I love stats; especially those with anomalies which point towards a story that deserves to be told.
In his lone season with the Colts in 1962, wide receiver Robert Hardy “Bake” Turner caught one pass for 111 yards and one touchdown. As you try to envision the play that produced that result, know his “Long” for the season was officially recorded as 74 yards. I was hooked. I had to uncover the play(s) that made each of those stats accurate (and even possible).
What started as a research project to uncover how Bake managed to average 111 yards per reception for his Colts career, led to stories detailing the colorful life and career of a player that I had never heard of; something that does not happen often to me.
Bake was born in Alpine, Texas in 1940 and developed into a star athlete for Alpine High School. In addition to playing football, he was an All-State basketball player and track prodigy. Bake also had a passion for music. “My dad was a harmonica player, and we always had music in our house. I grew up with Roy [Rogers] and Gene [Autry]. I’d go to the matinees, and I could swear I saw Roy riding Trigger, singing a song, playing a guitar and shooting the bad guys, all at the same time. People would say, ‘Nah, you didn’t see all that,’ but I could swear I did. That really inspired me to sing.”
Texas Technological College (now Texas Tech) offered Bake the chance to continue his athletic career in both football and track. As a sophomore in 1959, he established a new Red Raiders record for reception yards in a season and led the NCAA with 20.2 yards per reception. He converted to running back for his final two seasons and finished his career in Lubbock as the school’s leader in career punt return yards. He was enshrined in the Texas Tech Hall of Fame in 2009.
On December 4, 1961, the Colts drafted Bake in the 12th round of the NFL draft (163 overall) as a wide receiver. Bake excelled in preseason and made the roster as a wide receiver, kick and punt returner, and defensive back.
The Colts defeated the Rams 30-27 in the second game of the 1962 season and Bake made his debut by returning two kickoffs for 39 yards and one punt for 20 yards. He recorded his first offensive touch with a 17-yard run in the third game of the season.
Bake recorded his only touchdown and reception as a Colt on December 16, 1962 in the season’s final game. He closed out the scoring in the Colts 42-17 victory over the Rams with a 74-yard bomb from reserve quarterback Lamar McHan. For perspective, also scoring that game were NFL legends Fran Tarkenton, Jimmy Orr, Lenny Moore, Raymond Berry, and Johnny Unitas.
After his final Colts game, Bake noted to the Baltimore Sun, “it feels good to score. I just wish it had come at the start or even the middle of the season. But I can’t complain. As long as Orr and Berry are doing the job, I just as soon watch them.”
The Colts ended the 1962 campaign with a 7-7 mark. Bake played in 12 games and recorded 17 rushing yards, 111 receiving yards, one receiving touchdown, 504 kick return yards, and 95 punt return yards. Most of today’s common defensive statistics were not tracked in 1962 so it is difficult to measure the impact he had on the defensive side of the ball.
Following that season, the Colts fired Hall of Fame coach Weeb Ewbank and replaced him with Don Shula. Bake was part of the off-season shake-up and was waived by the Colts. The New York Jets (changing their name from the Titans in April) of the AFL hired Ewbank and signed Bake on August 31, 1963.
The following day, Bake made a huge splash in his NY debut by returning the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown before later scoring the winning touchdown on a 78-yard reception to defeat the Boston Patriots 22-20 in a preseason game.
He continued his hot start for the Jets the following week in the first game of the 1963 regular season by snagging 10 catches for 103 yards and a touchdown. While the Jets struggled to win, Bake continued to shake free from defenders and in Houston on November 10th, he became the first player for any NY team to record over 200 yards receiving in a game by grabbing 8 balls for 210 yards (Hall of Famer Don Maynard remains the only Jets player to have more yards in a single game).
In what would be the finest season of his career, Bake finished third in the league in receptions (71), fifth in receiving yards (1,009), and seventh in all-purpose yards (1,308). He was also selected to his only Pro Bowl team and named the Jets MVP. Reflecting on his career upon his retirement, Bake had the following to share with the New York Times concerning his 1963 season, “I’ve got no regrets,” Turner said. “Well, one. I shouldn’t have signed my first contract the day before my first game. I ran the kickoff back 95 yards and I caught an 80‐yard touchdown pass. I should have waited another day to sign.”
The Jets only won 5 games in 1964, yet Bake continued to click with quarterback Dick Wood and finished sixth in the league in receptions (58), fifth in receiving yards (974), and fourth in receiving touchdowns (9). His signature game of the season was at Shea Stadium on Halloween in an upset victory over the Boston Patriots. Using rookie running back Matt Snell as a decoy against the league’s top-ranked run defense, the Jets attacked aggressively in the air and Bake recorded 11 catches for 143 yards and 2 touchdowns while his teammate Don Maynard finished with 6-109-1.
Fortune smiled on the Jets on November 28, 1964 when they traded the rights to QB Jerry Rhome, their 25th-round draft pick, to Houston for a first-round choice, with which they selected Alabama QB Joe Namath. Additional talent was added in the 1965 Red Shirt Draft where the Jets selected flanker George Sauer in the fifth round out of Texas. These transactions would help develop a championship culture in New York, but would negatively impact Bake’s career.
The Jets commitment to the development of their young talent is reflected in their 1965 statistics. With Maynard a lock as a starting receiver on one side, Bake began to lose snaps to Sauer and only started 4 games for the Jets. He also found himself returning more kicks and finished the season eighth in the league in kickoff return yards (402). He managed a career low 13.0 yards per catch on 31 receptions and scored only twice.
As nagging injuries began to mount and his role continued to evolve into returning kicks and punts, Bake focused on his other passion; music. His boyhood dream of becoming a “singing cowboy” became reality when he released his first 45 under the Rotate Records label in January 1966 featuring “Violation” on the A side and “It is a Sin” on B.
“Violation” is described as a fun, groovy, fuzz-guitar-drenched psychedelic rocker, about as far as you could get from singing cowboys or mid-’60s country music. Bake is not proud of his first musical release. “It might be the worst thing you’ve ever heard in your life,” he laughs. “It was embarrassing. I preferred country — that wasn’t country.”
The league also evolved and the NFL and AFL agreed to merge on June 8, 1966 and to play a championship game after the 1966 season (this game would later become known as Super Bowl I). The Jets finally avoided a losing season by finishing 1966 with a 6-6-2 mark which improved to 8-5-1 the following season. Bake continued to play sparingly and only managed 10 catches for 155 yards and no touchdowns during those two seasons.
There are certain games that are part of NFL lore and Bake participated in many of them during the 1968 season. Most NFL fans recognize and understand the historical importance when they hear “The Heidi Game”, “Super Bowl III”, or “Broadway Joe”. Bake was limited to 10 receptions for 241 yards and 2 touchdowns that season, but it ensured his place in football history while propelling his musical career.
The Jets finished the season with an 11-3 mark despite being on the losing end of “The Heidi Game” in which NBC didn’t show the final 50 seconds of the Jets-Raiders game, where the Jets had just taken a 32-29 lead with 1:05 to play, to allow the children’s special to begin on time. Oakland scored two TDs in the last 42 seconds to win, 43-32.
The Jets rebounded to defeat the Raiders a few weeks later 27-23, for their first AFL Championship before 62,627 at Shea Stadium. Bake contributed 1 kickoff return for 24 yards and recovered and advanced a fumble for 3 yards in the win.
This victory put the Jets in Super Bowl III against the heavily favored Baltimore Colts led by legends Johnny Unitas, Earl Morrall, Tom Matte, Jimmy Orr, John Mackey, Bubba Smith and coach Don Shula. As you know, “Broadway Joe” famously guaranteed a Jets victory before leading them to the 16-7 upset victory. Bake played against his former team in what many consider the largest upset in NFL history, but failed to record any offensive stats.
However, Bake’s link to that game was preserved when Score aired a commercial after the game featuring “The Four Jets” in which Bake stated, “I’m Bake Turner, and we’re the Four Jets: Brother Matt Snell, Mister Jim Turner and Country Don Maynard.’ The jingle was patterned after Johnny Nash’s ‘Hold Me Tight.’” (Nash was best known for his 1972 hit “I Can See Clearly Now”).
In addition to becoming a popular figure in commercials and writing jingles, Bake continued his music career by signing a contract with Kapp Records. He was invited to Nashville in April 1969 where he recorded four songs under the supervision of famed country producer Walter Haynes at the legendary Bradley’s Barn.
In June of 1969, Bake’s next 45 was released featuring “Hold me Tight” with “Who Put the Leaving in Your Eyes” on side B (later recorded and released by Dottie West). Bake was also active performing at local clubs and was “discovered” by Johnny Carson while singing at Namath’s New York club, Bachelors III, which led to his invitation to perform on both The Tonight Show and Ed Sullivan Show.
Between gigs, he continued to play for the Jets during the 1969 season finishing with 11 catches for 221 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Jets were absorbed into the NFL and assigned to the AFC East and finished with a 10-4 record before falling to the Chiefs in the playoffs. Bake recorded 2 catches for 25 yards in the loss; his only career playoff receptions.
Before the start of the 1970 season, the Jets gave Bake the option of retiring instead of being released. “Oh, I’ve had ‘bout enough football anyway,” Turner said to George Vesey of The New York Times from his home in Queen’s. “This will just give me more time for my singing. Besides, if somebody gets hurt, I told Weeb I’d be the first one to offer to help.” By this point, Bake was already making more from singing on commercials than he was for playing football.
In January 1970, Kapp Records released the other two songs that Bake recorded in his April 1969 session; featuring his song, “Is Anybody Goin’ To San Antone”. Fellow Texan Charlie Pride recorded the same song in August 1969 and after hearing Bake perform the song on The Tonight Show in November 1969, RCA rush-released Pride’s version where it reached #1 on country charts on April 18, 1970.
“I made $20 thousand, and I thought I was going to make a million,” Bake said when asked about the recording. “Instead, Charlie Pride got hold of it and recorded it on RCA Records. It went to number one on the charts, and he made a million. I got to know him after that, and we became good friends.”
Bake was lured back onto the field for one last season by the Boston Patriots. Enduring a 2-14 season, he finished second on the team in receptions (28), yards (428), and touchdowns (2). According to the Berkshire Eagle, Bake notified the Patriots that he was retiring on August 3, 1971. During his nine-year career with the Colts, Jets, and Patriots, he compiled 220 receptions for 3,541 yards (15.3 avg.) and 25 touchdowns. Of note, more than half (15) of his touchdowns were on plays of more than 30 yards.
That year also brought a significant change in Bake’s music career as Kapp was consolidated with MCA Records and ceased to exist as a unique identity. The label was willing to retain Bake if he agreed to record pop songs, but the country boy had no interest, bringing an end to his record deal.
Bake moved to Dallas and became a model for Sanger- Harris and Neiman Marcus. He also earned his stockbroker’s license, insurance license, and real estate broker’s license before finally finding his real love besides singing; building houses. In 1995, after raising his son in Dallas, he returned to his roots in Alpine where he resides today.
It may not be on television or in famous clubs, but his passion to perform and write music continues and he can be found singing at rodeos, local watering holes, weddings, and state fairs.
Hopefully you have enjoyed learning about Bake as you pondered how he averaged 111 yards per catch for the Colts. The explanation to that turned out to be fairly mundane. On October 21, 1962 against the Bears, QB McHan completed a pass late in the game to R.C. Owens at the 40-yard line who lateralled to Bake who raced to the Bears three yard-line before being tackled. Owens was credited with the catch and Bake was credited with the 37-yard gain after the lateral resulting in Bake have 0 catches for 37 yards in the game.
Bake completed his statistical oddity in the Colts final game of the season by racing 74 yards and a touchdown on his lone reception of the day. Combined, those two plays produced a final season tally of one reception for 111 yards and a touchdown. Perhaps this would not stand out as much if it had not also been his only season for the Colts meaning his career average for the franchise also stands at 111 yards per reception. It is difficult to imagine that ever being topped!
You may read that explanation and feel that Bake’s receiving stats were padded by that lateral. If he had not been credited with those extra yards, his Colts career average would be reduced to a pedestrian 74-yards per catch.
The stat geek in me reads that and immediately wishes that Bake would not have been tackled at the three-yard line on the play. A score there would have resulted in totals of one reception for 114 yards and two touchdowns. Now that would have been a story!