Sept. 27, 2013
By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
If he hadn't recognized Walter Abercrombie's voice on the other end of the phone, Jerry Marcontell would have guessed that it was just one of his friends trying to pull a cruel prank on him.
Nearly 56 years after he last suited up for the Bears, Marcontell was more than a little surprised to get a call from Abercrombie notifying him that he had been elected to the Baylor Athletic Hall of Fame.
"After getting over the initial shock, I was filled with dual emotions of really being elated and at the same time a deep sense of humility, being included in such a group of really outstanding, great athletes from the past at Baylor," said the 77-year-old Marcontell, a consensus All-Southwest Conference end for the Bears in 1956.
Marcontell can count himself in that group, joining a 2013 class of inductees that includes Texas Rangers outfielder David Murphy (baseball), NCAA champion quarter-miler Brandon Couts (track and field), women's basketball All-American Sheila Lambert, longtime NBA player Brian Skinner (men's basketball) and former football standout Walter "Pinkie" Palmer.
"I feel undeserving, but I'm not going to give it back," joked Marcontell.
Despite coming from a small Class 1A school, Cedar Bayou (Texas), Marcontell was heavily recruited. "That was Bear Bryant's first year at Texas A&M, and they really put a push on. But I had always wanted to go to Baylor. That was my school," he said.
Playing for George Sauer, an "offensive genius for that time," Marcontell said no player would even think about "being cross or insubordinate to him."
After a 5-5 finish in his first year on varsity, the Bears came back the next year to go 9-2 overall and upset second-ranked Tennessee, 13-7, in the Sugar Bowl. Along the way, they swept inter-sectional games on the road at California, Maryland and Nebraska.
"We didn't really consider playing those big schools as tough as playing our Southwest Conference neighbors like TCU and Rice, who along with Baylor were the dominant teams of the decade of the `50s," Marcontell said.
Baylor went through a two-game swoon during the middle of the season, losing to seventh-ranked A&M and TCU by a combined seven points, before finishing the year on a five-game winning streak.
"At the end of the year, I think we could have beaten anybody," said Marcontell, a two-way player at offensive and defensive end.
The week of the Sugar Bowl, Marcontell remembers staying in the swank Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans, La., "but they kept a very tight rein on us."
"We had an early curfew. Only thing I can remember is a bunch of teammates getting cleared to go to a movie one night," he said. "But other than that, we just stayed in. Bourbon Street was definitely off-limits. Mainly, it was just going to the practice field and being around the hotel for meetings."
Playing against second-ranked Tennessee and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Majors, Baylor held the single-wing Volunteers to just 149 yards and pulled off a stunning victory in the Sugar Bowl, finishing the year as the No. 11 team in the nation.
"As a kid, the game didn't take on the meaning that it became later on," Marcontell said. "You go into every game expecting to win, and you don't care what anyone else is saying. Tennessee was No. 2 in the nation, and everyone was picking us to lose."
Marcontell gave the Bears a 6-0 lead late in the second quarter, when he hauled in a 12-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Bobby Jones.
"On third down, Bobby Jones, our quarterback, called this pass play that went incomplete. But I was wide open," said Marcontell, the leading receiver in the game with three catches for 24 yards. "I came back to the huddle and told him, `Bobby, I'm wide open.' He called the same play again, and I caught the pass."
Marcontell also was named to the 1956 American Peoples Encyclopedia Scholastic All-America team, the forerunner of today's Academic All-America program.
Staying in school an extra year to finish a degree in chemistry, Marcontell coached a group of freshman running backs that included future All-American Ronnie Bull.
He went on to earn his medical degree from Baylor School of Medicine in 1963 and spent 35 years in private practice as a Houston-area obstetrician-gynecologist.
"I felt extremely fortunate to practice in what most people in my age group felt was the golden age of medicine," Marcontell said. "We had all the powerful antibiotics and new surgical techniques, where you can really help people. I just feel real honored to be a part of the medical profession and practice my profession in the Texas Medical Center, which I think is the finest accumulation of medical institutions in the world."
Retiring in 1998, Dr. Marcontell returned to the Big Thicket area where his father grew up and became a Master Tree Farmer in Rye, Texas, serving at one point as president of the Southeast Texas Forest Landowners Association.
"I retired at that point, because I wanted to go out playing my `A' game in medicine," he said. "I didn't want to be one of those hanger-on guys, that they would have to come and talk to you and say, `Hey, maybe you ought to consider hanging it up.' It's kind of like being on stage, you want to get out when everybody still wants you there."
A longtime season ticket-holder and past president of the "B" Association who gave back to Baylor with a scholarship endowment, Marcontell said he's excited about the resurgence of the Bears under coach Art Briles with three straight bowl appearances and back-to-back bowl victories.
While Marcontell admits that "it's hard to move on . . . I have so many great memories of old Baylor Stadium," he believes moving to the new riverfront, on-campus Baylor Stadium next year will be "great for the University and for the whole program."
Tickets to the Hall of Fame Banquet, which will be held at 7 p.m. Oct. 18 at the Ferrell Center, are $50 each. Table sponsorships (seating for 10) are also available for $750 (individual) and $1,000 (corporate). Contact Tammy Hardin in the "B" Association office at 254-710-3045 or firstname.lastname@example.org.