Will Whisler - Sentinel Sports Editor
Sep 21, 2021
BURNHAM — As a standout lineman during the golden age of Lewistown High School football, The Lewistown area was more than familiar with Ralph Baker’s exceptional abilities on the football field.
Baker’s talent took him to Penn State where he was a standout football player for the Nittany Lions and throughout his four-year career, Baker earned selections to the Hula Bowl and the East-West Shrine Bowl.
His career reached the ultimate stage when he was drafted by the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers and the then AFL’s New York Jets in 1964. Baker elected to sign with the Jets, and his impact was felt throughout the league, as he played a crucial part as one of the best linebackers to ever wear green and white. Baker helped guide the Jets to one of the biggest upset victories in NFL history, as the Jets defeated the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
All of Baker’s accolades and successes made him a clear-cut selection for the Mifflin County Sports Hall of Fame’s inaugural class.
“I want to thank the organization first of all, for organizing this,” Baker said. “I think that it was definitely something that was needed here in Mifflin County. Not because I was one of the ones that was selected, but just because I believe there are a lot of very good athletes in Mifflin County and we’re going way back. I want to thank them for starting this and I hope it continues for many, many years and that many people get in that are deserving of this.”
Baker spoke about his decision to sign with the Jets and not the Steelers in his playing career, which he explained was because of slight difference in compensation and the ability to play inside linebacker — or so he thought.
“The Steelers had a very good inside linebacker at that time in Myron Pottios and the Jets really had no linebackers to speak of other than Larry Grantham who was an outside linebacker,” Baker said. “They promised that I could play in the middle. I ended up signing with the Jets and about three days after I signed, I got a call that we had just traded for a middle linebacker and I was going to be an outside linebacker — so they lied,” Baker added with a laugh.
The rest from there was history as Baker’s career speaks for itself.
Baker was an anchor on defense for the New York Jets and is still considered one of the best to play the position in franchise history. His legacy is cemented with a Super Bowl ring and by his terrific play on the team’s way to the title.
Baker’s six tackles and fumble recovery in the Super Bowl helped lead the Jets while his fumble recovery late in the AFL title game played a key role in allowing New York to advance to the Super Bowl.
“The highlight of course was that championship game and the Super Bowl,” Baker said. “I played in the very first game that the Jets ever played in Shea Stadium, and I had an interception in that game. I never had one in my college career and then in my last game I ever played there, I had a 67-yard interception for a touchdown. I had an interception in the first and last game I ever played. I coached in the last game that the Jets ever played at Shea Stadium. I had a lot of memories there.”
Baker also spoke highly of his days with the Lewistown Panthers’ program when Alex Ufema guided Lewistown’s program to new heights.
“We had the longest winning streak in the state at that time,” Baker said. “We had won 26 straight games before we finally lost to Lock Haven my senior year, we lost, 6-0. I honestly believe we would have won the game had Tom Brown, our quarterback, not gotten a dislocated finger on his throwing hand the night before the game. Anyway, a lot of the guys that were on that team ended up getting scholarships (to play in college). We have a lot of great athletes. I think those people really helped make me a better player.”
Baker expressed appreciation for his inclusion in the Hall of Fame’s first class.
“This is a tremendous honor to be selected to the hall,” Baker said. “Thank you all very much.”