Chapter 57

Everybody Wants A Piece of the Colonels

Jop wrote in his column in the "Messenger" on November 8 that Uncle Charlie had received a letter the day before from the sports editor of a "leading New York newspaper" asking if Centre would come to New York to play either Yale or Princeton in the Polo Grounds on December 3, "to settle the country's football title."

Jop related that the team was due to vote about going to New Orleans to play Tulane on Thanksgiving. Since Georgetown ( KY ), the Colonels' traditional turkey day opponent, had wisely opted out of providing "the holiday feast," the Chief and Uncle Charlie were considering accepting an invitation from Tulane if the players were willing to travel that far south, which would cut into their Thanksgiving vacation considerably.

If the Colonels were to go to New Orleans, then turn around a couple of days later and head to New York to play in the Polo Grounds, it would mean they would spend almost a week on the train.

Considering the trip the team later undertook, a Danville to New Orleans round trip, followed by a similar journey to New York, wasn't such a lengthy undertaking, but it looked daunting at the time.

The team voted to go to New Orleans. The "leading New York newspaper" received a "Thanks, but no thanks," regarding the game proposed for the Polo Grounds.

Off to New Orleans for Thanksgiving

There were 3 efforts to try to get Centre to come to Chicago to play Notre Dame. 

On November 8, Floyd Fitzsimmons of Benton Harbor, Michigan, promoter of the Dempsey-Brennan fight and other big-time fights of note, arrived in Danville with a contract which he wanted to get signed and notarized for Centre to come to the Windy City the week after Thanksgiving for a December 3 game against the Irish.

The "Advocate" reported:

Chances are very remote as the faculty and students don't look upon a match of this sort with much favor.

Chicago wouldn't give up so easily after Centre turned down the offer.

John Russell, the business manager of the Chicago "Herald-Examiner," came to Danville. Russell was also pitching a proposed Notre Dame game, but he brought a considerably sweetened offer. First, he announced that Chicago White Sox owner Charles Comiskey had offered his ballpark for the game and wouldn't charge a cent for its use.

The Danville Advocate mistakenly reported that it was the "Record Herald," but it was the Chicago "Herald-Examiner."

The "Herald-Examiner" was owned by the newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst, then at the absolute pinnacle of his power due to controlling newspapers from coast to coast with millions of subscribers. Russell also said that the Hearst papers would not only guarantee both schools $10,000 to play but would would get behind a drive to help Centre build a much needed new stadium, and would donate $50,000 toward the amount needed to begin construction.

On November 17, it was announced by Centre that a final decision, "irrespective of other offers," had been made. Centre was heading south to play Tulane in New Orleans on Thanksgiving, November 24, and didn't plan on an early December game.

The Chicago proposal must have been hard to turn down. Getting the powerful Hearst organization behind the little school would have been a real boost in putting up a stadium unequaled for a college the size of Centre.

Even after Centre announced its plans to play Tulane, the proponents of the game with Notre Dame simply refused to take "no" for an answer. Now they pulled out their biggest gun and enlisted his help.

Knute Rockne, the Notre Dame coach, was intrigued with Centre. The "Rock" desperately wanted to pit his team against the Colonels. He felt that if the Irish could meet, and possibly beat, the conqueror of Harvard, it would be a major step in his quest to place Notre Dame at the absolute pinnacle of the football world.

Rockne joined with the "Herald-Examiner's" Russell for a trip to Louisville to confer with Major Forrest Braden, an old friend, who in turn set up a meeting with influential Centre alumni in the city who were felt to have enough pull with Centre to get the school to reverse its decision. The meeting was held at the Busy Bee Restaurant at 3rd and Liberty in downtown Louisville, near the Courier-Journal Building. ( A new building for the newspaper was built in 1948 at the corner of 5th and Broadway. ) 

"Nothing But the Best" for the Notre Dame coach and reporter from Chicago!

The offer that they took to Louisville was sweetened even more. There was still Comiskey's offer of his ballpark for free. There was still the offer of $50,000 toward getting a stadium built in Danville. Rockne said he would also give up half of Notre Dame's guarantee of $10,000 from the gate, so that Centre would get $15,000 and his school would only receive $5,000. The deal was still that anything over $20,000 taken in on ticket sales was to go to a Christmas charity to buy baskets for disadvantaged children which the "Herald­-Examiner" supported each year. 

Certainly, Rockne felt his being willing to make a 500 mile round trip to Louisville to personally make the case would impress Centre. Certainly, Centre would be swayed by his offer to increase the guarantee to Centre and reduce the amount the Irish would receive. Certainly, Centre would agree, now, to come to Chicago to take on his team.

Again, the "Advocate" published a short announcement.

The athletic management of Centre College turned down the proposition.


First, there was the contract which had been signed with Tulane. Centre felt honor­ bound to live up to the agreement. Tulane was making a lot of plans, and Centre didn't want to back out of the game.

Another reason, just as important, was that Centre was working on a big venture to go out West after the regular season. While the exact arrangements were still being fleshed out, the plans were fermenting, and the Centre officials felt that one post-season happening was all that they should take on.

Turn down the "Rock" and Notre Dame? Turn down $50,000 for the new stadium?

Turn down $15,000, an offer that exceeded the Harvard game payout of $10,000?

As the Chief and Dr. Ganfield had said so often after the telegram had arrived in Chicago inviting Centre to play Harvard in 1920, "Who would have ever believed it!"

Poems continued to be penned about the great win over Harvard.

                            "HERE'S TO YOU OLD CENTRE" 

               Here's to you Old Centre, the best of them all; 
               You've put Centre squarely on the map of football. 

               At Harvard they said  you had not a chance; 
               Wonder how they felt when they saw Bo advance? 

               You did what had not been done for years;
               And you won by clean sportsmanship, prayers and tears. 

               We can review Kentucky's history with pride, not sorrow, 
               From Daniel Boone on down to Governor Morrow.

               She's won many victories, for which we are proud, 
               And we'll sing her praises, both long and loud.

               When we think of the triumphant battles she's fought­ 
               Our hearts beat the quickest at-

               Centre, six; Harvard, naught.

"Here's to You, Old Centre" was written by Howard Camnitz and published in the Louisville "Herald." Young Howard was the son of a Louisvillian named Samuel Howard Camnitz who was a star pitcher for Centre in the early 1900's and had a 12-year pitching career in the National League, compiling an overall record of 133-104 from 1904-15. It may be that Howard, Jr. had a bit of help with his offering, as he was but a fifth grader at Louisville's Emmet Field School.

I've saved the last poem, "Centre Held the Line," for last, because it is my favorite.

Imagine the emotion that the great Centre victory over Harvard stirred in people which compelled them to write poetry in homage to their heroes. It was truly a more innocent time, and a time which we won't see again.


Up from the line they came that day,
Old Centre's boast and pride; 
Sinews of steel and thews of stone 
By many a battle tried.
The will to win in each strong heart, 
Their eyes with hope a-shine;
And Harvard gave the best she had, 
But Centre held the line. 

Fair the day and massed the throng 
Who came to watch them play, 
And wonder crept to every mind 
When the Colonels stood at bay. 
Wonder that such a thing could be
Spread out before their sight.
For when the second quarter closed 
They'd matched the Crimson might.
And then the miracle came to pass 
While fifty thousand stared;
Bo was flying down the field
To do the thing he dared.
Twisting, turning, dodging, fleet, 
His good old soul aflame,
He bought the pigskin to the goal­ 
And won the Harvard game. 

But still they fought as men will fight
For all they hold most dear;
Man after man the Crimson brought, 
Urged by despair and fear.
Their bravest and their best they gave, 
Aye, gave their very all;
But it was all in vain for none could pass 
Beyond that golden wall. 

Why call the roster of that band 
Who journeyed north that day, 
And in that Eastern stadium 
Were victors in the fray?
On every heart Kentucky holds 
Their names are graven deep;
And in our souls throughout all time 
Their valor we will keep. 

No pomp and pageantry were theirs, 
But quietly and with calm,
They donned their moleskins and their gear 
With never a coward's qualm.
They fought the fight and kept the faith
There in the sweet sunshine.
And Harvard's pride is stained with dust­ 
For Centre held the line.

                          - Edwin Carlile Litsey

Edwin Carlile Litsey (1874-1970) was the assistant cashier in the Marion National Bank in Lebanon, Kentucky and developed into a writer of short stories and poetry. He was beginning to develop a reputation when he wrote "They Held the Line" in 1921, and by 1954, had achieved enough renown that he became Kentucky's fourth Poet Laureate.  

A young Carl Litsey