Chapter 4

The Breakthrough Year- 1919

     The 1919 team including team manager Thad McDonnell, Coach Moran and Athletic Director "Chief" Myers. Fort Worth                          North Side players pictured are McMillin, Montgomery, Bell, Weaver, and James, along with McDonnell who                                                               decided he wasn't talented enough to play and served as the team's manager. 

Centre opened the year in Danville on September 27, 1919, against Hanover College, a small liberal arts school perched above the Ohio River in Southern Indiana.

( I played baseball for Centre against Hanover in the spring of 1960. We won, 8-7. )

Chief Myers coached the Colonels as Uncle Charlie was still involved with his duties as a National League umpire and wouldn’t return to Danville until the 29th. It didn’t matter who was at the helm as the Panthers offered little resistance in falling, 95-0.

Three starters, Bill James, Army Armstrong, and Red Weaver, didn’t see action as they had suffered injuries in practice.

Centre got 27 men into the game, substituting frequently. Eight Colonels scored a total of 14 touchdowns, Bo McMillin kicked seven extra points and Red Roberts booted 4.

Up next was Indiana, a member of the Big Ten Conference.

( In 1919, the Big Ten members included Chicago, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Purdue, and Wisconsin. ) 

Indiana beat an in-state team, Wabash College from Crawfordsville, 27-0, on the same Saturday afternoon that Centre was destroying Hanover and was looking forward to another easy win when meeting the Colonels on October 4 before beginning the heart of its season against Kentucky, Minnesota, Notre Dame, Northwestern, and Syracuse.

The Hoosiers were coached by Ewald O. “Jumbo” Stiehm who moved to Bloomington from the University of Nebraska in 1916 where he had compiled a sterling record in Lincoln of 35-2-3 from 1911-1915.  

Centre came to the Indiana game by train and brought along 12 stalwart fans. It looked like a decent day for a football game until just before the kickoff when it began raining just as the 75 member, red-clad University Band came marching onto Jordan Field playing the school song, “Indiana, Our Indiana.”

The wooden bleachers and goalpost at Indiana's Jordan Field which was where the Hoosiers played until 1924.

What began as a drizzle soon developed into a major downpour which continued throughout the entire contest.

Centre felt that it had more speed but realized it would be outweighed by Indiana. However, it was obvious that the deteriorating field conditions would help negate any advantage that the Colonels’ swiftness would provide. 

The first quarter was played evenly with several punts back and forth as neither team could gain an advantage. Late in the quarter, an Indiana player partially blocked a Red Roberts’ punt and the ball ended up on the Colonels’ 25-yard line.

Centre held Indiana to no gains for 3 plays, but on 4th down, Indiana kicked a field goal and led 3-0 as the quarter ended.

Centre totally outplayed Indiana during the second quarter, driving close enough down the field to attempt a field goal by Red Roberts, but it was wide. Later, Centre actually scored but was offsides and the ball was brought back. As the rain continued to pour, the first half ended, 3-0, Indiana.

The Colonels didn’t go inside at the half but congregated near the end zone. 

Chief Myers and Uncle Charlie were pleased with the first half. They felt Indiana had been outplayed and said that if it hadn’t been for the penalty, they’d be leading a Big Ten team.

Bo went into the stands and borrowed a pocket knife from one of Centre’s fans. He felt so water-soaked that he could hardly run and cut off the legs of his uniform just above the knees and removed his socks and leggings. He also took off his helmet and left it on the sideline.

As the break at the half ended, Chief Myers ended his pep talk by reminding the Colonels that beating Indiana could be the first step in later finding them playing one of the Eastern powers.

The third quarter continued much as the second had gone. Centre moved the ball consistently but couldn’t punch it in. Defensively, the Colonels proved to be impregnable. However, it appeared that Indiana was going to win as Centre couldn’t score as the 4th quarter neared the end.

The Lexington Herald described what occurred as the clock wound down.

With the score 3 to 0 in Indiana’s favor and two minutes and 20 seconds to play, Centre College players went to work with that fighting spirit that they are noted for and scored two touchdowns on Indiana in the most sensational playing ever seen on Jordan Field.

Centre got the ball on its own forty-yard line, and on a series of straight line bucks by Roberts and a completed pass, McMillin to Armstrong for 25 yards, they carried the ball to the Hoosiers’ ten-yard line. Roberts carried it over on an off-tackle play, Centre missing the extra point.

From a contemporary report

 In the final minute, Centre kicked off to Indiana and on the third play, McMillin intercepted a forward pass and by some pretty broken field running, carried the ball forty-five yards for another touchdown. McMillin failed to kick goal.                                                          

Final whistle sounded immediately after this play.

The inked message states, "You should be proud of him young lady. Ed Thomas."  The reporter apparently sent his bylined story to a female fan of Bo McMillin, who was the star of the game and mentioned by Ed Thomas as "McMillan" in his story. 

Centre has passed it first significant test in 1919, beating Indiana, 12-3.

Bo's name early in his career was often misspelled as it was again here

Next were 3 relatively easy games before the next real challenge, a road trip to Charlottesville to play the University of Virginia.

                                                                          Oct.   11* Maryville, Tn.       Danville                                                                         
                                                                          Oct.   18   St. Xavier              Danville
                                                                          Oct.   25   Transylvania        Lexington 

The Oct. 11* game with Maryville, a small college in eastern Tennessee, didn’t take place as the “Fighting Scots” sent word to Chief Myers that their players were so beaten up after playing Tennessee the week before, losing 32-2, that they couldn’t field a team. 

Centre didn’t charge Maryville with a forfeit but simply cancelled the game and it didn’t appear in either team’s records. 

St. Xavier, a private Jesuit college in Cincinnati, arrived in Danville for an October 18 game. The “Musketeers” had beaten hapless Hanover 65-0 earlier, nearly as badly as Centre’s 95-0 thrashing.

However, the game with Centre wasn’t even close. The Colonels scored 9 touchdowns in winning, 57-0.

Centre substituted freely and Coach Moran even put Red Weaver, team center, in the backfield once as the Colonels got close to a score and let Weaver buck through for a TD.

( St. Xavier lost the “Saint” in 1930 and became just Xavier. )

Transylvania, an old foe, was next. 

The “Crimsons,” Transylvania’s nickname until later becoming the “Pioneers,” which better reflected the fact that it had been founded in 1780 and was the oldest institution of higher learning west of the Allegheny Mountains, hosted the Colonels in Lexington on the afternoon of October 25.

Centre and Transylvania played the first football game in the state in 1880, eleven years after the first ever game between Princeton and Rutgers.

For years, the two colleges had played equally and Transylvania actually held the advantage as late as 1914, winning 53-0, and emerging victorious, 38-0, in 1915.

The two teams tied in 1916, and then Centre became dominant, winning 28-0 in 1917 and 52-3 in 1918. 

How dominant the Colonels had become is made clear by a story published by a Lexington sportswriter, John R. Marsh, after Centre’s 1919, 69-0 win.

Centre College defeated Transylvania this afternoon at League Park by a score of 69-0 in a game featuring the brilliant work of McMillin, Roberts, Bell, Armstrong, Murphy, etc. etc. and others too numerous to mention.

That’s the story in a short, condensed form and with the main facts briefly told, according to the best rules of journalistic school. It is not for this account to attempt to describe the fine points of the game. It would be too great a strain on the available supply of adjectives to tell adequately of; those countless runs by McMillin for innumerable yards; the punting and plunging of Red Roberts; the runs of Davis, Armstrong, Snowday and Murphy; the cohesiveness of the Danville team and its almost perfect interference that swept the Transy men down and permitted their runners to advance.

Centre has a wonderful team. For the last three years, it has been able to hold together a collection of players which would be dangerous on any gridiron and seems to improve with each season.

Centre took 22 players to Lexington. All played. There were 10 touchdowns.

“Bo” McMillin picked up 322 yards rushing and completed 8 passes for 200 more.

Centre was now poised to take on the two most important games that the college was ever to play yet- the University of Virginia and West Virginia University.