Chapter 20

The First Half

H.H. Faxon, a burly Crimson tackle, boomed a kick down to the 10 yard line where it was fielded cleanly by Bo and returned to his own 22.

As Centre set up for its first play from scrimmage, the lineup was as follows:




Right End

Terry Snowday


Right Tackle

Bill James


Right Guard

Stanley Robb



Red Weaver


Left Guard

Clayton Ford


Left Tackle

Sully Montgomery


Left End

George China



Bo McMillin


Left Halfback

Army Armstrong


Right Halfback

Tom Moran



Red Roberts


Across the line was a Harvard squad that substantially outweighed the Colonels. Centre's line averaged 178 pounds, while the Crimson front wall weighed in at an average of 192. There was an equal discrepancy in height, with Centre having only Sully Montgomery who topped 6 feet. Everyone in the trenches for Harvard was at least 6 feet tall, with five starters exceeding 6' 1".

Centre opened with three line plunges which went nowhere and punted to the Harvard 35. The Crimson then began a seven play drive right through the Colonels' defense which looked helpless to stop the attack.

The Harvard backfield was composed of little "Fitzie" Fitzgerald, the quarterback, George Owen, a talented 179 pounder at left half, "Winnie" Churchill, a speedster at 155 pounds at right half, and Captain Arnold Horween, a hard charging, solid, 194 pound fullback.

Gaining consistently on each run with Owen, Churchill, and Horween running off advances of from 7 to 20 yards, Horween plunged over from the 7, the extra point was converted, and it looked like a rout was in store.

Opening drive with Churchill ( arrow ) heading toward Centre's right side with the line of scrimmage beginning at the Colonels' 13 yard line.

The Colonels huddled up after the score and Bo shout encouragement. "We are Centre!" 

The gold and white streamers moved in a wave from the middle of the stadium.

Fight,  Centre Fight!
Fight,  Centre Fight!
Fight,  Centre Fight!
Fight,  Centre Fight!
Fight!  Fight! Fight!
Fight!  Fight! Fight!

Over and over, the same refrain.

Harvard kicked off and Centre returned to its own 20. 

Bo raced around Harvard's right end for 20. Two line bucks picked up only a yard. On third and 9, Bo hit Ed "Lefty" Whitnell, who had come in for Tom Moran, on a perfectly thrown 30-yard pass.

The Colonels had the ball in Harvard territory with first and 10 on the Crimson 29. Successive runs by Red Roberts, Army Armstrong, Lefty Whitnell and Bo moved the ball to the 15 where it was another first down for the fired up Gold and White.

Army Armstrong with arrow around the right end

Bo McMillin running right with Red Roberts, helmetless, standing behind during the first quarter

The Centre fans were all on their feet, cheering wildly, led by George Swinebroad. Harvard stiffened. Three straight runs, two over tackle and one over a guard position, were met by a charging Harvard front wall. The Crimson hadn't given up a point during the 1920 season. Over their last 14 games, they had only 19 points scored against them. They were determined that Centre wouldn't take it in.

On fourth down, Bo barked out the signals and headed on an end sweep around his right side, led by a line of gold jerseys. The Crimson defenders cut down the Centre interference and Bo, seeing his way blocked, instinctively pivoted around 180 degrees and began a wide reverse around the opposite side.

The entire Harvard eleven was caught off guard. Only a quick response by "Winnie" Churchill, who was playing back near the goal line, kept Bo from crossing into the end zone untouched. Churchill tripped up the Colonels' quarterback on the 3-yard line.

First and goal! All over Kentucky, fans eagerly awaited the next telegraphic message from Harvard Stadium. The chalkboards had the ball X'ed on the 3. The "announcers," standing with megaphones, shouted, "Roberts, no gain."

Again, "Roberts, no gain."

Then finally, "Roberts scores! Roberts bucks over! Roberts crashes over the goal!" An enormous roar filled Main Street in Danville as the touchdown was called out.

Red Roberts running during Centre's initial touchdown drive

Likewise, Centre's fans in Lexington, Louisville, Somerset- so many cities and towns throughout the Bluegrass and beyond- erupted with spontaneous shouts and pats on the back.

"We scored! Red took it in!"

Even though the Stadium was filled with mainly Crimson partisans, there seemed to be as much appreciation for Centre's successful drive as was being demonstrated in section 6, where the Colonels' fans were dancing about, waving their streamers frantically, hugging and twirling around in a frenzy of celebration.

Their happiness was further intensified as Red Weaver calmly booted the extra point, bring his consecutive streak to 71.

It was 7-7. After the quick Harvard score, the Colonels had fought back! Centre kicked off and held Harvard on the next series of downs. The boys from Danville were pumped! Pumped!

"Atta boy Sully. Great hit!"

"Army- Way to tum 'em in"

After receiving the Crimson's punt, the Colonels had good field position on their own 35, but a 15-yard penalty on the first play carried the ball back to the 20.

The first quarter ended with it 7-7 and the teams changed positions on the field.

Lefty Whitnell had remained in the lineup for Tom Moran at right half as the second quarter began, and he carried the ball twice for virtually no gain. As the team huddled, Bo looked over to Lefty and winked, and Lefty and Army changed positions as the Colonels came up to the line of scrimmage. Grantland Rice described the next play for his readers all over the country.

Facing a punting situation, McMillin dropped back within a few yards of his own goal line and whipped a forward pass straight down the field. Whitnell, running like a greyhound, was under way. Around the midfield, with two tacklers at his elbow, he took the forty yard pass over his shoulder with a spectacular catch and then out-sprinted his two Crimson rivals for a 45-yard dash across the line, and after Weaver kicked his 72nd straight goal, Centre was leading, 14-7. The play will stand as one of  greatest ever seen on any field, and for a moment the big New England crowd was stunned, with the Kentuckians in the stands making enough noise to rattle the bridge across the Charles.

Again, the impossible had happened. Centre, without surrendering the ball, had rushed and passed her way for 170 yards and a pair of touchdowns against a defense that was supposed to be impregnable. It was an amazing turn, all the more amazing because of the way the game had appeared to be heading during the first five minutes of play.

The Bo to Lefty pass, the same play that the two had practiced over and over, the same play that they had used to beat the oddsmakers in the Kentucky game the previous season, had been pulled off with perfection.

Thorton Fisher, cartoonist for the New York "Evening World," with his impressions of Centre and in particular the McMillin to Whitnell touchdown pass which electrified the crowd

Cartoon created by legendary Boston "Globe" cartoonist Gene Mack

The crowd was still buzzing as Whitnell came back up the field. Bo ran over to join his teammates in congratulating his receiver.

"Told you we could score on that play," Bo said, patting Lefty on his helmet.

"Great pass, Bo. Like you've said, I never had to break stride. All I had to do was reach out and pull it in."

After the kickoff following Bo and Lefty's spectacular score, the Colonels held the Crimson during the next series and Harvard had to punt.

Centre resumed the attack and Whitnell got a first down with a sweep around the left end, but Harvard shut down the toughed up its defense and the Colonels had to punt it back.

Lefty Whitnell sweeping around the left end early in the second quarter

The Crimson's weight advantage began to take its toll in the second quarter. The Colonels didn't help themselves with two 15-yard penalties being marched off against them for holding during the period. Centre's linemen fought furiously, contesting every play with all of their strength, but Harvard was relentless, moving the ball with a power running game featuring Arnold Horween and George Owen. 

Harvard driving downfield with strong interference in the second quarter  

Near the end of the first half, as the clock ticked down to the two-minute mark, the Crimson had the ball just inside of Centre's 10. It was first and goal. The Colonels dug in. Bo was back and forth behind his crouched down linemen, hollering encouragement.

It was a virtual war in the trenches, the outmanned Kentuckians making Harvard fight for every inch. But on the fourth rush into the line, George Owen finally broke through the defense and fell into the end zone.

George Owen ties it as the first half ends in a massive pile-up on the goal line

The extra point was good. It was 14-14. The whistle blew shortly afterward, and the first half of a classic battle was over.

14-14 at the half! What had initially looked like a runaway for Harvard had turned into an extremely competitive game. Followers of the Crimson fortunes on the gridiron realized that they had witnessed something truly unique.

Harvard traditionally played hard-nosed, tough defense. Since the turn of the century, through the first four games of the season, Harvard had played 176 games ( remembering the war years of 1917-18 weren't official) and shut out their opponents 118 times, or 67% of the contests played. Only seven times had a foe scored 14 or more points as Centre had done. The Colonels had accomplished what, on average, only one team every 25 games was able to do, and they had done it in just one half-30 minutes of play.

The Centre team retired to the end zone nearest the temporary bleachers rather than go to the locker room.

With the limited facility at Centre's football field, the Colonels followed the custom other teams were used to.

They were a hurting group. George Chinn had so much soreness in his shoulder that he could hardly raise him arm. Red Weaver had chronically painful knees, and was noticeably limping after having been blocked late in the second quarter.

But the really worrisome injury was that sustained by Red Roberts. The big fellow had been twisted when several of the Crimson linemen hit him as he plunged through on a short-yardage gainer. His foot was planted, cleats dug into the turf, when he was turned halfway around by the hits and felt a sudden severe pain in his left knee. He got up and continued to play, but his effectiveness in the last few minutes of the second quarter was severely limited.

Trainer/team manager Thad McDonnell took a look at Red's knee during the halftime break and knew there was trouble. There was already a considerable amount of swelling.

"What do you think, Red? Can you play?"

"Of course," Red replied. "I can play, and I will play." But Red's tone gave away his obvious concern.

Later, Red was quoted as saying that he knew he was hurt, and he knew that his play would be affected in the second half.

"But it was Harvard. We'd been pointing at Harvard for nearly a year. Do you think there was any way that I was going to be on the sideline?"

Several other Colonels had various bumps and bruises, but the most serious concerns were about young George Chinn, and the two Reds.

A Centre fan hollered to Sully Montgomery, "Hey Sully, do you think we can hold them?"

"I don't know. They block and hold us out so well. They're stronger, but we'll fight them to the end, you know that."

Harvard hadn't escaped unscathed. "Winnie" Churchill was slowed by the knee that he twisted on the play where he brought Bo down on the three-yard line before Centre's first touchdown. Tackle Wynant Hubbard strained his leg, and after the game, left the locker room on crutches. Right end John Gaston sprained his ankle. "Tarzan" Tolbert,  a 6' 2" guard, strained his shoulder.

John Crocker, a junior, replaced Gaston. Eastman replaced Hubbard. A.D. Hamilton took over for Churchill, even though the starter was able to play intermittently. Tolbert was hampered but was able to start the second half.

There were two main differences in the teams. Harvard was heavier, and Harvard was deeper, especially in the line. Losing a player, or having one slowed by an injury, was sustainable by the Crimson, but not by the Colonels.

Halftime found the Easterners and Kentuckians engaged in a songfest. First from the Centre section, "My Old Kentucky Home," then from the Bostonians, "Yankee Doodle Dandy." In return, the Southerners lively rendition of "Dixie" echoed through the horseshoe.

I wish I was in the land of cotton,
Old times there are not forgotten,
Look away, look away, look away, Dixie land.
In Dixie land where I was born in, early on a frosty mornin'
Look away, look away, look away, Dixie land.
Then I wish I was in Dixie, Hooray! Hooray!
In Dixie land I'll take my stand, to live and die in Dixie. 
Away, away, away down south in Dixie.
Away, away, away down south in Dixie.

In genuine appreciation for all the courtesies that the visitors from Kentucky were shown, George Swinebroad led the Gold and White supporters in a hardy, and heartfelt, "Hooray for Harvard" cheer.

went to Centre in the fall of 1921 and pledged Phi Delta Theta because my brother Howard, who had enrolled in 1920, was a member of that fraternity. Red Roberts was a Phi Delt also, so when I had a chance, I always talked football with him. Red was always real friendly, not just with me, but maybe even more with me because I was his "son."

Naturally, I asked him about the Harvard game and how he felt at the half with the score tied at 14-14.

Red said that he knew they were in trouble. He could hardly walk, much less run.

Several others of the fellows were banged up. Harvard was tough, Red said. They may have been from elite prep schools, but the Harvard boys were tough as nails. They ran hard, they hit hard, and there was no quit in them.

Red said Bo kept telling everybody that they could still win. But even Bo knew that without Red being able to play up to full strength, the attack would be hurt. Red was not only a powerful runner, but he was one of the greatest blockers who ever played the game.

And, Red Weaver was limping badly. When you have a first and third team AllĀ­ American hurt, you know that your chances of winning are really hindered.