Bill Baird makes the Big Time

By Tom Price Jr.

He left a legacy in New York, but his heart is in Lancaster.

On Dec. 20 former Lindsay Cardinal Bill Baird was named to the New York Jets Legacy Team.

The team was voted in by fans and encompasses four-decades of Jets football. At halftime of the team's game against the New England Patriots, team owner Woody Johnson gave each member an award.

"It's special to be selected to this team," Baird said. "They really appreciate us and try to incorporate the former and current Jets players. [Johnson] has built us as the ambassadors of the New York Jets."

Baird, who is the all-time interception leader for the Jets with 34, was close to becoming a career teacher instead of a football player.

After a stellar high school career as a defensive back/quarterback for Lindsay High School, Baird took his game to San Francisco State where in 1959 he helped lead them to the school's only undefeated season. But following graduation he found himself teaching at Lincoln High School in San Francisco.

"It was in 1962 when the Colts came to play the 49ers," Baird recalled. "[The Colts] were using our field to practice on and one of my college coaches recommended that they take a look at me. I worked out for them one day and from that they told me to report to camp for the 1963 season."

With his wife Louise supporting throughout he made all the way to the last week of camp, before the first-year head coach, Don Schula, released him.

Before the undersized defensive back could begin to feel sorry for him he was beckoned to the Jets training camp by Web Ewbank, the former Colts coach who initially asked him to camp.

"I was released on Monday, got a call from [the Jets] on Tuesday, got to New York on a Wednesday and practiced Thursday and broke camp on Friday," Baird said. "On Sunday we played our first game."

As if his plate was not already full, Baird's wife gave birth to his first daughter and he was unable to see her until she was seven weeks old.

The 1968 Jets would make history by upsetting the same team that released Baird and numerous other players who made their way to the Jets. Behind quarterback Joe Namath the Jets stunned Johnny Unitas and the Colts with a 16-7 victory in Super Bowl III.

Six members of the Super Bowl team were selected to the Legacy team-- Baird, Namath, Randy Rasmussen, Winston Hill, Matt Snell and Don Maynard.

"That was a special aspect of it, to see the members of the Super Bowl team," Baird said. "The irony of it, is that there were others that came over from the Colts to play for the Jets."

While the story of his brilliant and unlikely career is a reminder of how the game has changed Baird still feels a connection to the Jets even 34 years after he played his last game.

"This tribute is quite and honor," Baird said. "The Jets have done a wonderful job of incorporating [the alumni]."

Baird returned to the Jets in 1981 as a coach and would see his career take him to Fresno were he now lives. He no longer coaches football but he continues to teach at Reedley High School.

While he is connected to New York through his playing career, it is his family that ties him to Lindsay. He played football at LHS for JR Boone and his wife's father played for Frank Skadan, now the football stadium's namesake.

"Lindsay is my town," Baird said from his home in Fresno. "Both of my parents passed away there as did my younger brother who was one of two athletes from that high school to play four sports that all won league championships."

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