There will not be a bowl game in Syracuse football fan’s Christmas stocking this year. The Orange, despite high expectations this summer, struggled to a 5-7 record and a disappointing sixth-place finish in the ACC Atlantic division. To fill the void, we are looking back at Syracuse’s greatest football triumph, the 1959 national championship, on what would be the 60th anniversary of that team.
Today, it’s Syracuse’s other star running back that season, Art Baker’s big day.
In football, a fullback’s job is largely a thankless one.
It is the fullback’s role to open holes for the star halfback, who rushes for big yards and glorious touchdowns.
Few schools have produced as many great fullbacks as Syracuse — Jim Nance, Larry Csonka, Daryl Johnston and Rob Konrad were some of the greats.
When one thinks about the mighty offensive backfield of the 1959 Syracuse University national champion football team, most think of Ernie Davis.
And while Davis, who would the Heisman Trophy two years later, led the team in rushing, a lot of credit belongs to his fullback Art Baker.
Baker ran for 507 yards and cleared the way for Ernie Davis’ 686 yards and Gerald Schwedes’ 567.
Teammates called Baker a “tough son of a gun.”
But on Oct. 10, 1959, against Navy, Baker emerged from his more famous teammates’ shadows and had a day in the spotlight, scoring on both offense and defense.
The game was played in Norfolk, Virginia, and SU’s Baker, Davis and John Brown would be the first African Americans to play at the city’s Oyster Bowl.
With Syracuse leading 7-0 in the second quarter, Navy had driven to the Syracuse eight-yard-line. They tried a pass play, but Art Baker was ready.
He intercepted the pass at the three and returned it back 97 yards for a game-breaking score.
“By the time he reached the Syracuse 40, all hope had died,” the Post-Standard remembered, “and Baker was just high-stepping all the way, his closest pursuers being protective mates.”
In the second half, he carried two Midshipmen across the goal line for another touchdown.
Baker’s performance would win him the game’s MVP, the Blassingame Trophy.
In 1959, Baker became the first athlete to ever win a team sport and individual sport championship in the same school year.
Besides football, he was also the 191-pound NCAA wrestling champion.