NY Jets: A look at the career of Bill Baird


When looking at one of my favorite players on the NY Jets in Darrelle Revis, I can’t help but remember the career of one of the best cornerbacks the franchise ever had in Bill Baird.

Revis has been the focus in many Jet conversations this year. His signing this past off season electrified the fan base like no other signing this year.  Fans conversations started to proclaim Revis as the greatest Jet corner of all time, and of course the greatest in the history of the game. Undoubtedly, he is a rare talent and deserves the accolades. I love to watch the guy play corner.

Anyway, this article isn’t about Revis. The conversations this year concerning cornerback and safety, got me thinking of some of the great corners that Jet fans have been privileged to watch over the years. Every era of Jet fans have their favorites. Guys like Aaron Glenn, James Hasty, Erik McMillan and Bobby Jackson were a few that came to mind. At safety I began to think of Victor Green, Ronnie Lott, Jim Leonard and Darrol Ray. I know my readers can add to these short lists and I hope we can discuss them in the comment section at the end of this article.

This article isn’t about them either though. For this one, I wanted to look back at a rare talent from the early days of the Jets. That player was the incredible Bill Baird. I don’t hear Baird discussed much anymore, but he was a joy to watch play the game. I’m dating myself again, but I had the privilege to see him play growing up as a Jet fan.

Baird was a unique talent at both cornerback, safety and kick returning. Whether Baird was leaping in the air to pick off an opposing quarterback, or if he was breaking tackles as he dazzled in the kick return game, there was no doubt of that talent you were watching. He was a big part of the Jets when they were in Super Bowl III, as he combined with Jim Hudson, Randy Beverly and Johnny Sample to shut down the famed Colts wide receivers that day.

Baird measured out at 5’10” and weighed in at 180 pounds, slight by today’s standards, but he played in an era when the super sized wide receiver hadn’t yet arrived to the NFL. He played for the Jets from 1963-1969 and left his marks on the franchise with Jet records that still stand today. A true Jet legend in my opinion.

If you don’t know already, Bill Baird is the all-time Jet leader in interceptions. In an incredible seven year career, Baird picked off 34 passes. Many Jet defensive backs have played longer careers and have fallen well short of that mark. Baird is followed by Dainard Paulson who played for the Jets from 1961-1966 and put up 29 career interceptions, but that story is for another day. Baird’s mark is even more impressive as he played in an era that wasn’t as pass heavy as it is today.

Defensively for his career, Baird’s stats look like this : 34 interceptions for 357 yards, 54 pass defenses and 2 touchdowns. In 1964, he took an interception back 54 yards back for a touchdown, setting his career mark. He also returned another for  a touchdown in 1966, that one good for 39 yards. Baird was always in and around the ball when it was thrown, and when he got his hands on the ball, he certainly knew what to do with it.

Sep 21, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; General view of NFL golden shield logo to commemorate Super Bowl 50 in the end zone at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Besides having the skills to play cornerback and safety for the Jets, Baird was a spectacular special teams player as both a kick and punt returner. Baird only returned kicks for parts of two seasons as he was better known for his punt return skills. In 1965, Baird had two kick off returns which went for a combined 50 yards, which was good for a 25 yard average.

The following year, 1966, Baird returned 11 kickoffs and put up 240 yards with a 21.8 yard average. Baird showed he could handle kick off returns for the Jets when called upon, once again showing his versatility, and his willingness to do anything to help his team win.

Baird is much better known for his punt return skills in the early days of Jet history. In his rookie season, 1963, Baird burst onto the NFL scene as the Jets main punt returner. In his rookie campaign, he only had four opportunities but they were enough to raise some eyebrows around the AFL. Baird’s four returns were good for 143 yards/35.1 yd average and a touchdown.

The touchdown would be the only one Baird scored through his career, but it was an electrifying 93 yard return, that showed off his elusiveness and his ability to run through would be tacklers. The 93 yard return went down as the all-time longest return in the AFL and it remains the second longest return of Jet history.

Baird returned punts throughout his career, and his skill often set Joe Namath and the Jets’ offense with good field positioning to begin their drives. For his career, he returned 98 punts for 787 yards, a 9 yard avg and a touchdown. Added to his kickoff returns, Baird provided 1,079 yards of returns through his career. A defensive back primarily, Baird was an important part to their special teams unit throughout his career. Baird even got into the run game for the Jets in 1964, when he had one attempt, good for one yard.

He played in an era where professional football players still had to work in the off season to supplement their salaries. Baird for his part was a substitute teacher, spending his off season educating children. Baird’s career encompassed an era in football unlike anything we see today, AFL rosters were only 33 players and versatility was an all important factor, Baird displayed that type of versatility, making him a true star.

For those Jet fans of the 1980’s, you might recall Baird in a slightly different role. In another era for great defensive play, the Jets signed Baird in 1981 as the defensive backs coach where he served until 1985. After retiring, Baird found God and joined the Mormon church, serving as a missionary, pastor and temple leader. Baird is still active spreading the word of God and is still connected to the Jet organization at the age of 76 years old.

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Baird had a heck of a career with the Jets. He thrilled fans at the old Polo Grounds and played his entire career for Gang Green. He’s still listed as one of the 50 greatest Jets by ESPN, and in this writers opinion, is again, a true Jet Legend.

Many will not remember Baird from his playing days, but for those that do, I look forward to reading your comments below. For those of you that came later in Jet history, I’d ask that you leave a comment on your favorite Jets defensive back to really get the conversation going. Whichever you decide to do, thanks in advance for helping me to talk Jet Football!!