TD Maker Baker specialized in big scores

His nickname was "The Touchdown Maker," and if Stephen Baker didn't make all that many of them, he sure did make them count. Baker chalked up just 23 TDs in his six seasons and two postseasons with the Giants, but if not for his performance in 1990, it's fair to suggest there'd still be only one Vince Lombardi Trophy inside Big Blue's display case.

"Everywhere I go, people still remember me as the Touchdown Maker," says Baker, who had 31 touchdowns at West Los Angeles Junior College and 16 more at Fresno State before coming to the Giants in the third round in 1987. "The TDs I scored were always in pivotal situations. We didn't throw that much, but when they called my number, I was ready."

He was ready in Week 5, with the Giants trailing 3-0 and facing a third-and-15 in hostile RFK Stadium. With the pig-nosed 'Skins fans screaming, Baker calmly ran a 6-yard route, crossing paths with Stacy Robinson.

"There was a natural pick and I broke open for a second and Phil Simms made a perfect pass," Baker remembers clearly, 15 years later. "Once I caught it, I turned it up full speed. I could feel Darrell Green [renowned as the NFL's fastest man at the time] gaining on me, but the first thing you learn [as a wide receiver] is to never look back."

The Giants survived that game, 24-20, then beat the 'Skins again two weeks later at Giants Stadium, 21-10, with Baker catching a 4-yard TD pass from Simms for the opening score.

The next week, Baker scored on a 38-yard post corner from Jeff Hostetler to cut the Phoenix Cardinals' lead to 19-17, setting the stage for Matt Bahr's winning field goal. And Baker also put the Giants on the board first with a 33-yard TD pass from Simms in the 20-0 win over the Lions that sent the Giants to 10-0.

As the regular season was ending with a 13-3 record, Baker was just getting started. He gave the Giants a 10-0 lead in the 31-3 divisional playoff romp over the Bears with a 21-yard grab from Hostetler on that familiar post corner route.

Hostetler and Baker would team up on that same pattern just before the half in Super Bowl XXV, but not before Hostetler made the play that in Baker's estimation saved the game. With the Bills leading 10-3, Hostetler stood in the end zone and looked downfield as Bruce Smith bore in from his blind side.

"That play was gonna be a pass to me," Baker said. "Ten-yard out, go up, come back. It was the play that got us the winning field goal vs. the 49ers [in the NFC title game the week before]. But Hoss tripped over Ottis' Anderson's big foot. I was open down the sideline and was wondering what happened. Bruce Smith had a lock on his arm. That was a major turning point because if he gives up seven points [instead of two for the safety], we're not doomed but it's pretty grim."

Things got less grim when Hostetler called the ol' reliable post corner from the Bills' 14 in the waning moments of the half.

"When he called it, I knew it was a TD," said Baker, who beat Nate Odomes on the catch, which was so close to the chalk it had to be reviewed by the booth. "I thought they were going to rob me when they looked at it."

Baker credits then-wide receivers coach Tom Coughlin with providing the tip that made that catch possible.

"I used to try to use twinkle toes [to try to get both feet in bounds], but Coughlin taught us to stomp the first foot down and drag the other," Baker said. "That would leave a skid mark on a grass surface and make it an easy call for the refs."

Baker's TD made it 12-10, but he remembers just as vividly the 14-yard catch and run by Mark Ingram on third-and-13 to prolong the Giants' go-ahead touchdown drive in the third quarter.

"My TD got overshadowed by one of the most spectacular plays by a wide receiver in a Super Bowl," Baker said. "He ran a 6-yard route, caught it, made the first guy miss, then the second, then the third guy, dragging another guy on his legs."

Today, the 41-year-old Baker coaches the wide receivers and defensive backs at Perth Amboy (N.J.) High School. He also coaches the track team and is a permanent substitute teacher in a nearby elementary school.

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