John Baker (defensive lineman, born 1935)

For other people with the same name, see John Baker (disambiguation).
John Baker, Jr.
Sheriff of Wake County, North Carolina
In office
Personal details
Born (1935-06-10)June 10, 1935
Raleigh, North Carolina
Died October 31, 2007(2007-10-31) (aged 72)
Raleigh, North Carolina
Political party Democratic
John Baker
No. 73, 78
Position: DE / DT
Career information
College: North Carolina Central
NFL Draft: 1958 / Round: 5 / Pick: 56
Career history
Career NFL statistics
Games: 131
Fumbles Recovered: 14
Interceptions: 2
Player stats at
Player stats at PFR

John Haywood Baker, Jr. (June 10, 1935 – October 31, 2007), nicknamed "Big John", was an American defensive lineman in the National Football League who played for four teams from 1958 to 1968.

He later served as sheriff of Wake County, North Carolina from 1978 to 2002, becoming the first African-American sheriff in North Carolina since the Reconstruction era.[1]

Early life and education

Born in Raleigh, North Carolina, Baker was the son of John H. Baker, Sr., the city's first African-American police officer. Baker, Sr. served at one time as sergeant-at-arms for the city council.[1]

The young Baker attended Raleigh's Washington and Ligon High Schools and North Carolina Central University, where he graduated in 1958.[2] There he was a teammate of Herman Boone.


In the fifth round of the 1958 NFL Draft, Baker was selected by the Los Angeles Rams. Over eleven seasons he played for the Rams (1958–61), Philadelphia Eagles (1962), Pittsburgh Steelers (1963–67) and Detroit Lions (1968). With the Steelers, he was famous for his tackle on New York Giants quarterback Y.A. Tittle in 1964, which left Tittle bloodied and helmet-less.

After Baker retired from the NFL, he worked as an aide for then-U.S. Senator Robert Morgan. He was also appointed to the state Parole Commission in 1970, the first black to do so.[3] He began speaking to youth in community centers and in prison, trying to help them change their lives for good. In 1976 Baker worked on the state presidential campaign of Jimmy Carter.

In 1978, Baker ran for sheriff of Wake County and won. He was repeatedly re-elected and held the position for 24 years. He instituted a way for incarcerated youth to continue their education, and was instrumental in founding the John H. Baker Charter School (which was named after him.)

In 2002 Baker was defeated for re-election as sheriff by Donnie Harrison. He was unsuccessful in a 2006 campaign to regain the office.

Legacy and honors


  1. 1 2 3 McDonald, Thomasi (2007-10-31). "Former Wake Sheriff John Baker dies". The News & Observer. Retrieved 2007-10-31.
  2. "Former Sheriff John Baker Dies at 72". WRAL News. 5 November 2007. Retrieved 23 May 2016.
  3. John H. Baker (1935-2007)
  4. News & Observer: Building to get longtime sheriff's name today. Retrieved on September 15, 2008.
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