With 500 consecutive football games, Maryland fan goes deep with his pledge of allegiance

Bob Baker has been through nearly as many cars as head coaches. That’s what happens when you’ve been to the number of Maryland football games Baker has attended over the past 43 years.

When Baker and his wife Carol show up Saturday for kickoff at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, it will mark his 500th straight game (and her 384th) rooting for the Terps.

The streak began during the memorable 1976 season when Maryland won its first 11 games before losing to Houston in the Cotton Bowl. It was followed by winning seasons eight of the next nine years.

Yet with the exception of Ralph Friedgen’s first three seasons, when the team won 31 games, there hasn’t been a whole lot to cheer about lately for Baker and his wife of nearly 50 years.

“It’s a little bit different, that’s for sure,” said Baker, whose overall record during the streak is 250-245-4. “The [Jerry] Claiborne years were great. The Bobby Ross years, they were good. Ralph had several good years and things kind of went south.”

The Bakers went mostly South, geographically, until Maryland left the ACC, but they’ve enjoyed the past four years since the Terps joined the Big Ten just as much.

Barker said that the friendships they have made with fans of opposing teams have helped he and his wife overcome the mediocrity — or worse — of the recent Maryland teams they have followed.

“With the exception of Penn State — I’ve always disliked Penn State — all these other teams from the Big Ten and every place we’ve gone, they’re really, really nice,” Baker said.

For the first quarter-century of Baker’s allegiance to the Terps, he and his wife mostly drove to away games. That changed long before the Terps joined the Big Ten.

By then, both had been long retired. Baker, an engineer, retired from Lucent Technology in Hunt Valley in 2000. Three years earlier, his wife retired as an elementary school teacher in Harford County. The couple lived in Fallston for most of their married life, but moved to Laurel, Del., not far from Salisbury.

“It wasn’t until after 9/11, but it got to be such a pain in the butt to fly,” Baker said in a telephone interview Monday. “We had the time and that’s when we started to drive a lot.”

Not having any children also played a role in their commitment to the Terps.

“If we had children, this probably wouldn’t have happened,” he said.

Having a family willing to work around Maryland’s football schedule also helped.

The first time came when his younger brother Henry was going to get married in 1980 and asked Baker to be his best man. Baker quickly checked the Maryland schedule and had a question himself.

"I asked him when the wedding was going to be and it fell on the day of the Maryland-Penn State game,” Baker recalled. “I told him, ‘Henry, I’m not going to be able to make it because of this game.’”

The Baker brothers now celebrate their respective wedding anniversaries on the same date — June 14.

There was also the time that Carol Baker got a phone call in the middle of the night informing her that her grandfather had passed away. It was a few days before a road game at Wake Forest in 1981.

“I could tell from the conversation that he had died, and I told her, ‘Carol, do whatever you have to do to make sure that funeral doesn’t interfere with this football game,’” Baker recalled.

It also helps that Carol Baker has been nearly as passionate about getting to games as her husband.

When the Bakers started dating in 1965 during Bob’s senior year at Maryland, Carol was a junior at Frostburg and “didn’t know a damn thing about football,” he said.

One of their first dates was spent at Byrd Stadium for a football game.

“You know how it is when you pretend you had a good time. I could tell she had a miserable time,” he recalled.

They got married four years later.

In 1971, Baker got season tickets for he and his wife. She didn’t start going to every game until after she decided to stay home one day in 1974 and it began to pour.

“She didn’t tell me until years later that she was so bored because it rained so hard that there wasn’t a thing to do and she just sat there and she decided if you can’t beat them, you might as well join them,” Baker said.

Carol Baker went to the next home game and has only missed two games herself since.

The first came during the 1977 season when the Terps were playing Minnesota in the Hall of Fame bowl over Christmas week and she had a conflict with a school function.

The last time was in 1986, when Maryland opened up the season with a 9 p.m. road game on Labor Day at Pittsburgh and school was starting the next morning back in Maryland.

“Good thing I did not go with him,” she recalled. “He ended up driving up there with a bunch of guys. It was so foggy coming home, he was walking in the door as I was walking out to go to school.”

Their favorite memories are from different games.

“I think the game I really enjoyed the most was when Maryland beat ... Tennessee in the [2002] Peach Bowl, 30-3,” he said. "I think it was their worst loss in a bowl game.”

Like many Maryland fans, “The Miracle in Miami” in 1984, when the Terps erased a 31-0 halftime deficit to win behind the heroics of quarterback Frank Reich, is Carol’s choice.

“I remember saying at halftime that all we needed was five touchdowns to win,” she recalled with laugh.

But mostly the best memories are of being on the road together.

"She knows football really well and she enjoys it," he said. “I don’t think we could have made it this far if she didn’t.”

“Bob was a wonderful teacher right from the beginning,” she said. “He’s a guy who has the most patience in the world and explained everything to me.”

Asked if she now knows more than her husband about football, Bob gently piped in from the background.

“He said, ‘I can probably see better,’” she said. “I know more than when he started with me.”

Bob Baker has been honored by Maryland for his allegiance. He also served as president of the Terrapin Club, the fundraising arm of the athletic department, during the 2001-2002 school year.

That coincided with what might have been the best year to be a Maryland fan.

In football, the Terps finished 10-2, won the ACC and played in the Orange Bowl. The men’s basketball team went to its second straight Final Four and won its only national championship.

“Can’t do any better than that,” he said.

Told that the school should have kept him in the position given the good luck he brought the teams, Baker said, “If it was as easy as that, I would have been president for life.”

Bob, who is 74, doesn’t plan on stopping after his milestone game on Saturday. The Bakers have been invited to watch the game from athletic director Damon Evans’ box.

“I’m not announcing any retirement,” Bob said. “I don’t know the answer to that [when I’m going to stop going] because we enjoy the games. But it gets harder and harder, to be honest with you.”

A year younger, Carol doesn’t want to stop now either.

“It's been a neat ride,” she said.

don.markus@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sportsprof56

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