Thursday, November 01, 2007

Big John Baker Did This

Former Steelers defensive end Big John Baker died yesterday. He was a fierce competitor and a stalwart on Pittsburgh’s defensive line in the 1960s. When his linemate Lloyd Voss died on March 1, Joey Porter’s Pit Bulls described the foursome as:

“…an extremely nasty, vicious and brutal front four that was the immediate predecessor of the Steel Curtain. Although the team's record in Voss's era was abysmal, nobody savored facing that violent defensive front. Voss's linemates were fellow defensive tackle Chuck Hinton (#64) and defensive ends Ben McGee (#63) and Big John Baker (#68 and size 16 shoes).”

Rough hombres, all four of them, in the Steelers defensive tradition carried on to this day.

Baker’s style of play may have been captured best in the famous photo (above) depicting Y.A. Tittle, the New York Giants’ Hall of Fame quarterback, kneeling in the end zone at Pitt Stadium bloodied, dazed and bowed, immediately following a ferocius hit by Baker.

The following descrption is from Baker’s obituary in today’s edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

“It was Sept. 20, 1964, at Pitt Stadium when Mr. Baker rushed through the New York Giants line and got to Mr. Tittle in the end zone just as the quarterback was passing.

“Fellow lineman Chuck Hinton intercepted the ball and returned it eight yards for the winning touchdown. Mr. Tittle, suffering from a concussion and bruised ribs, knelt in the end zone, helmet-less and groggy, when Post-Gazette photographer Morris Berman captured the image. The photo didn't run in the newspaper at the time, but later won a national award, a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and consideration as a seminal piece of American sports photography.”

“That became Mr. Tittle's last game, too, as he soon retired.”

The above photo never appeared in the newspaper?? How is that even possible??? How does that photo, which has to be one of the greatest sports photos of all time, not make it to the next day’s newspaper?

Here is John Baker’s obituary in today's Post-Gazette.

Willie Colon, the spotlight is on YOU!

After defeating the Steelers by a score of 31-7 on Christmas Eve 2006, the Baltimore Ravens were feeling full of themselves, even more so than usual. And why not?

The Ravens abused, humiliated and traumatized the Steelers for the second time in 2006, as Bill Cowher watched with seeming disinterest, if not abject impassiveness, in his last home game as Steelers head coach.

In that game, Pittsburgh’s offensive line again struggled badly for the second time against the Ravens. The line couldn’t open running lanes for Willie Parker (29 carries on only 13 rushes) and couldn’t protect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (two interceptions). The Steelers converted only two of 14 third downs, with both conversions coming on penalties.

The team’s embarrassing performance paralleled its first game against the Ravens on Nov. 26, when Parker gained a mere 22 yards on only 10 carries in the Ravens' 27-0 rout in Baltimore. In the two losses to the Ravens in 2006, the Steelers were outgained 634-423 yards and outscored 58-7.

In both games, the Ravens absolutely manhandled the Steelers offensive line and brutalized Roethlisberger. The Steelers couldn’t run the ball and couldn’t protect the passer.

The first game, on Nov. 26 in Baltimore, no doubt haunts Roethlisberger to this day. The Ravens racked up nine (!) sacks, including a brutal helmet-to-sternum flattening by Bart Scott that left Roethlisberger dazed and writhing in pain. Roethlisberger described it as “probably the hardest I've ever been hit in my life.”

It was that “jacked up!” video-highlight hit that symbolized the Steelers’ frustrating 2006 season as much as anything – and may be why Steelers right tackle Max Starks lost his starting job this year to second-year tackle, Willie Colon.

All during the 2006 season, particularly in games against the Raiders, Falcons and Ravens, Starks seemed a step slow in pass protection and was overmatched by speed rushers like Oakland’s Derrick Burgess and the Ravens’ tandem of Terrell Suggs and Bart Scott, who switch from side-to-side in Baltimore’s 3-4 defensive alignment. The Ravens exploited Starks to the point that the right tackle position had to be addressed by new head coach Mike Tomlin. Very early in training camp, Tomlin made it clear that the right tackle job was up for grabs. In retrospect, it was clear that the starting job was Colon’s to lose.

Colon supposedly is quicker on his feet than Starks.

For Roethlisberger’s sake, he’d better be.


Other notes & links ‘n ‘at ...

  • Joey Porter’s Pit Bulls presume former head coach Bill Cowher will watch Monday night’s game on television with a bit more interest than he displayed on the sidelines in the games against Baltimore last year. At least the Steelers will have one thing going for them: A head coach, Mike Tomlin, who will be actively involved and engaged in the proceedings on the field. More cerebral, too.
  • Addendum: The Post-Gazette's Bob Smizik says Tomlin was "Born to Coach."
  • Rest in Peace, John Baker, former tough-guy Steelers’ defensive end, known as Bigfoot, who played as a stalwart on a very rough ‘n tough front four that immediately preceded The Steel Curtain.
  • On Sunday in Indianapolis, it’s Good vs. Evil. Like many other people outside of New England, Joey Porter's Pit Bulls are rooting for Tony Dungy over Bill Belicheat and, frankly, we believe the Colts have a better shot at winning this game than most people are giving them credit for. The Colts are at home. They've won their past three games against the Patriots, and 12 in a row dating to last season. They are the first team in NFL history to win seven games in a row to open a season three years in a row. Their defense is even better than last year's edition. And they are the reigning Super Bowl champs. Plus, the Patriots have invoked some very bad karma this year. Maybe it's just wishful thinking, but we believe theColts actually should win this game.
  • For old times sake, SteelerTribute displays the mug shot of Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, whose current situation is discussed in some detail over at Die Hard Steel.
  • Of course, we all know that Ray Lewis is not a murdering thug, right? We must remember the murder charges against Ray Lewis were dropped in June 2000. No, Ray Lewis did not kill those men (Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar), according to the law. Neither did his two friends, according to the law. They were acquitted, even after prosecutors talked Lewis into taking the stand against them. So, as Lewis was alleged to have said, “Just keep your mouth shut and don’t say nothing.”
  • On a more upbeat note, the Pittsburgh Pirates reportedly plan to interview White Sox bench coach Joey Cora, who supposedly has been very highly regarded at every stop throughout his coaching, managing and playing careeer. Just a hunch, but Cora might be an excellent choice as the Pirates’ next manager. Lord knows they need help.