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DAVID FLORES: Baer, McVea made 1963 playoff duel an instant classic

<FONT color=000099><B>DAVID FLORES:</B></FONT> Baer, McVea made 1963 playoff duel an instant classic

Credit: Courtesy Photo

by David Flores / Kens5.com


Posted on November 29, 2013 at 5:10 AM

Updated Sunday, Dec 1 at 4:00 AM

Fifty years later, it remains one of the most storied games in the long, colorful history of Texas high school football.
Played on Nov. 29, 1963, one week after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, the Lee-Brackenridge bidistrict clash at venerable Alamo Stadium drew a crowd of more than 20,000 and was televised live locally.
Lee beat the Eagles 55-48 in an epic game that became an instant classic and featured a legendary duel between two of the top running backs in the state, Lee's Linus Bear and Brack's Warren McVea.
Besides being a game for the ages, it was a welcome diversion for a city reeling from Kennedy's death. The president had visited San Antonio on the day before he was struck down while riding in a motorcade through downtown Dallas.
"I think San Antonio was looking for something else to talk about," said Baer, 68. "The game certainly gave everybody that opportunity. Not to take anything away from President Kennedy's death, but I think the game gave everybody something uplifting to focus on."
McVea, 67, also has vivid memories of the game's historical backdrop.
"I remember President Kennedy passed by Brackenridge on the way to Brooks (Air Force Base) on the day before he was shot," McVea said. "We had just seen him and we were fired up about that. Man, San Antonio took it hard when he died. It was tough. Everywhere you went, people were crying."
When tickets went on sale at Alamo Stadium on Nov. 23, six days before Lee and Brack kicked off, the game sold out in less than four hours. The demand for tickets was so great that long lines started forming at Alamo Stadium 17 hours before they went on sale.
"People actually slept at Alamo Stadium overnight," Baer said.
Socioeconomic backgrounds of teams added to matchup 
The buildup for the game was extraordinary, touting the showdown between McVea and Baer, both highly recruited seniors.
"The whole city seemed to get caught up in the Lee-Brack game," McVea said.
This was Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson in football cleats. McVea was black and Baer was white, making for an intriguing matchup during an era when the University Interscholastic League still was struggling with integration.
"Here we are a north-side team and they're from the south side, we're predominantly white and they're predominantly black, and desegregation is going on at the time," Baer said. "But you would never know it. I think both of our schools had a mutual respect for each other, and Doug and I had a mutual respect way before that game."
McVea's friends called him "Doug," short for Douglas, his middle name.
"We competed in basketball and ran track against each other," Baer said. "In track, there was always down time, so we got to visit and laugh, have a good time and know each other real well. We always sought each other out."
While McVea and Baer more than lived up to their top billing, their supporting casts turned in outstanding performances. In the end, the Eagles and Volunteers produced a masterpiece that has withstood the test of time.
"What I remember most about it is how the game lived up to the hype of the press," said Baer, who still lives in San Antonio. "I really didn't think it would. That's why I think it's still talked about even today. It lived up to the hype."
'Wondrous Warren' outscored Baer 38-37
With Friday marking the 50th anniversary of the Lee-Brack game, Baer and McVea paused earlier in the week to reflect on that magical Friday night in 1963.
"Man, that game had everything," McVea said in a phone interview from Houston, where he lives. "I'm happy that people are still talking about it, but I'm not amazed because of the circumstances.
"We were the defending state champs and a minority school, and Lee was from the north side of San Antonio and pretty much all white, and they were undefeated. Then there was Linus and me. We had tremendous respect for Linus. Nobody on our team tried to downplay his talents. Everybody in San Antonio knew he was a great football player."
McVea was brilliant in defeat, outscoring Baer 38-37 and rushing for 215 yards on 21 carries.
Brack coach Weldon Forren crossed up the Volunteers by playing "Wondrous Warren," as McVea was tabbed by the media, at quarterback the entire game. But Lee, which was coached by Kirk Drew, withstood the onslaught of McVea's big offensive night to beat the defending Class 4A state champs and improve to 11-0. Brack finished 8-3. 
Class 4A was then the largest classification in the UIL, which governs extracurricular activities in Texas public schools.
"Coach Forren told me that the only way we had a chance would be if I handled the ball on every play, because they were so much bigger and stronger than we were," McVea said.
McVea scored six touchdowns and passed for a two-point conversion, bringing fans to their feet every time he touched the ball. 
Baer proved he was great, too, rushing for 150 yards and three TDs on 19 carries and catching three passes for 94 yards and one TD. He also scored on a 95-yard kickoff return and kicked seven extra points.
Lee defense had given up only 62 points in 10 games
Although both teams had outstanding defenses, neither forced a punt in the first-round playoff game. With McVea and Baer running all over the field, the offenses were virtually unstoppable that night.
"We had one of the best defenses in the state, and I know Brackenridge was right there with us, so I didn't think it would be a real high-scoring game like it was," Baer said. "I thought it would be a defensive game, with a few touchdowns here and there. That proved me wrong."
McVea, who ran circles around defenses with his speed and elusive moves, scored on runs of 54, 14, 48, 20, 45 and 4 yards against a Lee defense that had given up only 62 points in 10 games. 
A 5-foot-9, 175-pound blur in black high-top shoes, McVea set single-season records in the UIL's largest class with 315 points and 46 TDs as a senior in 1963. McVea also rushed for 1,332 yards on 127 carries for a staggering 10.5 average.
"That guy could run and make some moves like I've never seen before," said Baer, who was 5-10, 185 pounds as a senior. 
Lee led 14-6 after one quarter and 34-19 at halftime, but Brack trailed only 41-33 heading into the fourth quarter. The Vols went back on top 48-33 when Baer returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a TD and kicked the extra point.
The Eagles responded with McVea's 45-yard TD and two-point conversion pass, cutting Lee's lead to 48-41. Brack recovered the onside kick on the ensuing kickoff and carved out a drive that ended when McVea scored his sixth TD on a 4-yard run. The extra point knotted the score at 48.
The Eagles tried another onside kick to keep the ball away from Baer, but the Vols recovered at their 47. It was from there that Lee began its game-winning drive.
Teams prayed together at midfield after game
In the end, it was junior fullback Larry Townsend, not Baer, who scored the winning TD on a 2-yard run with 18 seconds left.
McVea got his hands on the ball two other times -- on the kickoff and a run from scrimmage -- before the last second ticked away. Mike Douglas made the last tackle of the night, stopping McVea before he could get loose.
"After the game, the two teams came together in the middle of the field and knelt down on one knee in prayer, which is unheard of today," Baer said. "I don't know who started it. To me, it just displayed how much respect we had for each other. Our schools, our faculty and each other, particularly Warren and I."
Lee's bid for a state championship ended with a 21-19 loss to Corpus Christi Miller in the state quarterfinals the following week. The Buccaneers had beaten Brack 40-27 before another sellout crowd earlier that season at Alamo Stadium, rallying from a 14-0 deficit behind the passing of Ines Perez, who later coached at Lee.  
Former Miller coach Pete Ragus and his staff were at Alamo Stadium to scout Brack and Lee when they met.
"We were fortunate to get to see that game," Ragus said. "It's absolutely one of the classic games in Texas high school football history. Two really good football teams, with two very outstanding players. You have to give the credit of the high score to the two outstanding players, Linus Baer and Warren McVea."
For years after the classic, Lee and Brack got requests for copies of the game film from people throughout the state.
McVea and Baer went on to play at the University of Houston and University of Texas, respectively.
McVea, Baer entered San Antonio Hall of Fame together
McVea was the first African American to play for the Cougars. He earned second-team All-America honors as a senior in 1967. McVea also played pro football for five seasons, winning a Super Bowl ring with the 1969 Kansas City Chiefs.
Baer was born in Junction City, Kan., and moved to San Antonio with his family before his eighth-grade year. He made the Lee varsity as a freshman in 1960, and started as a wingback.
Baer played on the UT varsity for three seasons and was a team captain as a senior in 1967.
Fittingly, McVea and Baer were inducted into the San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame together in 2003.
The induction was especially poignant for McVea, who served time on drug charges in the 1980s and 1990s. Now working in Houston, McVea has been clean and sober since he was paroled in 2000.
"That's the way I would have wanted to go into the hall of fame, with Linus," McVea said. "We were both linked and we never tried to downplay it."
The hall of fame induction came nearly 40 years after their paths crossed at Alamo Stadium on Nov. 29, 1963.
"It was one of the thrills probably in my lifetime," Baer said. "All my family was there. Most of his family came in. We got our families introduced, which was great. It brought a lot of people together. It was fabulous. We'll always be linked."