Chapter 37

October 8, 1921 Centre-Virginia Tech / Harvard-Indiana

Centre took the upcoming game with VPI very seriously. Bo had planned to take a train to Chicago for his brother's wedding on Wednesday before the game. He cancelled his plans and when asked why, stated, "VPI."

Bo takes the VPI game seriously

The Hokies looked to have a good team in 1921. They had 8 starters back from the team which the Colonels beat in Louisville, 28-0. The relationship between Centre and VPI was excellent due to the sportsmanship shown by both teams in the previous year's contest.

VPI had a new coach named Ben Cubbage and had joined the newly formed Southern Conference in 1921. The conference was composed of the larger schools which left the S.I.A.A., of which Centre, as one of the smaller colleges, remained a member.

( The charter members of the Southern Conference in 1921 were: Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi State, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Tennessee, Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Washington Lee. Centre played those in bold face in 1921.)

VPI had started the season with wins over Hampden-Sydney, 14-6, and William and Mary, 14-0.

While Centre was preparing for VPI, Harvard was getting ready for Indiana, a member of the Big 10. The Hoosiers had opened their season with two rather minor challenges and disposed of them handily, winning over Franklin, 47-0, and Kalamazoo, 29-0.

Coach Fisher was worried about his offense. In their first 3 victories, the Crimson had only scored 29 points, and the toughest part of the schedule was still to be played. During the first 3 games in 1919, the Fisher-led Crimson scored 105 points. In 1920, the first 3 games resulted in 65 points. The lack of offense, with only 29 points scored thus far in the season, had the huge coaching staff in Cambridge working overtime trying to get some spark in the attack.

"We're playing well on defense," Fisher said. "We've yet to find our stride on offense."

Down in Danville, offensive production wasn't the worry. Uncle Charlie and Tiny Thornhill, helped by Chief Myers, constantly emphasized defense.

"Gentlemen, we are going to be the toughest team in the country this year to score on. We want 11 men in on each play. We want you to swarm, to gang tackle, to play smart, play clean, but play with ferocity. We want you to feel that if you give up a first down, you have failed. It is defense which is going to help us win the national championship."

"Defense!"

Uncle Charlie could be infectious. 

Soon, every Colonel became "infected." 

"Defense! Defense! Defense!"

Interest in football in Blacksburg was high. With a new coach and a step up to a new conference, the Hokies had their greatest fan base yet. The college engaged a special, all­ Pullman train to carry the team and a large contingent of fans to Danville, leaving on Thursday night, October 6, and riding all night on the Chesapeake and Ohio tracks through Virginia, into West Virginia, and entering Kentucky by skirting just south of the Ohio River to Ashland. Then it was eastward to Lexington where the "Special" was connected to a Southern steamer for the final 50-minute run to Danville.

The team and as many of the fans who could be accommodated filled the Gilcher and Henson. Local boarding houses and citizens of Danville took in the rest.

The Hokies held a closed-door session at Cheek Field on Friday morning. The 33-member Colonel squad had a non-contact session in the afternoon.

VPI gave Centre all it could handle on a breezy Saturday afternoon.

The girls at KCW had special tickets designated for Centre's games

 The Colonels moved the ball constantly in the first quarter, but as the end of the period neared, Bo was knocked to the ground after a vicious tackle and didn't get up. There was absolute silence as players and officials huddled around him. Finally, the Centre star began to respond to some smelling salts administered by team manager, Johnny McGee, and he was able to get to his feet and walk under his own power, but with assistance, to the sidelines. 

Team manager, Johnny McGee

Many on the Colonels' bench and in the stands were naturally worried about Bo, and also couldn't help but be concerned about the season. It was certainly true when it was said that, "As Bo goes, Centre goes." Not that there weren't other great players on the Gold and White, but Bo was the one indispensable performer.

Bo's absence was felt on both offense and defense. Herb Covington, the little freshman "Flash" from Mayfield, Kentucky, took over at quarterback and performed well. But it was a lot to expect a young man with little college experience to fill the big shoes of a Bo McMillin.

Red Roberts took over the calling of the signals.

The second quarter was evenly played, but VPI made 4 first downs during the period while Bo was trying to shake the cobwebs out of his well-rung head.

"Who are we playing?" Bo would ask. "Virginia? Are we winning?"

( The game has certainly changed. Red Weaver obviously had a rather significant concussion during the 1919 West Virginia game. A little Kentucky bourbon and he was a tiger in the second half. Bo came around as Johnny McGee kept putting the smelling salts under his nose where he had to inhale them.)

The half ended with no score.

The crowd roared as the Colonels, and Bo, returned to the field to start the second half. The whole demeanor of the team changed. Bo later said, "I was still in a fog, and don't really remember much about the third quarter. But things seemed to clear up as the period went on."

At the half, Uncle Charlie had again emphasized defense

"If a team can't score, they can't win. Pure and simple. Defense! Defense! Defense!"

Defense it was. VPI got only one first down during the second half. Still, it was 0-0 as the whistle ended the third quarter.

Uncle Charlie reached into his bag of tricks and out came little Chick Murphy, the speedster with the size 4 1/2 shoe who weighed 130 pounds after several good meals.

VPI had just punted and Centre found itself in excellent field position as Murph replaced Tom Bartlett.

On his first play, Murph got 10 on a lightening dash around the left end. After the yard markers were moved, he darted around the right end for 18.

The Centre fans were on their feet, led by cheerleader George Swinebroard.

                    Take it in, Take it in,
                    Gold and White, Gold and White.
                    Take it in, Take it in,
                    Gold and White, Gold and White.

Bo cut through the center of the line for 7. Hump got 2 and was hit hard. Bo got the yard needed for the first down.

It was first and goal on the 10.

In the huddle, Bo said to Murph, "Chick, I'm going to let you be the hero and take it in like they're saying."

Murph took the handoff and fired toward the left side of the line and was crunched by two determined Hokies. He crumbled to the ground and lay motionless. It was several moments before he could be assisted off the field. It was never said the game was for those who were not stout of heart.

Army gathered his mates around him.

"Now we win it for Murph. We score and we win. They can't move it. Now, let's win it for Murph!"

Bo told Buck Jones, at 213 lbs. and Red Roberts at 215 lbs., that he was going to have Hump run right behind them for the score. "Drive 'em back. Humpty will be running up your backsides."  

"Buck" Jones

It was going to be simple, power football, a fireplug behind two bulls.

The two big men lined up at right guard and right tackle. Bo called the signals and the VPI defenders were knocked back and Hump got 5. VPI knew that Centre was going to run the exact same play again but was powerless to stop it. Buck and Red fired out, sent the defenders up and then back where they landed sprawled in the end zone. Hump, running low, hurdled the last couple of yards and rolled over the goal.

Hump Tanner followed Buck Jones and Red Roberts in for the score

It was a savage display with neither team giving ground. But Centre was just too strong. After that series, Tiny Thornhill knew that he had the horses to take on Harvard. The Colonels were tough.

The crowd whistled, cheered, clapped, shouted and at the same time breathed a collective sigh of relief. VPI was good. The Hokies were a worthy opponent, and for a while, there was some doubt about going to Harvard undefeated.

Hump kicked the extra point, the 102nd in a row.

Two minutes later, Centre scored again, the touchdown being set up by a poor punt that gave the Colonels the ball on the VPI 45-yard line.

Bo ran for 30, a 5-yard penalty and 7-yard loss moved the ball back to the 27. Bo then hit Army with a perfectly thrown spiral and the captain hauled it in and scored. Hump kicked Centre's 103rd straight, and it was 14-0.

The game ended shortly afterward with Centre in possession and on the Hokies' 3-yard line.

VPI played the Colonels to a virtual standstill until late in the game

Overall, the Colonels not only won on the scoreboard but statistically, running up 12 first downs to 5 for VPI.

VPI ended 1921 at 7-3. Besides the loss to Centre, the Hokies lost 2 other games, 10-7 against Maryland in a game played in Washington, DC, and 3-0 against Washington and Lee in Lynchburg, Va. 

A dance was held in the Boyle-Humphrey Gymnasium, attended by all of the Virginians and the Centre team and student bodies from Centre and KCW. There was great camaraderie between the two squads and schools, and already there was talk of another game in 1922, this time hopefully somewhere in Virginia.

While the Colonels were having a tough but successful outing with VPI on Saturday afternoon, October 8, Harvard was taking on Indiana.

Coach Fisher and his staff had made several switches in the team's lineup in the week leading up to the game with the Hoosiers trying to find the right combination.

Team captain, Richard Keith Kane was moved to tackle from end. C.A. "McCaw" Tierney, at 6' 1/2" and 186 lbs., formerly a center, was going to start at the other tackle. C.C. Macomber was slotted to replace Kane at end, and a sophomore named Fleming Bradford was to replace Tierney at center.

In the backfield, Vinton Chapman and R.W. Fitts were demoted to the second team, and two sophomores, Erwin Gehrke and Wilkens Jenkins were moved up to the starting lineup.

It was unusual for the Crimson to be entering into the fourth game of the year with so much juggling of the starting eleven, but as Fisher explained, "We just have to get some offensive production. We haven't really moved the ball consistently at all."

Harvard shut out the Hoosiers, 19-0. The score looked fairly promising, as it was the most points scored yet by the Crimson. Yet, when analyzing the game, it was very apparent that the offense hadn't yet arrived.

The Crimson jumped out to a 3-0 lead on a 32-yard dropkick by quarterback Charles C. Buell just as the first quarter ended. The second points were registered not by the offense, but by a good defensive play when Gehrke blocked Indiana Captain John Kyle's punt from the end zone and scooped it up, racing in for a score.

Touchdown not from an offensive drive but a blocked punt

As the second quarter wound down, K.S. Pfaffman kicked a 31-yard field goal and Harvard led 13-0 at the end of the first two periods.

The "margin" in the caption of the photo was somewhat deceiving since Buell's first quarter field goal proved to be the actual winning margin in the Crimson's 19-0 victory. Note the players with no numbers on their jerseys which was Harvard's way. "It's a team sport and no individual needs to be singled out."

Rain began to come down hard when the Crimson marching band, making its first appearance of the season, was leaving the field after the halftime performance.

The last score came when R.W. Fitts returned a Kyle punt 76 yards for a TD, the extra point was no good, and the final score was 19-0.

Coach Fisher had to be concerned. It was great to be 4-0. It was great to have registered 4 straight shutouts. But in the game with the Hoosiers the Crimson once again never really put together any significant drives. They scored because of field goals, a blocked punt, and a punt return, and things were definitely going to get tougher in the weeks ahead.

A review of the Harvard season after the Indiana game, and a look ahead, revealed the following:

Sept 24        Harvard    10     Boston U.     0
                      Harvard    16     Middlebury  0
Oct. 1            Harvard      3     Holy Cross   0
Oct. 8           Harvard    19     Indiana        0
Oct. 15          Harvard             Georgia
Oct. 22         Harvard             Penn State
Oct. 29         Harvard             Centre
Nov. 5          Harvard             Princeton
Nov. 12        Harvard             Brown
Nov. 19        Harvard             Yale

If there was a silver lining in Cambridge, it was that Harvard was playing defense like the college had done in years past. Since the resumption of "official" football following the War, Harvard had played 23 games and given up only 47 points, and during that period, the Crimson had shut out their opponents 18 times.