The Day After The Great Victory and Return To Danville
Bill James, who had a job outside of Danville milking cows in order to help pay his way through school, was used to getting up as the darkness began to give way to morning. He was awake at 6:00 and headed to breakfast, trying not to awaken sleeping passengers as he eased through the Pullmans to the dining car.
When he opened the door connecting the diner, he saw George Joplin sitting in the otherwise empty car, smoking a cigarette and drinking a cup of coffee.
Joplin, ever the fan, but also ever the reporter for his newspaper back in Danville, pulled out his notepad and began to write as James ordered from the menu which he had lifted from the wire-loop holder next to the window.
The white-jacketed waiter pulled out the pre-printed order form and began to check off items.
"Three eggs over light."
"Two orders of bacon, crisp."
"Grits? No sir, we don't have grits on this train."
"A double order of sausage."
"Toast? White, wheat or rye?"
"Plain white bread, yes sir. Six pieces, yes sir."
"Coffee? Yes sir."
"Two orange juices, coming up."
"Milk, just two glasses?"
James looked up at Joplin and said, "Jop, I was so keyed up when we got back to the Lenox that I couldn't even think about eating. I'm going to make up for it all the way home."
While the waiter bought the silver coffee pot over and filled the two cups, James said, "You know, Bo said he was the happiest man in the world. If he's staked out a claim to be the happiest, then I want you to write it down and tell everybody back in Danville that I'm the second happiest man in the whole wide world, and that includes Texas."
Bill James had been there the whole way to the top. He had been at North Side and heard the Chief paint those word pictures so eloquently that he headed to Kentucky the next year, not having any idea where he was going, only that it was to the college that the Chief had attended.
"Jop, I got on that train carrying a cardboard suitcase with all my possessions, because I would have jumped right off a cliff if the Chief had said to jump. We all loved him. We all still do. He's the finest man I've ever known."
"I stayed the extra year that we got due to the war because of the Chief. He told us we could be champions. We were just a bunch of boys down there in Texas, trying to make something out of ourselves, not having any idea how we would ever amount to anything, and the Chief... "
There was a pause as Bill James, the same young man who had been an absolute warrior in the Stadium the afternoon before, the same young man who'd played the entire 60 minutes of the great victory, composed himself.
"The Chief made us believe. He wrote the words-you've seen them in the dressing room-Believe, Achieve, Succeed. But they first appeared back in our little locker room in Fort Worth at North Side-Believe, Achieve, Succeed."
"He made us believe in ourselves. He told us if we could see in our minds what we wanted to make of ourselves, we'd achieve what our vision was. And Jop, I don't think that anyone could deny that by beating Harvard, we've had some success. We've succeeded. The Chief told us we had, and if the Chief said it, you can write it down."
The rest of the team slept in as the train neared its regularly scheduled stop in Buffalo. They barely had time to finish breakfast when they had to hurry back to their Pullman. A switch engine was disconnecting the cars carrying the Kentuckians so that they could be pulled on the Buffalo and Niagara Falls Railroad tracks to the Falls.
Niagara Falls- photo from Uncle Charlie's collection
It had been arranged for those who hadn't been to the Falls the year before to spend the day at what many felt was the most spectacular sight in North America. Others who didn't want to go to Niagara had the opportunity to go with Tiny Thornhill to watch a professional football game between the local Buffalo team which Tiny had played for briefly, and the Canton Bulldogs, coincidentally, a team which Uncle Charlie had been a part of during the early 1900's.
Going to Niagara Falls in those days was a dream come true. It was where many people went on their honeymoon, and if they couldn't afford to go when they were young, they'd make it a goal to go sometime later in their lives.
Howard went to the Falls and said it was almost as thrilling as the game. Red Roberts went too, even though he'd been there the year before.
Howard was standing next to Red when the big guy said he had so much energy that he felt he could jump in the water and swim over to Canada.
Uncle Charlie told him he better not, because the water may wash the red out of his hair, and that's what made him so appealing to the girls.
Howard bought a big pennant while he was at the Falls. It said, "Niagara Falls, New York" and had this ribbon across it that said, "1921."
He brought it back to Danville and gave it to me and told me that he wanted me to save it forever as a memory of when Centre beat Harvard.
I have it to this day.
Pennant brought back by author's uncle, Howard Robertson, Jr. who attended the game.
( The pennant is now in the possession of R.W.R., Jr., M.D. and looks almost new after all of these years. )
The Centre team and Kentuckians returned to the Buffalo station following their afternoon stopover and were surprised to find a large crowd and several reporters and photographers awaiting them on the platform. The fact that the famous Colonels were in town had gotten around, and there were many who just wanted to see and talk to the most publicized football team in the country.
The Pullmans were hooked to a westbound New York Central train and the Colonels and their fans were underway on their memorable journey once again.
The Chief had picked up a large stack of telegrams just before leaving the Lenox the previous evening and stuffed them in his leather briefcase. There hadn't been time to read them before, but now there was, and he, Uncle Charlie and Tiny Thornhill, began opening the envelopes and reading them aloud while many of the players stood around.
The Reverend James Richards, Centre 1866, and a graduate of the Princeton Theological Seminary- My warmest congratulations to the Centre College Praying Colonels...
From Somerset- Red, Shad, Andy, Bo- way to go Briar Jumpers.
From Owensboro- Tom, Hump, Terry-All Owensboro sends…
From R.B. Waddle- Will be in Danville for celebration. Glory.
From Louisville- Old Centre has brought glory to herself and Kentucky. Accept our congratulations-Louisville Board of Trade
From Louisville- Members of Merchants and Manufacturing Association mighty proud...
The coaches kept reading and passing the telegrams around and then gathered them up and they were carried forward to the fan's cars for them to read and enjoy.
In the middle of the night, the Pullmans were hooked onto a southbound New York Central passenger train at Cleveland and by early morning, they had reached Cincinnati.
Again, hundreds of fans were at the station to greet and cheer the team as the cars were disconnected and then hooked onto the Southern Railroad's "Royal Palm."
They traveled south to Lexington where the Pullmans carrying those from Lexington and Louisville were uncoupled. As was everywhere, the station platform was loaded with people who were ready to pour out their gratitude for what the Colonels had done, not only for Centre, but for all of Kentucky.
Hump Tanner was interviewed while standing with a group of admirers.
"We beat them at their own game. We played solid, conservative football. They expected us all afternoon to open it up. We thought we could hold them scoreless and could win with just our running game, and we did. "
Governor Morrow and his wife had motored the 30 miles from Frankfort and boarded the train, getting on the team's car for the last leg from Lexington into Danville. The governor was effusive in his praise, walking up and down the aisle, shaking hands and then telling everyone in a little speech, "You have made every citizen, from the far west of our state to the eastern mountains of Appalachia, so proud to be called a Kentuckian."
Even before the train had gotten to Lexington, Danville had begun to overflow with people eager to welcome the team back home. Both of the Danville papers, the "Advocate" and "Messenger," had publicized the time that the "Royal Palm" would arrive, and urged their readers to tum out and "welcome the boys back home."
They need not have worried about the reception.
I got up early, grabbed a roll and milk, and raced down to the station. I thought I'd be one of the first ones there, but a big crowd was already beginning to gather. There were no classes scheduled. The public schools and K.C.W. had also cancelled their classes. Even the school for the deaf and the school for the black students were closed.
The Danville brass band came down early and started playing and entertaining everybody. There were vendors selling candied apples and gold and white pom poms. Cars were decorated with gold and white crepe paper. Old letter winners from Centre were wearing their letter-sweaters, and there were several of them, members of the "C" club.
Children were sitting on their father's shoulders. Everyone had to make way for the fire truck which came down Walnut Street, ringing its bell.
Someone stood up on a wagon and hollered that the station master had gotten a wire from the Lexington station that the train was pulling out. We all knew that it was only about a 50-minute ride over, so word went through the crowd that the team was on its way.
People were literally everywhere. I know there couldn't have been more than a few old people and babies and their mothers who hadn't come down to meet the train.
I remember hearing someone joke that it would be a good time to rob a bank, because you could dynamite the safe and clean out the money and nobody would know about it until the next day.
The "Royal Palm" wound through Nicholasville and local citizens along the tracks waved to the team members who sat at the windows and smiled and waved back. The same thing occurred at High Bridge. New signs and banners had been made which reflected the success in Cambridge.
COLONELS WINNERS - YEA!
WAY TO GO, BO!
The engineers who drove the "Royal Palm" south out of Lexington knew exactly who they were pulling toward Danville. They had worked their whistle nearly constantly during the trip, and a couple of miles outside of Danville they never let up, alerting everyone along the track that they were conveying a special group home.
We were staining to hear, but there was so much noise at the station that we really couldn't be certain if we were going to be able to hear the train or not. There was a building up from the track and some people had climbed onto the roof to watch for the train.
Since I'd gotten there pretty early, I was down near the tracks and all of a sudden, I saw people up there on the roof jumping up and down and pointing. And even over the noise, I could hear the whistle, and then see the smoke, and I knew and soon everybody knew that the team had come home, they'd gotten back to Danville.
The engineers were waving their hats and smiling out of the cab as they slowly brought the train to a halt, pulling up so that the cars with the fans and the team were even with the station.
The whistle kept blasting, three times, two times, and then no more.
Members of the Danville Chamber of Commerce had taken over the planning for the reception, but there was no way for an orderly procession to even be attempted because of the delirium and pandemonium at the sight of the Pullmans. The Southern yardmen had difficulty getting to the cars which were to be uncoupled and left in Danville, and there was no way that they could signal the engineer that the cars had been unhooked.
Finally, one of the workers climbed up on the fan's car and waved his cap toward the engine to indicate the unhooking had been successful. Again, the whistle began to blow to warn everyone that the "Royal Palm" was going to proceed south, and very slowly the big steamer pulled the rest of the train away from Danville.
The brass band was playing as loudly as the members could blow, but even the musicians were drowned out by the spontaneous eruption of cheers as the Colonels began to descend from their Pullman's steps and into the crowd.
Cartoon by Wallace Goldsmith in the Boston "Sunday Post" October 30, 1921. Bo is seen getting off the train in Danville to a riotous welcome, the fire truck heading to the station, the brass band playing, the bells clanging and a "Caesar Key" presented to the conquering Bo. Meanwhile, a skeptical old man warns, "Things never happen like that in real life." But of course, they did.
I had never seen and never will see a happier group of people. Every player was smothered with kisses and several people at a time tried to hug each of them. Pretty soon, the members of the team, even the big linemen, was riding on a mass of shoulders away from the station toward where the Chamber was trying to get the parade to begin.
It was just confusion. The plan was to get everybody lined up on the block of Walnut Street which connected the station to where the campus began.
George Joplin was there, and it is fitting to read his description of the reception that the Colonels received.
With hearts full of gratitude, the entire populace of Danville and hundreds of Kentuckians from every section of the state met the "Wonder Team" at the station this morning. There was nothing but a "we-are-proud-of-you-boys" spirit in the minds and hearts of all who were in Danville today. And the Centre College Colonels were met in a befitting manner as conquering heroes, not unlike the Romans of old who, as victors from their triumphant battles, were greeted by their admiring fellow citizens.
Cars lined up prior to welcoming home. Note "Centre 6" on building's left window and "C" on windshields.
When the Chamber members finally got everything sorted out, the last act was to locate Roscoe and put him at the front of the parade. Roscoe was without his top hat and coat, but still looked snappy in his gold vest, and he hadn't left his smile in Boston.
The procession began to move slowly up Walnut.
Roscoe carried the Centre banner, waving it as he walked, and behind Roscoe marched the brass band, each member playing his heart out.
The members of the team were on the fire truck, including the coaches. They were dressed in suits and ties. Several wore overcoats. Bo wore a belted trench coat. Under his arm, he clutched the coveted ball which had been handed to him by Tiny Maxwell. Everybody was smiling and waving to the crowd, and hollering back to familiar faces shouting congratulations. Many students and children were skipping along behind the slowly moving fire wagon.
Behind the truck and those skipping along were two goats on leashes being led by young boys. On one goat was a gold blanket with "6" sewn on in white. On the other was a red blanket with a "O."
George Joplin's story continued:
Next came an old car with the terribly dilapidated figure of "Old John Harvard." He was impersonated by a "bean" whose makeup was a classic.
Immediately following was the car with Governor Morrow and his wife, George Colvin, the superintendent of public instruction for the state, and Mr. and Mrs. Howard Reynolds of Boston.
Behind Governor Morrow's car came the justly celebrated Centre "5" wearing their gold and white clown suits.
A local motor car company placed in line 12 beautifully decorated cars which were filled with Centre enthusiasts. In the rear of the dozen came one Ford which was battered and worn, being one of the first made, and it represented the defeated warriors of the East, and an effigy named "Coach Fisher" was aboard.
Back of this car came hundreds of gaily decorated cars bearing banners of praise, all honking their horns, and people by the hundreds on foot, which included many members of the Centre and K.C.W. student bodies, and the local Danville school children including those from the Bate School for the colored.
The parade proceeded up Walnut Street, through the heart of the Centre campus. Breckinridge Hall, Young Hall, Old Main, the Boyle-Humphrey gym and Carnegie Library were on the right. Old Centre was on the left.
Once the library was passed, Roscoe turned left and led everybody down the block of College Street where he turned right, onto Main Street. A half block down on the right of Main was the First Presbyterian Church where the bells were being worked in the tower, clanging almost in rhythm with the brass band and the "5."
Two more blocks found the assemblage at the courthouse.
The south side of Main Street was occupied by the faculty and students from the Kentucky School for the Deaf, and they all waved a warm welcome to the victorious players as they rode in their triumphant glory.
The fire truck arrived at the courthouse where a platform had been made, and Dr. Ganfield, Governor Morrow and Mrs. Morrow, Honorable George Colvin, the Centre coaches and Mrs. Myers and other members of the party along with team members found seats looking out over the excited throng.
Then the jam of struggling humanity began to get as close to the platform as possible. The Centre "5" was posted a few feet away and it was called on and made good, playing the "Centre Swing."
Cheerleader George Swinebroad had his boys closely banded together and he gave many of the yells, and one was for the vanquished giant of the East-Harvard.
Senator J.W. Harland was chairman of the ceremonies and made a splendid and well received introductory speech of behalf of the Chamber of Commerce and citizens of Danville. Senator Harland said in part, Napoleon met his Waterloo; Harvard met Centre."
Bo on priming ball of firetruck carrying game ball brought back from Harvard Stadium
The ball carried back to Danville by Bo
Army Armstrong, front, alone. Above, left to right- Uncle Charlie, Lucy Covington, Bo, and
Mrs. Covington at reception.
"The Romans of old never welcomed with more exciting pride its Caesar than we today welcome back the victorious sons of Centre. We write upon the tablets of our memory with the same pride and appreciation as did they upon their triumphant arches: 'They came. They saw. They conquered. '"
"Every heart in Danville, yea, Kentucky and the whole Southland, throbs with pride over the splendid and well-merited victory last Saturday. With intense expectation we saw the grid sons of David humble the football Goliath of the East. We welcome you back today with heartfelt praise not only because of what you have done, but also because of what you are. We are for you, with you, and back of you, as you continue your march of conquest."
On behalf of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Governor Morrow gave a ringing address. It was obvious as he spoke, smiling over and over as he addressed the boys, that no one was more proud of the victory than he is.
Morrow turned to the team and said, "I'd gladly trade places with Captain Armstrong, Bo McMillin, Red Roberts, or any member of the Centre College Praying Colonels' team. "
Dr. Ganfield, with tears in his eye, told of the wonderful reception that the East had given the team and its supporters, and told how nothing had been left undone to make the stay pleasant in Boston.
The next to be called on was Centre's staunch friend, the sporting editor of the Boston "Post," but Howard Reynolds was at the telegraph office wiring a story for his paper, and Mrs. Reynolds responded in his behalf and was met with wild cheers.
Chief Myers received a loud cheer when he closed his brief remarks. It is always troublesome to keep Chief from conflicting in ones mind as a coach. While he is not exactly a coach in name, he is the "pop" artist and combs the kicks out of the personnel and knows just how to smooth the brows of the boys who love him.
Uncle Charlie Moran, the greatest couch in the country, and line coach, Tiny Thornhill, both gave wonderful talks.
The chairman called on Captain Armstrong, who is the happiest captain of any team in the country, and he was given a thunderous ovation before and after his words.
Army, in turn, called on his great friend to speak next.
Bo, overcome by emotion, teams streaming down his face, magnanimously asked that the team be praised as a unit, and not any one player individually.
"My only regret," said Bo, "is that my dear mother is not here to take part in this celebration. Oh, if she could only see this! She thought as much of me as Danville and Boyle County think of our team. "
The peerless quarterback broke down here, but regained his composure in a minute's time. Mrs. McMillin was killed in an automobile accident this past June.
Each Colonel who appeared in the game, even Ray Class who had only been involved in one play, the missed field goal attempt, was asked to speak and the crowd hung on every word, giving each of them a resounding ovation after they finished.
In order for you to even better understand the emotion and elation felt by those who were in Danville after the great 1921 victory over Harvard, I thought it would be appropriate to include a contemporary letter sent by a 16 year-old-student at K.C.W., Ruby Moss, who wrote to her cousin, Genie Moss, on November 11, less than 2 weeks after the team and fans returned from Boston.
423 N. 3rd St.
Nov. 11, 1921
I guess you know that I’m going to say I’ve been too busy etc.
It has been very exciting since Centre defeated Harvard. I wish you could have been here the Saturday the news came in and then on Monday when the team came. I just can’t describe it all to you. The only thing I can say to describe is the town went wild. Every window in town received a coat of yellow and white paint in Centre 6 Harvard 0. It was the "real stuff" too, not whitewash. Two boys painted an old cow that they found grazing on the campus, then rode the poor old thing up town. They got the fire engine out, and every Centre boy that could stick on "stuck". The score was painted on lots of the boxcars out at the station, at the end of Main – both ends – just everywhere. Some of the boys painted the score on Breckinridge Hall and renewed the Centre 14 West Virginia 6.
Then when the team came home Monday, we declared a holiday. There was no school. I have never seen such a crowd at the station. It was larger than last year. We had a parade, speeches, n’everything. Dr. Ganfield came home with them. Gov. Morrow, Prof. Colvin, a sporting editor from Boston, his wife, and just everybody but Pres. Harding. Ha! Ha! I think he would have been there, but important business kept him away??
The team came first on the fire engine, then the Centre Five, then Gov. Morrow and the "notables," every Centre boy, girls next, and K.C.W., then all the automobiles. The speeches were made in front of the court house.
Wish you could have seen the Centre Five. They had a piano on an open truck, and the two boys that played the saxophones sat on top of the piano. The others in it sat in chairs on the truck, and they played the Centre song as they drove along. How that boy played the piano I can’t see. They all had on yellow and white clown suits with ruffles around the neck. They sure did make a "hit." I will have to tell you all about everything when I see you.
Ruby Moss ( May-13-1905- August-5-1994 ) graduated from the women's department of Centre in 1929 and married Samuel Cheek, Centre '20 ( December 7, 1900- April 14, 1971 ). She taught music for nearly 40 years at Centre and upon her death in 1994, she left her home at 507 West Main, built in 1860, to the college as the Cheeks had no children. It is now known as the Cheek Emeritus House.
Maybe it's hard now to realize just how much love everyone felt for that team. In today's world, with television and more of a professional bent to sports, even in college, people just don't get so emotionally attached to the players, and the players don't interact with the rest of the school like our guys did.
Bo gave me an autographed photograph which I hung in my room all of the 4 years I was at Centre. My parents came over to Danville and took Howard and me, along with my "dad," Red Roberts, over to the Beaumont Inn in Harrodsburg for dinner, and Red gave my parents an autographed photograph which said, "To the Robertsons" and signed, "Red" Roberts. I have it hanging today. We worshipped each and everyone of them, not just because they were great athletes, but because they were such wonderful guys. We all wanted to be like them, and I know that their examples made every student a better man, because they were the perfect role models, especially for someone like me who was only 17 years old during that great season.
( I have both of those photographs hanging on my wall. )
Signed photo given to author's father by Bo while both were students at Centre.
Signed photo given to author's father and family after meal attended at the Beaumont Inn, Harrodsburg, Ky.
The Beaumont Inn, Harrodsburg, Kentucky, built in 1845, as it stood in the early 1920's