The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Terry Baker Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Mike Dicianna and Chris Petersen.

June 25, 2014


Terry Wayne Baker was born in 1941 in Pine River, Minnesota, moving to Portland, Oregon at an early age. Baker attended Jefferson High School, where he starred in football, basketball and baseball, leading all three teams to state high school championships, including two football titles capping undefeated seasons his junior and senior years.

Though heavily recruited by a number of universities, Baker was interested in studying engineering and, funded by a basketball scholarship, he enrolled at Oregon State College in 1959. During his first year in Corvallis, Baker played basketball and, for a brief period, baseball, but was not a member of the football team. This changed with the onset of spring football practice in 1960, when Baker was persuaded by coach Tommy Prothro to quarterback the OSC football squad. For the remainder of his Oregon State career, Baker played quarterback for the football team in the fall and point guard for Slats Gill's basketball teams in the winter.

As a quarterback, Baker was known for his speed and mobility, so much so that Coach Prothro changed his offensive philosophy to better suit Baker's talents. Over the course of his football career, Oregon State compiled a record of 20-10-1. His senior year, Baker led the nation in total yards, passing touchdowns and total touchdowns. The team went 9-2 and concluded its season with a victory over Villanova in the 1962 Liberty Bowl. Played in Philadelphia on a bitterly cold December day, the final score of the Liberty Bowl game was 6-0, the only points coming by way of a 99-yard touchdown run by Terry Baker.

For his achievements during the 1962 season, Baker was awarded the Heisman Trophy and the Maxwell Award, both granted to the nation's best college football player. He was, until 2014, the only player from a Pacific Northwest school to have earned the Heisman Trophy.

In January 1963, Baker was also named "Sportsman of the Year" by Sports Illustrated magazine. In its profile article, the magazine called Baker "James Bond in shoulder pads," adding "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...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."

Baker's exploits as a basketball player - his true love - were also impressive. In 1962 he and teammate Mel Counts led the Beavers to the semifinals of the NCAA western regional championship, (equivalent to the Elite Eight in today's NCAA basketball tournament) after which he was selected as one of the two best guards in the region. The following year, Oregon State advanced to the national semifinals, losing its Final Four match-up to powerhouse Cincinnati. Baker averaged 13.4 points per game his senior season and was named an Academic All-American.

The president of Phi Delta Theta fraternity his senior year, Baker completed his undergraduate studies in mechanical engineering in Spring 1963. Picked first in the 1962-63 NFL draft, he played for three seasons with the Los Angeles Rams and for one additional year with the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League. During his stint in Los Angeles, Baker also studied law at the University of Southern California, taking night classes and completing his J.D. in three and a half years. Once his professional football career had ended, Baker began a new life as a lawyer, first in California with Davies Biggs and later as a founding partner of the Portland firm Tonkon Torp.

Terry Baker was inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame as part of its inaugural class in 1980. He is also a member of the Oregon State University Hall of Fame, the College Football Hall of Fame and the National High School Athletics Hall of Fame. In 1999 the Oregonian newspaper named him one of the state's top five athletes of the century. His jersey number 11 is the only number to be retired by the OSU football program.