2019
Baker entered the College Football Hall of Fame in 1982.
Terry Baker is a also member of the State of Oregon Sports Hall of Fame, GTE Academic All-American Hall of Fame, the Oregon State University Sports Hall of Fame, and Oregon State University’s Engineering Hall of Fame.
Baker’s No. 11 jersey is the only number the Oregon State Beavers have retired in their football team’s 106-year history.
Baker has stayed in shape during his retirement years by playing tennis and handball.