Chapter 71

Pre-Game Activities

The Colonels awakened Saturday morning on December 24, with plans to go to the stadium where the Christmas Bowl was going to be played.

Ad promoting ticket sales for the Christmas Bowl

Balboa Stadium had opened in 1914, and when it was built, was the largest municipally owned stadium in the country. It was conveniently located, just minutes north of downtown, and the team took the ferry across the Bay to be motored by car to Balboa. From the outside, the concrete stadium looked impressive, but when the players ran out onto the field, they felt someone had trucked in a hunk of desert and poured water on it.

Bo was asked what he thought about the turf.

"Turf? Haven't seen any, yet." He added, "It's the worse I've ever seen, but we'll play on it, and do the best we can. After all, Arizona has to play on it also."

The field was "heavy," as the papers described it, from the recent rains, and the forecast didn't look like things were going to get any better soon. The locals were calling the weather, "Rather usual, I'd say. Rather unusual."

Wet field or not, Uncle Charlie and Tiny Thornhill put the squad through a brisk, 2-hour workout, mainly concentrating on the running game, as a wide open passing attack looked rather doubtful if the field conditions didn't improve. The coaches had the second team line up in what they felt would be Arizona defensive positions. They admitted, however, that they didn't know much about their upcoming opponent, and what little they knew had come from D.X. Bible, the coach at Uncle Charlie's old school, Texas A&M.

The University of Arizona got into San Diego in the evening of Saturday, December 24, having arrived too late to get in any practice. They had traveled over 600 miles in what seemed a circuitous way, but was the route which the trains took at the time.

From Tucson, they journeyed through Casa Grande and then Maricopa, south of Phoenix. Then they headed to Wellton, and west of Wellton, they entered California, after passing through Yuma.

From Yuma, their train pointed northwest and cruised through sleepy little Palm Springs, at the time the home to only 75 permanent residents, but already beginning to establish a reputation as a winter playground for the stars. Then it was on to Los Angeles where they boarded a southbound train to San Diego.

While the Arizona Wildcats were en route, the Colonels returned to The Del and washed the mud off, had lunch, and returned to the ferry landing to go back across the Bay where they were met by members of the "Kentucky State Society," under the leadership of W.B. Fritts, for a sightseeing tour of the San Diego area.

The team visited La Jolla, Mission Cliff Gardens, Balboa Park, and then the highlight was an excursion to Rockwell Air Depot at the Naval Base on North Island, the point just above and west to the hotel where the Colonels were staying.

San Diego Naval Station

Captain Randolph, one of Uncle Charlie's players at Texas A&M, was the host for a tour of the base. The white uniformed, career flyer, lead the Colonels around the base, explaining the features of the planes on the tarmac and in the hangers, and how they would be used in combat, if needed.

Uncle Charlie said it was a thrill to see one of his former players become so successful, and "what an outstanding career he has had."

"But then, all of my young men here are outstanding, and will be equally successful in their lives," the coach said to one of the many accompanying reporters.

Uncle Charlie could appear somewhat gruff, "but that's when we know he really cares. If Unc never got on us, we'd really be worried then," explained Minos Gordy.

At 5:00 P.M., Christmas Eve, the group once again ferried back to The Del. It had sprinkled off and on, and clouds from the west were looking more ominous, but the weather hadn't put a damper on the great day that the Colonels had experienced thus far.

That evening, it got even better.

The Louisville "Herald" carried one of Jop's dispatches which its readers read on Christmas morning.

The Kentuckians in San Diego, under the chairmanship of Thomas N. Faulconer, gave a real Christmas party tonight in the famous Coronado ballroom.

Santa Claus had decorated a 20-foot tree for the Centre crowd. The branches of the mighty cedar were weighed down with presents for the Colonels. These gifts, representative of the products of Southern California, were there for every member of the Danville party. There were bottles of ripe olives, tins of tuna fish, the "everlasting Japanese flowers,handsome descriptive booklets, dates, candies, confections, and fresh fruit, in addition to the many gifts which had been sent out to the team from all over Kentucky.

A 10 piece orchestra furnished Christmas music, and then two memorable hours of dancing rounded out a wonderfully memorable evening.

The members of the team requested this correspondent to send the folks back home their best wishes for a Merry, Merry Christmas.

Most of the Centre team awakened on Christmas morning away from them homes and families for the first time. Bill Shadoan had been overseas on a December 25, but for the others, being removed from family and friends left them somewhat homesick, with a feeling of nostalgia.

Uncle Charlie had recognized that very fact at the Christmas party the night before, and had spoken to the team privately before his boys turned in for the night.

"I want each of you to know how very proud I am of you, and how I have only heard compliments about you everywhere we have gone. I know it is somewhat difficult to be away on the holidays, but someday, you'll be sitting around the fire with your children or grandchildren visiting you for Christmas, and you'll  tell them about the great adventure out to the West in 1921, and you'll tell them about how you went to the horse races on Christmas, in Mexico!"

Uncle Charlie had saved the Christmas afternoon outing as a surprise.

"What do you mean, Unc?"

"I mean, we're going to church in the morning, and then we've been invited to go across the border to Tijuana where the owner of this beautiful hotel, who just happens to also own the race track there, Mr. John D. Spreckels, has arranged an afternoon in our honor."

Christmas day, 1921, indeed proved to be a day for the Colonels to remember and to talk about for all of their remaining days.

Everyone was up early on the morning of the 25th. There was a pianist playing Christmas songs in lobby which you could hear into the dining room. The Colonels were literally dressed in their "Sunday best." Hotel manager Turquand had his staff go to each of the player's rooms before they turned in after the party and collect clothes which were returned early the next morning, suits steamed, shirts washed, starched and on hangers.

As usual, the day's activities began with another ferry ride. The team was beginning to know each of the crew members and greeted them by name.

Once again, the "Kentucky Society" members chauffeured the team, this time to the First Presbyterian Church on Date Street, between 3rd and 4th. The red brick building had been dedicated in November, 1914, and sat on a sage-surrounded hill somewhat on the periphery of the downtown area.

The Colonels were getting used to be recognized everywhere that they went, and this time was no different. The minister gestured to the team and told the congregation that they were in the presence of "young men who are from Kentucky and are known all over the country as the 'Praying Colonels."'

Outside the sanctuary, those "Praying Colonels" shook hundreds of hands and were wished "Merry Christmas," "Welcome," and "Good Luck," by the parishioners.

Then it was off to the races, again courtesy of the "Society" members.

1921-1922 Program for the Tijuana Jockey Club

A formal invitation had been sent to Uncle Charlie by the president of the Tijuana Jockey Club, James Wood Coffroth. The town of Tijuana had a population of only 1028 in 1921 and would have seemed an unlikely site for a race track, but its location, right on the easily traversed border between San Diego and Baja California, made it an ideal location for one simple reason.

Betting was illegal in California, but quite the opposite was true in Mexico.

Entering Mexico for a day at the races in Tijuana

The Spreckels brothers, John and Adolph, took over the Jockey Club in 1916 and encouraged guests at the Coronado to frequent the track.

The announcement in the paper about the invitation to the races

The acceptance by Uncle Charlie to bring his team to the track had prompted publicity in the "Union," and it was announced that 2 races would be run in honor of the Colonels, the "Centre College Handicap," and the "Bluegrass Stakes," in honor of the "Kentucky Thoroughbreds."

Special races announced in honor of Centre's "famous Kentucky thoroughbreds"

A day at the races where the Colonels were the honored guests 

Before the "Handicap," the members of the team were brought out on the track and introduced to the crowd. Due to all of the press coverage since their arrival, they were well-known to most of the crowd, and received a standing ovation.

Throughout the racing card, a steady stream of fans came by and sought out the players.

"Just wanted to welcome you and shake your hand."

"Bo McMillin! Why honey, I never thought I'd get to meet you. Can I have just one little hug?"

Again, Red was heard to utter his favorite expression after he'd been seized by yet another adoring female fan.

"Tear my sox! Just tear my sox!"

After a memorable day, the Colonels were again transported back to the ferry landing, but this time, the trip across the Bay was much different. There had been a major downpour across the border in San Diego while the team was at the races, and gusts were creating white caps on the normally placid waters.

By the time they reached the big white hotel, it was raining so hard that the del Coronado could hardly be seen until they were literally upon it.

"Yes," the front desk clerk said, when asked if there was any forecast. "There does seem to be a severe storm predicted, which is quite unusual, I must say. Quite unusual weather, yes."