The Big Week Arrives - Centre and Harvard!
So, the scene was set. Centre was undefeated. Harvard was undefeated, even though tied. Centre had won 32 and lost 3 since 1917. Harvard, which didn't count 1917-18 as "official," had a record of 23-0-3 since 1919. Two great teams were barreling toward each other, two programs that were at the top of the mountain in college football's hierarchy. Something had to give, and sports fans all over the country collectively held their breaths, as "Centre-Harvard" dominated the interest and conversations of anyone who had any knowledge at all about the sport.
On Friday, October 21, Howard Reynolds of the Boston "Post" arrived back in Danville. He was going to stay at the Gilcher Hotel and return to Boston with the team, sending back stories to his paper in the week leading up to the game. Reynolds had become such a confidant of Uncle Charlie that Centre let him in on everything the team planned regarding the tactics and plans for the Harvard game. He knew that Reynolds would never betray the Colonels, and indeed, he never did.
The "Messenger" reported that a Mr. Lemuel McHenry of Louisville was hoping to get a ticket to the game through Centre. He had a son in Boston who had tried every angle to secure a ticket and couldn't find one anywhere.
Other than the Princeton and Yale games, no other team could fill the Stadium except Centre, attesting to how popular the Colonels had become, and how the team had captured the hearts of fans everywhere they appeared.
George Joplin was put in charge of the "Harvard Special" which was going to carry the team and the students along with around a hundred fans on an all-Pullman train to the game. Joplin got the arrangements made and then there was a wrench thrown into his plan.
Centre announced that students wouldn't be excused from classes in order to go to the game. The college had received word from the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association that it would be in violation of the rules of the S.I.A.A. Reynolds wrote about the ruling in an article which was first published in the "Post," and then in the local Danville papers.
Story written by Howard Reynolds- The "Centre 5" was actually later cleared to go to the game.
Reynolds wrote later that the previous week, Ohio State had engaged special trains to take the entire student body, numbering some 5,000, to Ann Arbor for the Michigan game. The students were excused from their Friday and Saturday classes, and, "Ohio State is what everyone would call a fairly regulated institution."
Nothing that was said could change the decision of the faculty. The fact was that even though Dr. Ganfield was still on the campus, his resignation made him powerless to intercede. It was the impression that there were certain professors who felt that perhaps Centre's athletic prowess was getting more attention than its academic reputation, and maybe there was a need to pull in the reins a bit.
Whatever the reason, the "Harvard Special" had to be cancelled, because the student's numbers were necessary to reach the quota set by the Southern Railroad to make the whole affair possible.
Now there would be special cars hooked onto a regular train. It was a setback, but not a deal-breaker.
What was more serious as a threat to the trip to the East was the possibility of a national railroad strike. The Federal Railroad Board ordered the five big unions representing railway workers not to strike until October 30 in order to give the unions and negotiators time to work out an agreement. However, there was no guarantee that arbitration would be successful.
The October 30 date was critical. If a strike occurred, trains would stop running when the clock struck 12:00 on Saturday night the 29th. The Colonels and fans would find themselves stuck somewhere between Boston and Albany, New York, as they didn't plan on leaving until Saturday night after the game.
"No problem," came the word out of Cambridge.
At least there would be no problem in getting the team back to Danville. As for the fans, that was another situation.
A headline in the Danville "Advocate" announced a solution if a strike indeed was called. The story was a reprint from the Boston "Evening Transcript."
SPLENDID GENEROUS HARVARD
A less intrepid band of warriors than that of Danville, Kentucky might hesitate to stray so far from the Bluegrass as Boston with a railroad strike impending. It is certain, however, that the Kentuckians will appear in the Stadium Saturday, and that the Harvard Athletic Association will furnish a fleet of fast automobiles to get the Centre football squad back to Danville. This statement was authorized by Major Fred W. Moore, graduate treasurer of athletics at Harvard.
Centre will get to Harvard before the threatened "walkout." Harvard will see to it that Bo McMillin and his teammates get back to their Southern campus.
As it was, the strike was averted at the last moment, but the offer to actually drive the team back to Danville was greatly appreciated by the Colonels and the coaching staff. It would have been a major undertaking of over 1,000 miles, and the roads would have gotten progressively worse as the caravan had driven south, with a lot of the "highways" being little more than dirt. An average of 15 miles an hour would be all that could be achieved along many stretches, and it was estimated that the trip would have taken several days with stops at various hotels along the route as darkness approached.
Nonetheless, Major Moore said he had more volunteers that he would need. "They are lined up and will be ready to go if they are called."
"Amazing, simply amazing," was the sentiment in Danville.
Kentuckians began lining up outings and securing tickets for events besides the Harvard game. The Ziegfeld Follies, a light comedy, "Little Old New York," and the Harvard Glee Club with Mary Garden at Symphony Hall, were all playing in Boston. According to reports in various Kentucky newspapers, Mr. Joseph Burkes, at the Adams House in the theatre district, was "reserving an ample number of seats to accommodate the Centre delegation, including tickets to the popular musical comedy with the Dolly Sisters, "Oh, Look!" featuring the premiere of their latest hit, "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows."
Play attended by Centre fans in Boston
In addition to the theatrical opportunities, plans were being made to sign up for tours around Boston with the Royal Blue Lines Coach Company which offered a 4-hour round trip for $2.50.
Centre fans toured around Boston and environs
"The tour is through the territory of the Revolutionary War where 'the shot heard round the world' occurred, which was 'the first Declaration of Independence."'
"In the course of the 4-hour spin, one will visit historic scenes and houses that are of poignant interest to all Americans: Old North Chapel, Faneuil Hall, the Fenway, John Harvard's statue, Longfellow's home, Cooper's Tavern, Harrington Elm, Monroe Tavern, Lexington Green, the scene of the Battle of Lexington, the 221 feet tall Bunker Hill Monument, Pulpit Rock, Old Revolutionary Monument, Parker Boulder, the Old Northbridge, Hawthorne's Wayside, Grape Vine Cottage, The Old Manse, where Emerson wrote 'Nature,' and the Concord Battle Ground."
It would have been a whirlwind event with so many places to be visited.
Other possible trips were offered and outlined by the Blue Line; Boston to Salem and Marblehead, Boston to Plymouth, or Boston to "quaint" Gloucester via Ocean Boulevard.
Multiple sportswriters in Kentucky were going to Boston. The Louisville "Herald" was sending Bruce Dudley and a staff photographer, Al Piers. The Louisville "Courier Journal" was to be represented by Sam McMeekin who was taking along his wife. The sports editor of the Louisville "Times," Bob Dundon, was going. The Louisville "Evening Post" signed up Lawrence Caudill. The editor of the Danville "Advocate", Vernon Richardson, made plans to go, and the Danville "Messenger" signed up to send both editor J. Curtis Adcock, and reporter George Joplin.
Lexington's "Herald" and "Leader" also had reporters assigned to go to Boston.
Most importantly, of course, was that Howard Reynolds was going to accompany the team to Boston, filing stories along the way.
The Harvard Club telegraphed the Centre "5" that they would guarantee the group $500.00 if they would perform at a dance on Friday night, October 28, the night before the game.
Harvard Club, a few blocks down Commonwealth Avenue from the Lenox Hotel
The musical group was able to secure excuses from classes as they were told, "You are going on a business trip, not an athletic venture, and naturally, we wouldn't want to interfere."
After being assured of no penalty for missing classes, the "5" wired back- "Will be there with bells on."
The "Centre 5"
On Monday, after the romp over Transylvania, Centre began holding practices that were closed to all except well-known supporters of the team, and Howard Reynolds. Reynolds was even able to sit in on a meeting with Uncle Charlie, Bo and Army.
Bo and Army set up the session with their coach to discuss Centre's game plan for Harvard in the Gilcher's dining room on Sunday night, October 23. Uncle Charlie was at his regular table where he often held court while smoking one of his ever-present cigars and drinking coffee.
Bo began the conversation.
"Unc, you know I've been quoted as saying I know why we lost to Harvard last year."
"Tell me about it! I heard from all over the country when you gave that interview."
Bo had been in New York City late in the summer, invited by some local alumni to speak at a fund-raising dinner for the college. While there, he was cornered by a reporter. The next day, there was a story that hit not only New York, but was carried by a wire service to papers all over the country. Even out in Denver, the story hit the paper with the headline:
BO KNOWS WHY HARVARD WON
Bo was so well known nationally that there was only one name used, like Babe. There was only one Babe. There was only one Bo.
"Unc, I didn't tell that guy why we lost. I just told him that I knew why we lost, but I didn't supply him any details."
Army picked up the conversation.
"That's what we want to talk to you about. Bo and I have thought about it a lot, and we want to make a suggestion about how we play against Harvard."
Uncle Charlie had great respect for his team captain and Bo. He knew that both of them were not only great talents, but great students of the game as well. Both Bo and Army planned to get into college coaching after leaving Centre.
Howard Reynolds asked Uncle Charlie if he wanted him to leave so that he could talk to his players privately.
"Absolutely not! You're here to get some slants on the game. You know we trust you like no other."
"Here's what Bo meant when he told that reporter he knew why we lost last year," Army said. "We played a great half, but we showed them our whole attack in the first two quarters. And then they went in at the break, and with all those coaches, they came up with a plan to shut us down in the second half, and they did."
Bo jumped back in.
"They beat us down, sure. We were physically beaten, but even if we were hurting, we had some plays that should have been big gainers, and they weren't. They had us figured out."
"So what do you suggest?"
"Army and I think that we should play a very conservative game, especially in the first half. You know how we dedicated ourselves to not let anyone score on us this year. The Saint Xavier score was a fluke. We don't think anyone can score on us again."
"Bo is right. We think if we play conservatively, we can wait for one break and win. We want to primarily stick to the ground. Punt if we have third down and long yardage."
It was an unusual request and it was asking a lot for Uncle Charlie to agree to his stars' plan. He was an offensive genius who took great pride in keeping his opponents befuddled by his wide-open attack. But it was even more unusual for Bo to be advocating such a toned-down attack. Bo was the shooting star, made famous by his offensive brilliance. It was like having a gunslinger go to a duel, leaving his six-shooter behind.
"We can score on them, I'm confidant of that," Bo said. "We don't think they can score on us. Let's not show them anything, at least in the first half."
Uncle Charlie slowly came around the more Bo and Army talked. What really convinced him was that it would be a surprise. Uncle Charlie liked to spring the unexpected on his foes.
"Ok, we run, we punt, we wait for a break. I'm confidant you guys can pull it off. We play exactly the game they won't expect. That's a great idea! I like it!"
This is an actual diagram drawn by Uncle Charlie which shows a simple run through the line which was typical of what Centre planned during the first half. The #2 back ( Bo ) would take the center toss and run between the #8 lineman who would have blocked to his left and the center, ( X ). Nothing fancy. No "trick" plays. Simple runs over and over. That was the game plan.
Howard Reynolds filed his daily stories with generalities, and in no way did he betray Centre's confidence.
One story spoke of a different style of play, but didn't divulge just what that style would be.
When Centre College goes on the playing field at Cambridge this Saturday against Harvard, several changes in the playing style will be used from the system adopted in swamping Transylvania, and which was viewed by Harvard's scouts. Some trick plays may be used, but what these may be has so far been concealed by Coach Charles Moran. Bo McMillin will take full charge of the team when the battle begins.
Certainly nothing new there except that some new plays will be used, and as usual, Bo will be running the team.
On the next day, Reynolds wrote:
The Praying Colonels of Centre College tonight are resting preparatory to starting for Cambridge Wednesday for the game with Harvard Saturday. Coach Moran put his men through a grueling practice this afternoon, and will give them a light workout tomorrow.
Wednesday at 6:00 A.M., the train will pull out for Boston with about 100 Kentuckians and the Centre squad aboard. Many of these travelers will be Old Centre men from the West and South. Centre's alumni in the East will go direct from their homes to Boston. President W.A. Ganfield will see his last football game with Centre as he has become the president of a Wisconsin college.
Centre will have a much stronger team to throw against Harvard than last year. When the season began, the motto was "win 'em all." The team and its supporters actually believe that the team will indeed "win 'em all. "
Centre points out that its players are better than those of the previous teams, and that it is playing better and stronger this year. Kentuckians speak of going to Cambridge and Boston as the Southerner speaks of "going home." They remember the warm reception given last year by the New Englanders when Centre played Harvard.
In Boston, the Harvard coaching staff was faced with a real dilemma. The Centre game was important. It was drawing interest from all corners of the country. It was going to be played in front of an absolutely jammed stadium. There was excitement being generated which was even greater than the year before.
However, it was a simple fact that the games with the Crimson's traditional rivals, Princeton and Yale, were the critical dates on the schedule each year. A season's success was measured by the results of games between the "Big 3."
Melville Webb, a sportswriter for the Boston "Globe," summarized the Harvard situation in an article appearing in the October 24th paper.
This week against Centre, Harvard will not be able to muster its full strength. The Kentuckians are not expected to have such surprises up their sleeves as they did last fall, and Harvard will doubtless move as straight as possible for the Princeton game, now two weeks away.
Article after the tough game the week before with Penn State
Owen and Captain Kane, both injured, easily can stand a rest, and both must need one as they were hit hard in the Penn State game, as was Fitts, whose knee has been bothering him since the early going. Crocker is also nursing an injury, and it is absolutely necessary that he be ready for the Princeton game.
So while Harvard respected Centre, it must be remembered that Harvard was Harvard, seemingly invincible, and Coach Fisher and his staff were understandingly perhaps pointing more toward the Princeton game of November 5, and the season ending game with Yale.
There was no such ambivalence back in Danville.
It was Harvard. It was always-Harvard.
Howard Reynolds read the installments from "First Down, Kentucky!" that were published in "The Popular Magazine" with great interest while he was in Danville and sent back an excerpt for his readers.
Note spelling of McMilan rather than McMillin
Here is the way that Ralph Paine describes what Bo and Uncle Charlie thought about Harvard and Boston before they ever thought they had a chance to play the Crimson. They were already thinking about Harvard even before they had played West Virginia in the break-through game of 1919.
"We've got to show them," said Bo. "This is the first chance we've ever had to get a line on what we could do against one of the great Eastern colleges. Beyond the Alps lie Italy and Harvard. "
"Your aims are lofty and you're afflicted with imagination, as usual, " said the coach, who had umpired many a league game in Boston. "You whip these West Virginia mountain men and Harvard may condescend to notice your existence. If you asked 'em right now for a game next year, they might take it as an insult."
"I reckon Harvard is in an unfortunate mental attitude," observed Bowman. "Does it wear off later in life?"
"If they get out into the United States, it does, Bo. But it doesn't if they stay in Boston. Of course, they know who Princeton is. The wilderness begins west of New Jersey, but for little colleges like us away out in no man's land, they'd be liable to ask if we graduated barbers, stenographers, or banjo players."
Then when they entered the stadium a year ago, Paine writes:
"They trotted out on the field and dispersed for a quick rehearsal. A glance at the crowded slopes of the Stadium, all flecked with Crimson flags, and the nervousness tautened again. But now there came down to them a tremendous outburst of applause. It was not the courageous cheer of a few hundred partisans from Kentucky, but the voices of many thousands. Bowman McMurray flashed a smile at Len Garretson and slapped him on the back as he shouted above the crowd, "Would you believe it? Where did all these friends of ours come from? And they call it cold roast Boston. "
We all read the installments of "First Down, Kentucky!" There were several copies of the magazine always in the dorm, and they were passed around. I think that everybody at Centre and Danville read them. It was like they were reading about actual events because even though the author used fake names, all the facts were true.
Bo was always really friendly, even to a freshman like me. We were in the lounge on the first floor of Breck Hall, just a few days before the 1921 Harvard game. There was a copy of the magazine lying around, so I asked Bo what he thought about what had been published.
He said he thought it was great for the school and the team, but he wished it had been written a year later, because Centre lost to Harvard, and that's how the story ended.
Bo told me that if it had been written after the rematch with Harvard, there would have been a better ending, because it would have Centre winning.
The way he said it, I really felt that we'd beat Harvard. Bo didn't make comments like that if he didn't really believe what he said.
There were simply no more tickets for the Centre-Harvard game available. Just like in 1920, it had become a scalper's market, and up to 10 times and more of the price printed on the ticket was the going rate. It was reported that with the Centre sell-out included, 150,000 people would have seen the Crimson play during the year thus far, with the Princeton, Brown and Yale games yet to be played after Centre. The papers were stating that offers were being made to pay $50.00, the equivalent of $800.00 in today's money, for a seat anywhere near the 50-yard line.
The fact that Indiana, Georgia and Penn State couldn't come near to filling Harvard Stadium reinforced just how huge a draw the Colonels were. The Harvard athletic officials said it was felt that over 75,000 tickets could have been sold had the capacity of the Stadium been that great.
Howard Reynolds was much appreciated in Danville, and on Monday night, the 24th, the Chamber of Commerce gave a dinner in his honor to thank him for all he had done in publicizing and promoting Centre.
The Boston sportswriter was asked to say a few words after the meal, and he stood and said that if Centre won, "and I feel there is an excellent chance that it will, I'll be coming back with the team, because I wouldn't miss the celebration for anything in the world."
Reynolds' comments were met with a standing ovation, and many of those present told him, "We'll see you Howard, when you get back into town."