Palo Alto celebrates a special 50th football anniversary


Palo Alto High has played football for 103 years. During that time, the Vikings have compiled six perfect seasons. Only one of those teams, however, ever registered six shutouts in a single season. That came in 1963. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of that special season, 1968 Palo Alto grad Bo Crane chronicles the highlights.

By Bo Crane

Special to Palo Alto Online Sports

It was Oct. 4, 1963. With one minute left in the third quarter, the Cubberley Cougars scored a touchdown and extra point to go ahead of Palo Alto, 26-21.

It was the third overall, and first league game, of the season for both teams. It also was the last time that year that any team would score against the Vikings.

In the fourth quarter, Paly scored following a fumble recovery and came away with a 28-26 victory. What followed was one of the most remarkable local high school seasons, as the Vikings shut out the rest of their opponents by scores of 28-0, 33-0, 39-0, 39-0, 39-0 and 27-0 to finish off a 9-0 campaign.

Hopes were high for the 1963 Paly football team under first-year coach Jim Fairchild. A year earlier, the team had begun with four shutouts but lost to Carlmont, 19-18, to share the championship of the South Peninsula Athletic League.

The day before the season began, the front page of The Palo Alto Times covered a Birmingham funeral: "They did not die in vain," said Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., before grieving thousands buried three Negro girls killed in a bomb blast during Sunday school.

Through television, events occurring in Alabama no longer seemed so far away. The ending of the Civil War was not a century old and segregation still carried political weight in the South. Meanwhile, on the Peninsula, the presence of racially isolated neighborhoods indicated that inequality existed here, as well.

In September of '63, Paly opened in Oakland against Castlemont and, after trailing 13-7, won by 19-13 with senior fullback Marty Brill scoring two touchdowns. The next week, the Vikings crushed Blackford of San Jose, 33-7.

As Gunn High did not exist at the time, the following week was for the unofficial City Championship between Palo Alto's only two high schools -- Paly, founded in 1897, and Ellwood P. Cubberley, opened in 1956 and named for a long-time Stanford dean.

During the previous season, Paly had only squeaked by Cubberley, 13-7. Going into the '63 game, Cubberley had one tie and one close loss to two San Jose high schools.

I was a member of the Jordan Junior High eighth-grade flag football team at the time and had been following Paly football for a few years. In recent years, the Palo Alto Times had printed out color team photos of the annual all-league players, such as Bob Twelvetrees, Lauri Capitelli, Hank Wilmer -- clippings I kept and names that still reverberate with me.

It was the first week of October with clear skies, big leaves starting to fall and evenings beginning to cool. The Paly-Cubberley game was hyped in the sports pages of the Times, comparing position players and predicting the outcome. There was an anticipatory buzz about the game. Several of my eighth-grade teammates sought rides to the Paly field. I didn't go, but the paper said 4,500 attended.

Meanwhile, the front page of the Times that Friday carried the story that the United States was "running into problems" in Viet Nam (spelled as two words in those days). In two years, according to the article, American advisor deaths from hostile action were 59. How different this story would be in four years when the then-high school seniors were scheduled to graduate from college, losing their military draft student deferments.

That day, Oct. 4, 1963, Paly opened with an onside kickoff, recovered and scored a touchdown in four plays. Cubberley followed with its own touchdown, but missed the extra point. At the time, as high school kickers were not thought reliable, running or passing after a touchdown only counted one point, same as kicking it.

Brill scored a short touchdown following a halfback Tim Barnes 53-yard run, but Cubberley scored two more touchdowns and Paly trailed at halftime, 19-14.

Though Brill missed the second half with a sprained ankle, the Vikings' offense maintained ball control for all but nine plays in the second half. Barnes gained 154 yards with two five-yard TD runs. Paly quarterback Bill Lerch completed 4 of 7 passes for 52 yards, ran for one extra point and passed twice for two more.

Following Paly's fumble recovery, a few plays later, Barnes punched over for the winning touchdown, followed by the extra point for a 28-26 lead. On defense, Lerch's interception of Cubberley quarterback Tom Kmetovic's pass ended the Cougars' last drive as Paly ran out the clock.

Now exclusively against league opponents, Paly next played Menlo-Atherton with Barnes gaining 122 yards and scoring one touchdown. End Rick Bishop caught a fumble in midair and raced 35 yards for a touchdown during the 28-0 win.

Woodside, the following week, was expected to be a tougher match. Barnes got 130 yards and scored three touchdowns. Brill got 72 yards on 16 carries plus a touchdown and the Vikes rolled, 33-0.

Ravenswood fell the following week, 39-0. Barnes got 106 yards and returned a punt 57 yards, plus scored two other touchdowns. Bill Thomson returned a punt 90 yards and caught a touchdown pass.

In a 39-0 win over San Carlos in Week 7, Barnes scored on a 32-yard and a 64-yard pass reception. Thomson also scored on a 48-yard pass reception plus on a 19-yard run.

Against Carlmont on Nov. 17, during a third-straight 39-0 victory, Barnes gained 166 yards and scored four touchdowns, two on runs over 20 yards.

That brought the season to the annual Little Big Game between Paly and Sequoia, scheduled for Thanksgiving Day.

The series began in 1915 when both schools played rugby. The first football game was in 1920. The game had, for decades, traditionally been played in Stanford Stadium the Thursday after Stanford and Cal played in the real Big Game.

On that Friday, Nov. 22, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. In my Jordan classroom, a television was brought in and we watched silently the bulletins, all the way to Walter Cronkite's somber announcement of the president's death. The Times, an afternoon paper, covered the shocking event.

The Big Game at Stanford was postponed a week. Lee Harvey Oswald was shot on live TV on Sunday. Kennedy's funeral was covered live on Monday.

By Wednesday, the sports page was back to the next day's Thanksgiving game. Sequoia was 6-2, having lost to nonleague opponent Bellarmine and to Woodside, by a touchdown each game.

In the Times' game preview of a position by position comparison, Paly halfback Tim Barnes, the best runner in the league, was considered a "toss-up" against Sequoia's Gary Beban, the best passer as a halfback in the Cherokees' antiquated single-wing formation. Fullback Brill was called the "most-feared player in the league because of hard tackling."

After gaining 86 yards in eight carries, Barnes hurt his knee in the second quarter. Replacing Barnes was Dave Hinckley, who scored on a Statue of Liberty Play plucking the ball from behind, off the quarterback's throwing position.

Thomson intercepted two of Beban's passes, returning one 98 yards. Lerch had five completions in six attempts while Beban was 7-of-23. Brill carried 19 times for 86 yards as Paly out-gained Sequoia, 409 yards to 172, and won 27-0, capping off six shutouts in a row and a perfect 9-0 season.

(Palo Alto would not have another unbeaten season until 2010, when it captured its first state championship while finishing 14-0 under veteran coach Earl Hansen, a graduate of Cubberley High).

Every one of the Paly starters in 1963 received some sort of all-league recognition.

Barnes had gained 1,039 yards and scored 17 touchdowns. He was chosen the All NorCal Back of the Year by The San Francisco Examiner. Following the knee injury, Barnes did not play college ball.

Brill made the first team as linebacker and was the first Paly player ever selected to play in the state high school North-South Shrine Game for seniors. He went on to play three varsity seasons at linebacker for Stanford.

Sequoia's Beban also was chosen one of the NorCal first-team backs. At UCLA as a sophomore, he scored both touchdowns in the Bruins' Rose Bowl victory. After his senior year, he was awarded the Heisman Trophy, the only former Peninsula high school player ever so honored.

That 1963 season also saw the last year of the Kennedy administration, a historical year in the Civil Rights movement and also in the escalating Viet Nam conflict. Bob Dylan wrote and recorded "Blowin' in the Wind" and Sam Cooke did the same soon after with "A Change is Gonna Come."

In September, just prior to the high school football season, the Beach Boys had released what became their hit song, "Catch a Wave", with the lyric "catch a wave and you're sittin' on top of the world."

Fifty years ago, that's where the 1963 Palo Alto High football team wound up.


Like this comment
Posted by Michael Norman
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 5, 2013 at 10:50 am

What a great re-cap of an incredible season by an incredible team...I remember that magnificent season as if it were yesterday! As a junior, friends and I would follow that team all over the peninsula just to watch another opponent go down and revel in the individual and collective accomplishments of the team. Unfortunately, the next season we finished the year with 4 wins 1 loss and 4 ties!! So close to an extraordinary season of our own (we drove Coach Fairchild and Coach Fisher nuts) and one that has probably never been repeated in the history of PALY football. our saving grace was beating Sequoia to end the season on a positive note. Seriously enjoyed your article and thanks for bringing back some extra special the way, when did the Paly/Sequoia game stop being played at Stanford stadium on Thanksgiving Day? have been out of the area for many years and didn't know that the game was no longer played...what a shame!

Like this comment
Posted by Old SPAL
a resident of another community
on Nov 5, 2013 at 8:43 pm

Great article in capturing how big high school football was in that era. A crowd of 4,500 is pretty incredible for a game played on a Friday afternoon as only Sequoia High School had lights in what made up the old South Peninsula Athletic League (SPAL) that Paly played in back then.

The coverage of high school games back then was extensive with the Palo Alto Times and Redwood City Tribune both devoting extensive coverage to all the games.

The Paly-Sequoia games attracted crowds in the neighborhood of 20,000 during the 1950's and 1960's with a peak of 26,000 in 1967. The final game at Stanford was held in 1973 as Thanksgiving games went by the wayside with the advent of the Central Coast Section Playoffs in 1972.

Like this comment
Posted by James Clarke SEQ (76)
a resident of another community
on Nov 27, 2013 at 12:10 pm

The last time Sequoia Faced Paly as an end of the season Little Big Game Match up was the fall of 1975, It was held at Foothill College, Sequoia won 14-0. For some years after that It was A season Opener for both. then the it faded away. I personally felt I was robbed from playing at Stanford Stadium. the last year was played at in the fall of 72. The following year at Sequoia on TD day and the next year TG Eve. The CCS was the down fall of one of the most prolific rivalries in californa let alone the Nation. I wish that Sequoia and Paly had decided to keep it going. I later was the Head Coach at San Jose High, Where I finally experiance the thrill of being a part of a great Thanks Giving Day Tradition. In 1997, SJH was 21 point underdogs. with just 1 win on the season. Lincoln was 5-4 and had posted its best record to date in recent years. I started the season with 15 elegable players. After some recruiting and players getting elegable We suited up 43 for the Big Bone Game. The game played at SJ City College on a rain soaked field, Lincoln could not establish their run game due to the conditions, with caution to the wind, we went run and shoot, we didnt look back. SJ 17-Lincoln 10.. 8,000 in attendance. Turkey never tasted better..As a Sequoia Alum, Id like to see that game come back, I assure you that Alumni from both schools would rise from the dead to attend it!

Like this comment
Posted by David T (SEQ)
a resident of Atherton
on Sep 4, 2014 at 8:15 pm

The "Little Big Game" is back on!!! This Friday night at Sequoia H.S. at 7pm! It's time to start history once again. I am a coach at Sequoia and I'm happy to be part of something special!!

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