FRESNO, Calif. — Today, more than 40 years after the historic Super Bowl III game where the New York Jets shut down the favored Baltimore Colts, the Jets' key defensive player Bill Baird is still signing autographs and sending out pictures to fans.
The difference is now he includes a Mormon pass-along card, a note and a short testimony.
He still wears his Super Bowl ring, which is often a conversation starter that leads to a gospel discussion for the man who has since been a bishop, a missionary, a member of a stake presidency, high priest group leader and is currently a temple worker in the Fresno California Temple.
Baird, who is 70 now, wasn't a member of the Mormon Church when he played in Super Bowl III, but he looks back and says he can see the Lord's hand in his life even then.
"My wife was a member and both of her parents were members," Baird said in a telephone interview from California.
"I played as a non-member and went back to the (New York) Jets and coached as a member. I could see a difference in my life. I think as you're in the church, you see that it helps you in all aspects of your life," he said.
His in-laws' good example and gentle persuasion made the biggest difference in his life, Baird said. He watched their behavior and learned to love their gospel because of it.
It caused some family disruption when he decided to be baptized in 1976.
"I knew the church was true but I could see being in the church would bring challenges," he said.
"My brother and my parents, my whole family, were very sports-minded and very family-centered. We were very close so it was a hard decision," Baird said. "My dad didn't push but my mom was unhappy."
Baird's family has never joined the LDS Church but Baird has done their temple work. He has an aunt who is heavily into genealogy work as well.
Ironically, he has one daughter whose husband isn't a member, so he's now in the situation where it's his turn to be the positive example.
"If you live the gospel standards, you don't have to preach," he said.
He became a high school coach after he left professional football and often found the opportunity to teach LDS-type values to his students as he instructed classes on career choices, sex education and health.
One joined the church because of Baird.
"In my talks I focus on doing your best and enjoying whatever it is you're doing," he said. "I like to tell them it's a lot easier to avoid temptation than to resist temptation. I really emphasize example."
Baird is still impressed with the many opportunities he and his fellow former Jets have had as a team and as individuals because of "the season that never ended."
He was recently voted into the New York Jets 4-Decade Team.
"It's amazing," he said. "We go back to New York and sign footballs, cards and helmets, especially as the Super Bowl approaches. I get letters asking for signed autographs, even 40 years later."
Baird and his wife of 48 years take their grandchildren to Super Bowl events, but he's only been to one Super Bowl game since the 1969 game.Comment on this story
He's given most of his teammates a copy of the Book of Mormon and he had a good gospel discussion with Joe Namath at the team's 40th year reunion.
"He's a good guy," Baird said. ""He's very much the champion of the underdog, very considerate."
Baird shares or holds six New York club records: His club mark for a punt return of 93 yards is the second longest in American Football League history; he is tied for first in career interceptions and holds the mark for most interception yards returned; and he has the high mark for punts returned in both a season and a career and for most yards returning punts in a career.