Gary Baxter dreamed of going into the Hall of Fame one day. He just didn’t specify which Hall of Fame.
This summer, the former Baylor and NFL defensive back got a call from former Baltimore Ravens teammate Ray Lewis inviting him to the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Canton, Ohio.
“I told him I would be there, I’m not going to miss it. And then, after I got off the phone, I said, ‘Man, I had dreams of being a Hall of Famer.’ That’s the only thing I said to myself,” said Baxter, a three-time All-Big 12 pick in his career at Baylor (1997-2000). “I didn’t really think anything of it. But then, the next day, I got the call that I was going into the Baylor Hall of Fame. And I was like, ‘Oh, stop it. This is too weird. God, you’re so funny.”’
Baxter, part of the Baylor Athletics Hall of Fame class that will be inducted next Friday, Sept. 21, was also inducted in the Tyler ISD Hall of Fame this past Saturday after a phenomenal career at John Tyler High School.
“My mom was super excited,” he said. “I get to go into the Tyler ISD Hall of Fame and now I’m going into the Baylor Hall of Fame. So, I’ll take those two over the NFL Hall of Fame any day. The other thing is, I didn’t make it into the NFL Hall of Fame, but I sure did play with some guys who made it. I’m just happy and honored to celebrate their Hall of Fame and knowing that I was a part of that. And now, to be a party of my Hall of Fame, it’s just amazing. It’s such a blessing.”
As a national blue-chipper and all-East Texas pick who was part of JT’s 1994 state championship team, Baxter had his pick of colleges, but wanted to be a part of trying to turn things around at Baylor.
Playing for two different head coaches in his four-year career, Baxter excelled at both cornerback and safety. But, the Bears were just 7-37 over that stretch with two conference wins.
“I always saw the glass half-full,” said Baxter, who still holds the school record with 44 pass breakups. “I got up for every game, because I always told myself that this is the game that’s going to change and turn things around. I never knew if this was the game or not . . . well, I found out afterward, this wasn’t the game, this wasn’t it.”
As a sophomore in ’98, he shut out All-American receiver Torry Holt of North Carolina State in the fourth quarter and then blocked a field goal with four seconds left to preserve a 33-30 victory over the then-25th-ranked Wolfpack. As a senior, he tied for the team lead with 96 tackles, forced two fumbles and had 11 pass breakups.
“That will to win and want to win, and to do it week-in and week-out, even after you come up short, that was just a testament to my character of not every quitting,” he said. “I always felt like this is the game, this is the week, and if we can get this W, it can turn the tide and guys can believe and we can go off and do it. I never, ever said no, we can’t do it. I played every game like we were competing for a national championship.”
In the 2001 NFL Draft, the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens selected Baxter in the second round with the 62nd overall pick. Over an 18-year stretch (1991-2008), Baxter was one of just two Baylor players selected in the first three rounds.
At the NFL Combine that year, Ravens scout Phil Savage pulled out a blank sheet of white paper and said, “This is the Ravens defense.” Taking out a black Sharpie and putting it on the blank piece of paper, Savage said, “When you mess up on the Ravens defense, this is how you stick out, like a sore thumb.”
The ever-confident Baxter said, “Well, it looks like I will never stick out like a sore thumb. That defense is the type of defense I dream of playing with.”