Chapter 73

December 26, 1921-The Christmas Bowl

Uncle Charlie had the foresight to bring extra long cleats along in the equipment trunk that accompanied the team, and he got several of the players and team manager Johnny McGee to help him screw them onto the black leather high-tops which every Colonel wore.

There was a light breakfast and a skull session before the Centre entourage once again headed to the ferry landing. The rain was coming down in sheets, blown by a strong wind coming in from the southwest. The ferry rolled from side to side, and several members of the team felt nauseous from the motion, but arrived at the opposite shore with their breakfasts still being digested.

The faithful San Diego "Kentucky Society" members met the team and transported them to Balboa Stadium. There was no let-up in the storm, and the wind, even away from the Bay, was just as brisk inland.

The Wildcats from Arizona arrived shortly after the Colonels and the two head coaches met with the officials to discuss the playing conditions. The four officials had been announced Saturday. Mourney Pfefferkorn, a local banker, was going to be the head linesman. J.R. Klawans, of the Pacific Coast Football Association, would be the field judge. The umpire was Dr. Boles Rosenthal, a University of Minnesota graduate who had played center for the Gophers, and was the team's captain in 1914. The referee was to be the same Bob Evans who had coached some of the Colonels back in Owensboro. Coach McKale had no problem with that.

The officials and coaches examined the field and, as they later stated, "It was a sea of mud."

The chalk marks which had designated the dimensions of the playing field were for the most part, long gone, so it was agreed that volunteers would stand along the sidelines, where the markers had been, so the players could try to stay within the boundaries.

Warm-ups were held to a minimum due to the weather. There was absolutely no let-up in the intensity of the rain.

Hump Tanner ran over to Red and hollered, "Look out big guy. Duck ! Duck!" When Red instinctively ducked, Hump began to laugh.

"It's raining cat and dogs. I just kept you from getting hit!"

Red burst out laughing.

"Hump, you little rascal. Wait till you need a block from me."

At 2:15, the captains, William Wofford for Arizona, and Army for Centre, were called to the-50 yard line for the coin toss.

Years later, Army and I were talking about the trip out West, and he said that the field conditions for the Arizona game were so bad, and there was so much mud and water, the official said, "Boys, I'm not going to flip this silver dollar and let it land on the ground like I usually do. I'm just going to close my hand around it. I'm afraid if I flip it, we'll never find it."

Arizona won the "toss" and elected to kick.

Amazingly, with such atrocious weather, a respectable crowd was gathering. Most of those who braved the conditions were totally covered with rain slicks, and there was hardly a soul who wasn't hunkered down under an open umbrella.

Very respectable crowd seen despite the game being played in a storm and on a field which resembled a muddy pond. Hump Tanner is seen without helmet 

Contemporary accounts placed the crowd at anywhere from 5,000 to 6,000 which was truly remarkable, especially considering those thousands from out of town who planned to come down to San Diego by train or car and were stranded at home by the storm, and the many locals who simply opted out due to the rain. 

Several photos taken during the game emphasize the way the Wildcats and Colonels found the field. There are reflections in the pictures which make it appear like the players are running around on a mirror, and it's hard to imagine that any game requiring movement could have been attempted.

Bo running the ball. A "mirror-like" surface

The first kick-off by Arizona's Smith resulted in a "foozle," according to a report, and the slick ball went sideways and out of bounds.

The second attempt by Smith rolled and slid all of the way to the Colonels' 15 yard line. Army finally ran it down and returned it 25 yards, and Centre had a first and 10 on its own 40.

The first drive was typical of the whole game, so let's recount it play by play.

Bo failed to gain on the opening play, slipping down as he tried to cut around his left end. Hump barreled ahead for 10 and picked up a 1st down, and Centre had the ball at midfield.

Bo picked up 5, Terry Snowday got another 5, and it was 1st and 10 on the Wildcats' 40.

Bo went around his right end for 7, Hump picked up another 6, and it was 1st down on the 27.

Bo carefully headed around his left end and got another 12, being brought down when an Arizona back literally ripped off his jersey when he threw the Colonels' quarterback to the mud.

Time was called while Bo replaced his jersey.

When play resumed, Centre had 1st and 10 on the 15.

Three line plunges took the ball to the 3. It was 1st and goal for the Gold and White.

Red Roberts shifted to fullback and powered over for the score. The wet ball scooted off Bo's foot and was far wide to the left on the extra point attempt.

The opening series summed up the game. Centre could move the ball at will, even with the horrible field conditions, and would continue to do so throughout the contest.

There was no need to pass, but when Arizona stacked its defense expecting the Colonels to run, Bo wasn't hesitant to go to the air even with the ball so slick and slippery.

Arizona chose a very unique strategy. The team which was scored on had the choice of either kicking or receiving. Arizona chose to kick!

That was another point that Army and I talked about. He said it was the strangest strategy. How do you score if you don't have the ball? Army said that the only thing they could figure was that Arizona had so little confidence in its offense that it kicked, hoping we'd fumble the slick ball deep in our own territory.

There just didn't seem to be any other explanation.

After Arizona kicked, Centre repeated the pattern of the initial possession except that Bo mixed up the attack a bit by completing 2 passes to Red, one for 10 yards and the other for 12. Bo picked up the final 3 yards to complete the drive.

Again, the point after attempt was wide, and it was Centre, 12-0.

Action in the quagmire at Balboa Stadium 

Arizona kicked off again! All that the Centre players could do was shake their heads and be thankful for the gift of the ball. "Cross Buck" had written that Arizona felt that the best defense was a good offense. But how did a team display that "best offense" if it never had possession of the ball?

The initial quarter ended with the Colonels up 12-0.

Four minutes into the 2nd quarter, Army finished off a long drive by going in from the 4-yard line. The kick was missed again, and it stood at 18-0.

Arizona chose to kick- again! It was getting weird!

The 4th possession was highlighted by a 40 yard pass from Army to Snowday, but Chick Murphy replaced Snowday after the completion and fumbled the slippery ball away on the Wildcats' 20 yard line.

Except for the Arizona kicker holding the ball before he kicked off, it was the first time that a Wildcat had touched the ball, and it was well into the 2nd quarter.

The Arizona quarterback, little Slonaker, attempted a pass which fell incomplete. The Wildcats' ran into the line for no gain, and of course, punted!

After one of Bo's passes was intercepted, Arizona's halfback, Manzo, picked up 2 and on second down, the Wildcats punted again!

Centre ran 2 plays and the half ended with the Colonels up, 18-0.

It had been a strange half, to say the least. Arizona had run a total of 3 offensive plays in 30 minutes of football. The Wildcats gained a total of 2 yards, had no 1st downs, had kicked off 4 times, and punted twice.

Meanwhile, despite competing on the worse surface they'd ever encountered, the Colonels played as always. The fumble and interception were certainly understandable under the conditions. Otherwise, it had been a flawless 1st half.

Everyone in the press box wondered,  "What in the world is Arizona trying to prove?"

A non-bylined story appeared in the San Diego "Union."


Arizona chose strange tactics. They elected to let Centre have the ball during all of the first half. In the first period, not a Wildcat claw touched the oval in the entire 15 minutes of play. Centre received the kickoff and never gave up the egg save when they scored a touchdown, and again and again, Arizona chose to kick!

Centre made fine use of the Wildcats' generosity. They were only too willing to take the offensive, and charge they did with vigor and determination which left nothing to the imagination.

Just when things seemed like they couldn't get worse, they did. It was one of those "good news, bad news" situations. While the players were breaking for the half, the torrential rain began to slacken, reaching just a drizzle when the teams returned to the field. But as the downpour eased up, fog began to roll in off the bay which was a little over a mile to the west.

Soon, it was hard to follow the action on the field, and the fans moved back and forth in the stands, trying to stay as close to where the ball was marked as possible.

Arizona displayed a little offense in the second half. The Wildcats came out in dry jerseys, but other than Bo removing his socks and pads, the Colonels entered the second half in their mud-smeared, soaked uniforms.

Red kicked off and nearly fell down as he approached the ball. The result was a spinning effort which barely made it past midfield, and Arizona recovered it on its own 45. For the first time, the Wildcats' fans had something to cheer about, because it looked like their team was actually going to try to move the ball!

Hobbs ran for 10 and Arizona was on Centre's side of the field! Suddenly, the Wildcats' bench and fans seemed to awaken and get into the game. Slonaker then completed a 10 yard toss to the team captain, William Wofford, and it was 1st and 10 on the Colonels' 35. Slonaker went to the air again, and hit Broderick for 9, and Hobbs picked up the additional yard and Arizona was moving!

"Go Wildcats!"

Centre hadn't given up a point since that fluke scored by St. Xavier in the 3rd game of the season. The Colonels didn't plan on giving up a point in San Diego.

Army called timeout and gathered the team around him. It was a typical Army moment, calm but firm

"Boys, we vowed at the start of the season that we wouldn't let anybody score on us. We have come close to our goal. Now, I want you to toughen it up. There is no way that this group should be able to score. Get tough. Remember, we are Centre!"

Hobbs gained 5 and then 2. It was 3rd and 3 on the 18.

Slonaker tried another pass and Hump raced over and batted it down. Another pass fell incomplete in the end zone. It was a touchback, and Centre had it 1st and 10 on its own 20.

"We are Centre!"

The Colonels went to work immediately. Bo picked up 10, Red crashed through for 5 and the wind seemed to go out of Arizona's sails as Bo zig-zagged down the field for a 35-yard gain. Just like that, Centre had the ball on the Wildcats' 30 yard line.

Army picked up 10 on 2 carries, Snowday ripped around right end for 17, and then Snowday got the call again and ran over tackle, untouched.

Centre had marched 80 yards in 7 plays with machine-like precision. Bo got the first extra point. Centre 25-0, which was how it stood as the 3rd quarter ended.

Uncle Charlie substituted freely in the last period, eventually getting 20 men into the game.

The Colonels scored twice in the last quarter.

Herb Covington fielded a punt on his 50, faked left and then cut back down the right sideline, water flying off his shoes, and crossed the goal without a Wildcat anywhere near.

Red put the extra point through the crossbar for a 32-0 lead.

For whatever reason, down 32-0 and with the last period half over, Arizona chose to kick! If the Wildcats were going to make a gift of the ball, the Colonels figured they might as well just play their own game, and well they did.

Bo returned the kick 20 yards, hit Red for 15, swept around end for another 22, let Tom Bartlett and Red alternate at fullback while they marched it to the 3, and Bo decided it was time for "Long Tom" to score and handed off the ball to him so that he scored the final points in what ended up being a 38-0 win.

After the game, a reporter named Robert Edgren asked referee Bob Evans what his impressions were about the boys who wore the gold jerseys.

"Well," said Mr. Evans said, "The thing I noticed was the cussing. I've refereed a lot of games, but I never heard anything like it before. The University of Arizona was just average at cussing. They had a few novel expressions that they must have learned out there in the desert, but nothing at all startling to the trained ear. I don't know that Stanford or some of the Coast teams couldn't laid them over in originality and emphasis."

"But Centre! That's what struck me. Not a man in the lineup used a single cuss word. Bo McMillin did all of the cussing for the Centre team. I never heard anything like the line that Bo pulled. The strongest word that he used was 'Marvelous!' Every time he snapped it out, you could see the whole team as if he'd whip-lashed them. When he wanted variety, he'd say 'Wonderful!'"

"Wonderful! Just Wonderful!" 

"Marvelous! Simply Marvelous!"

Evans continued, "There isn't a cuss word known that as is insulting to his men than to hear 'Wonderful! or 'Marvelous!' Pretty soon they're so mad that they play even harder, it that's possible."

"Bo is some general, I'll say," went on Evans. "He see everything and criticizes every man if he doesn't play his position. After some plays, he'd yell, 'Marvelous!' You didn't play out far enough on the end- you're way up to high- you can't stop them that way!"

"It was funny the line of talk that Centre had. They'd call out to each other, 'Take the mail to the town, boy,' or 'Take this one up North!' " 

"Bo McMillin kept up a line on offense. He'd say, 'Look out, I'm going around end this time, and I'm swinging wide.' Then he'd do it." 

"In the final period, Bartlett was in for Armstrong. Centre had the ball near Arizona's goal. Bo was calling the plays and signals."

"Bo called out to Roberts to take it in, then changed his mind and asked Bartlett if he'd scored yet, and Bartlett said he hadn't."

"So, Bo told Red he should get back in the line because it was Bartlett's turn to score. He hollered to Red to take out the left side of the Arizona line because that was where Bartlett was going to carry the ball."

"Bartlett made it. Arizona knew he was coming-they clearly hear Bo tell him where to run-and they couldn't stop it. It was that easy to score! They took turns scoring a touchdown. One each for Red, Bo, Army, Snowday, Covington, and Bartlett."

It was hard to get a handle on the contest. Centre was obviously the far better team, and the sportswriters covering the game felt that on a dry field the Colonels could have scored as many points as they had wished.

Three of the Colonels who totally outclassed Arizona- from the San Francisco "Examiner"

Arizona had only surrendered 30 points all season. Centre scored 38 on an absolutely terrible field, 

No one could understand Arizona's tactics, and Coach McKale never offered an explanation. The boys from Tucson picked up 5 1st downs, but after getting to the Centre 18 early in the 3rd quarter, never threatened again. Centre, even on an atrocious field, had 32.

Fans after seeing Centre in action felt that the Colonels could have beaten California

Probably the best "feel" for the game can be gained by what the "Union" said in its next morning edition.

                                            BO AND MATES TAKE WILDNESS OUT OF WILDCATS

Centre won 38-0. Field sloppy. Weather raining. On a fast gridiron, in my humble estimation, Centre could have made it 75-0.

Arizona had no business in the same park with the famous Kentucky Colonels. They were outclassed from the start. Of all the Western champions, only California could have stood toe to toe with Centre yesterday. So closely would they have been matched that the breaks of luck may have decided the battle.

Sockless for the reason that wet woolens may have cut down on his speed, Bo McMillin packed the ball the majority of times that it was in the Colonels' possession, and he lived up to all of his advance notices. He was one Eastern satellite brought West who lived up to predictions.

Bo skidded all over the soggy field in a manner that dazzled. He broke loose continuously for 20 and 30 yard runs. His slippery clothing made him even more elusive and difficult to tackle. Like an eel was Bo. There was no stopping the stalwart Kentuckian. He snapped out his signals and then executed deeds of daring back of the stone wall of his line. His passing was brilliant, and he was successful even though he was throwing a slippery ball.

The teaming of McMillin with Red Roberts leading the way provided a force that Arizona was unable to stop. Red served as a Roman shield for McMillin. Roberts roved around the field, first playing end, then tackle and then at full when brought into the backfield to serve as a battering ram for Bo, or to carry the ball when a sure gain was needed.

Red would plough through with such strength that there was no stopping his charge.

He smote the Wildcat line and rent it asunder, leaving a huge path for the speedy McMillin, who made every use of the open channel. The red-haired behemoth, doubly noticeable by the white band he wore in place of a helmet, made Roberts stand out like a beacon light in a fog. And there was fog, too-no foolin'. A genuine Portland afternoon it was-with a heavy drizzle pouring steadily, while a low mist moved in from the Bay, making the players scarcely discernable, and giving them an appearance of specters running around in the night.

Centre showed speed and dash in the attack, before which Arizona was helpless. The Kentuckians marched down the field almost at will. Through tackle and around ends, the heavy Centre men assaulted their lighter foes for consistent gains. Generally it was McMillin you found breaking loose. Sometimes Bartlett, Armstrong, Tanner, Snowday, Murphy, or Covington. Centre just had too many horses, too much talent.

Covington, inserted into the line-up in the second half, was the author of the most spectacular stunt of the day. On an Arizona punt to midfield, "Covey" snared it on a bounce and followed his perfect interference down the sideline 50 yards to a touchdown.

The writer ended his story by expressing a sentiment that nearly every football fan on the West Coast shared.

Centre is unquestionably the greatest college football team to ever come out of the East to play the West. The businesslike way in which they went about their work under the field generalship of Bo McMillin- one of the greatest players the gridiron has ever known- made a deep impression on the Western experts.

It is actually a crime to athletics that the University of California didn't oppose the brilliant array of Kentuckians which yesterday displayed their sterling worth on our watery, slippery, skiddy stadium, a place where almost any other team would have tried straight football and line smashing- but where Centre revealed an amazing speed and power which the West can never forget.

A front page story in the "Union" added facts about the sportsmanship which had been displayed in the Christmas Bowl.

The final shot signaled the end of the game, and the mud-covered boys from far-off Kentucky and nearby Arizona gathered in little groups to cheer each other with a final yell, a yell which was a tribute to prowess and grit from each.

And just as the echoes of the yells died away, the setting sun ran a rosy shaft almost through the clouds of mist which a few minutes before had nearly hidden the players from view. And in that way, San Diego's first big football game had come to an end.

There was nobody in the crowd who was not ready for another one every year.

Centre was now 10-0 for the year. The Colonels had scored 320 points and only given up 6. They had not only played in Danville, but Cincinnati, Lexington, Cambridge, Birmingham, Louisville, New Orleans and now San Diego. A writer for the Boston "Globe" pointed out that since Cincinnati was in Ohio which bordered Lake Erie, Boston was on the Atlantic, New Orleans, near the Gulf of Mexico, and San Diego was on the Pacific, Centre was the only college football team in the country which could claim the championship of "all four quadrants of this immense country."

And furthermore, the "Globe" stated that Bo by himself had outscored the teams that Centre had played in those four quadrants. Bo got 14 in Cincinnati on 2 touchdowns and 2 extra points, 6 against Harvard, 9 points on a TD and 3 extra points in New Orleans, and 7 points on a TD and extra point in San Diego.

The team had been away from home for eleven days, living out of steamer trunks and suitcases, being entertained everywhere they went, and providing entertainment for their adoring fans in each location they visited. And just as importantly, the way that the Colonels conducted themselves assured that they had made lifelong friends for their little beloved school back in Danville, Kentucky.

It was a happy but tired group that made its way once again across the Bay, and the sanctuary of the del Coronado.