Chapter 86

October 14, 1922 - Virginia Tech

As Centre was getting ready for the Virginia Tech game, the S.I.A.A. was contacted to check on the status of Bill Shadoan and Minos Gordy.

No decision was yet forthcoming.

"You're aware that our players have absolutely denied receiving any payments over the summer?"

"You're aware that we're playing Harvard on October 21?"

"You're aware that we'll be representing the S.I.A.A. and the South?"

"You're aware how important these two men are to us, that they started the game last year in Cambridge?"

Uncle Charlie and Jim Bond continued to have Shadoan and Gordy work out with the team, hoping to hear any day from the S.I.A.A. However, the preparations for the Tech game were made with the realization that the two linemen probably wouldn't be available.

The game was to be played in Richmond, Virginia. It would be the 3rd straight year that the two schools had met.

The 1920 game in Louisville resulted in Centre winning, 28-0. The team met in Danville in 1921, and the Colonels ground out a tough 14-0 win.

Announcement in the Richmond "Times" 

This year's game was to be played at Richmond's Mayo Island Park, home of the Colts, a minor league baseball team. The Colonels worked out on the field after the ride over from Danville.

Once again, the Colonels were to draw record crowds

The stadium was located on Mayo's Island in the James River. Major league teams stopped at Richmond on the way back from training in Florida, and Babe Ruth hit the longest homer ever recorded, according to local lore, when he belted one during the previous spring.

The "Bambino" powered a pitch over the fence toward a railroad track, landing the ball in a passing coal car, "and it hasn't been found to this day!"

Centre had second thoughts about the VPI game. It was going to be a long ride to Richmond, leaving on Thursday and not arriving back in Danville until Sunday evening, and then the team would have to head to Boston on the following Wednesday.

The coaches remembered what had happened in Dallas against A&M. Too much time on a train seemed to dull the team's sharpness.

Richmond had gone all out in preparation for the game and there wasn't any way to call it off or switch it to another date.

So, Centre had a plan. The team would go to Richmond, actually stay over Saturday night for a function planned by their hosts at the team's headquarters, Murphy's Hotel.

Murphy's Hotel, Centre's headquarters in Richmond, Virginia 

Then the plan was to head out Sunday morning to Mansfield, Massachusetts, west of Boston, and stay at a hotel and restaurant called The Tavern, and prepare there for Harvard.

The Tavern- Mansfield, Massachusetts, proposed site for Centre to stay en route to Boston for the 3rd Harvard game

That way, a lot of time on the train spent going back to Danville and then heading to the East wouldn't be necessary. The squad would only be 20 miles from Boston at Mansfield. A fleet of cars driven by Centre alumni and other Kentuckians had been arranged to take the team into Boston and the Lenox Hotel after a Thursday morning practice.

It seemed like a sensible solution and would let the Colonels arrive in great shape for the Harvard game. All of the plans and reservations had been completed.

The best laid plans are often made impossible to implement by events beyond ones control.

Howard Reynolds, the staunch Centre supporter, had spent the week covering the Princeton football team and then came to Richmond to take in the Centre-VPI game in order to again report back to his Boston "Post" paper on Harvard's upcoming opponent.

Reynolds said that while he was in Princeton, the Tigers' coach, Bill Roper, asked him, "What's going on with Centre? Do they go to school just so they can play football?"

Reynolds also said that an Eastern writer had written a column in which he asked, "Why doesn't Centre send its football team to the Orient, and award them diplomas when they return?"

Roper had also said that there were comments being circulated in the East that Centre was, "just a football factory."

Howard Reynolds considered Uncle Charlie a friend, not just a source of a good story, and he was concerned.

Uncle Charlie was incredulous.

"I don't understand, Howard. It's true, yes, that we plan to go to Massachusetts after the game here in Richmond, but we have a professor from the school traveling with us. We've gotten the faculty's permission. We've packed the boy's books, and they will have 2 hours of instructions every day."

Reynolds was empathetic. He'd been on Centre's campus. He knew that the team members were responsible for keeping up their grade averages. He and Eddie Mahan had left Danville completely convinced that Centre had an honorable, clean program, or else they would never have advocated that Harvard put Centre on its schedule.

"But I just wanted you to know what is being said, Charlie"

"Did you hear that Harvard was saying such things?"

"Not a word from Harvard," Reynolds said. "I'll guarantee it."

"That's all that is really important, what Harvard thinks," Uncle Charlie said.

Then the Centre mentor pointed out that Centre had to travel more than any team in the country.

"Harvard plays nearly all of its games at home. Princeton and Yale do the same. The only way we can schedule colleges with reputations is to play on their turf, or at a neutral place like here in Richmond. You've seen our stadium, and you know how hard it is to even get a place to stay overnight in Danville. We have to travel all over the country in order to play decent teams."

Uncle Charlie was certainly correct. In 1919, Harvard only played Princeton on the road until going to Pasadena to play in the Rose Bowl. In 1920, the Crimson traveled only to Yale. In 1921, the only trip was again to Princeton. Thus far in 1922, Harvard's 3 games had been played in the friendly confines of the big horseshoe on the Charles.

Thus, during that period, Harvard had played 32 games, and 28 were at home.

Princeton had taken the field at their Palmer Stadium 20 times since 1919. They had traveled to Yale twice, Harvard once, and to Annapolis one time to play Navy.

Yale had played 29 games since 1919, and 26 had been in its big bowl.

Overall, the "Big 3" had contested 87% of their games at home, and when they traveled, except for Harvard's trip to Pasadena, it wasn't far.

By contrast, Centre had played 34 games, and 22, or approximately 65%, had been road games.

"We have to travel. They don't. How can they criticize us?"

Reynolds said he understood.

"But you know how it is, Charlie. The perception becomes reality for folks, and the perception is that Centre is emphasizing sports at the expense of studies."

Uncle Charlie wasn't going to allow that to happen, no matter that Centre had to compete in a way which was different from the Eastern schools, especially the "Big 3." He immediately got busy and cancelled the plan to head to Mansfield from Richmond and made arrangements for the Colonels to return to Danville after the game.

The news about Centre canceling the trip to Massachusetts after the VPI game had reached Richmond

"Howard, I wouldn't do anything, not one thing, to tarnish the reputation of Centre College. We'll go back to Danville. I'm not going to allow anyone, anywhere, to make accusations like you have reported. I know they aren't true. Sure, we play hard, but we play fair and clean, and we run an honorable program."

Howard Reynolds said he agreed.

"But I also agree with what you are doing. I think it is best for Centre College."

Of course, had Centre not been so dominating on the gridiron, such sentiments would never have been expressed. Success had its price and came with the territory.

Virginia Tech was playing good football. The Blacksburg college was 7-3 in 1921, having lost to Centre, Maryland by 10-7, and W&L by 3-0.

Thus far in 1922, the Hokies were 3-0.

VPI  38        Hampden-Sydney  0
VPI  25        King College (Tn.)  0
VPI  20        William and Mary  0

 Centre's game with VPI was one of the most colorful contests in which the Colonels ever participated.

Tech contracted to bring the entire Corps of Cadets over to Richmond from Blacksburg on a specially chartered train, and 700 students, in full uniform, disembarked at the station and lined up in formation behind the school's band. The local John Marshall High School band got in position behind the Cadets, and then the entire throng marched through downtown Richmond with cheering spectators lining the route, clapping and waving and then falling in behind to go to Mayo Island and the game.

                                                                         Mayo Island Park, site of the Centre-VPI game. 

The Richmond "News Leader" described the scene, printing 46,669 copies of a "Special Edition" right after the game.

The largest crowd of football fans in the history of sporting events in Richmond witnessed the game. Every available point of vantage, where even a partial view of the field could be obtained, was crowded with spectators. The framework of the railroad viaduct and points on the bridge and roofs of the nearby factories were filled with people, some of them keeping their eyes on the game with field glasses.

The crowd was estimated at over 15,000, and the gate receipts are placed at $25,000.

By 2:00, there wasn't an empty seat to be had. Hundreds were standing in the promenades around the gridiron. The Tech and John Marshall bands took turns in rendering popular airs. The Tech team entered the field at 2:20 and drew an immense outburst of applause. The squad immediately began to go through their formations.

Centre took the field after Tech had entered, led by Red Roberts. Their entry was the cause of another swell of applause, the John Marshall band greeting them. The "Praying Colonels" then went through a short signal drill.

In addition to having Bill Shadoan and Minos Gordy unavailable, the Colonels were minus another lineman who was a vital part of the team. Dick Gibson, a tackle who weighed in at 180 pounds, had been summoned home to Louisville due to the death of his father. The streak of unfortunate events continued.

The VPI game was tough, just what Centre needed to get ready for Harvard, and then some.

The Hokies scored the first points. Red hauled in a Covey pass but fumbled at midfield and VPI recovered. It took 11 plays, but the Virginians methodically moved down the field and finally took it in. The extra point was missed, and it was 6-0, the touchdown being the first points that Centre had surrendered during 1922.

Centre moved the ball fairly well during the rest of the 1st quarter, getting three first downs. VPI had 4, all coming on the scoring drive.

The 2nd quarter began with the Colonels in possession of the ball on the Hokies 35. After failing to convert a first down, Covey tried a long field goal, kicking from the 45, but it fell short. The rest of the period was played back and forth, neither team really threatening. The half ended with Centre finding itself in the unusual situation of having VPI hold a considerable advantage in first downs, 9 to 4.

Centre had been outplayed. There was no other way to describe it. The crowd stood and cheered as the purple and white clad Virginians left the field after a great 30 minutes of football.

Both the VPI and John Marshall High bands put on a spirited halftime show, playing separately, and then lined up together for the VPI fight song, "Tech Triumph," which ended,

So give a Hokie, Hokie, Hokie, Hi,

Rae, Ri, old VPI.

The crowd smelled a possible upset, but except for the diehard Hokie fans, feelings were somewhat ambivalent. Sure, many thought, we'd like to see a team from Virginia win, but Centre had gone up to that bastion of the Yankees, Boston, and beaten their best. There was no more "South" than Richmond, Virginia, and the Colonels were going back "North" in a week to once again do battle in "enemy territory." There was no small number of actual Civil War veterans in the crowd, men now well up into their 70's, and old loyalties are a tremendously strong bond.

It was later said that much of the capacity crowd wanted Tech to do well, to make a "good showing," but for Centre to actually win.

Red boomed a kick deep to start the 2nd half. VPI ran it back to the 20 but had to punt.

The entire quarter was a defensive standoff. Centre picked up two first downs, VPI but one, and the 3rd period ended with the Hokies still up, 6-0.

There were 4 punts during the quarter. Centre intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble.

Before the last period began, Red called the team around him. The Colonels were going to start the 4th quarter with good field position. As the teams changed ends of the field, Centre had the ball, 2nd and 9 on the VPI 23.

"We score now, we win," Red said. "We want to go to Harvard undefeated. Give it your all. We are Centre! We are Centre!"

Covey took the pass from center on the initial play of the last period and failed to gain.

The Hokies were playing tough.

3rd and 9.

Terry Snowday took a hard hit on the next play and got only a single yard. 4th and 8.

Covey then hit Tom Bartlett on what was probably the most important play of the game. The pass covered 15 yards before Bartlett was brought down.

1st and goal on the Hokies' 7.

Everyone was on their feet. The Cadet Corps was chanting, "Hold! Hold! Hold! Hold!"

On the first play after the yard marker was moved, Covington followed Red around his left end. The Centre captain literally swept the defenders away, knocking them off balance and onto the turf. Covey dashed into end zone untouched.

Hennie Lemon kicked the important extra point. It was 7-6, Centre.

Colonels' fans were breathing a bit easier, but there was still a lot of time left.

After the kickoff, VPI put together an excellent drive and moved the ball downfield to the Centre 17. The Hokies were within field goal range and looked like they may wrestle the lead back. On 4th and 2, it appeared that they had a 1st down when Wallace gained 4, but there was a holding penalty which moved the ball back to the Centre 32.

Now, a field goal would have to travel 40 yards and be less probable, but VPI made the attempt, and the kick was short.

Centre took over on the 20, could only pick up 8 yards on 3 plays and punted to the Tech 35. The ball was juggled and Lemon recovered it. The Colonels picked up 2 first downs, moving it to the 15. After VPI hung tough, Covey split the uprights with a field goal.

Centre, 10-6.

VPI had no choice as time wound down but to go to the air, but the Colonels intercepted and were able to run out the clock.

The reporter's comment about Centre being "forced to uncover their bags of tricks" indicates no awareness of the "lock-step" formation that Uncle Charlie planned to unveil the following week against Harvard. 

The first down margin ended with the Hokies up 13-10, the first time in a long streak when Centre had come up short.

Herb Covington proved to be the difference in the game. The little quarterback had taken over Bo's position and was beginning to make people realize that life went on without the famous McMillin. Few people could have stepped into such a pressure filled spot and performed so creditably. Covey gained 149 yards in 28 attempts, averaging 5.3 yards per carry, and he accounted for 9 of the Colonels' points.

The two teams met at midfield and gave cheers for each other's efforts.

Hokies, Hokies, rah, rah, rah!

Colonels, Colonels, rah, rah, rah!

It had been a hard-fought, cleanly played game. Uncle Charlie and VPI's coach, Ben Cubbage, met out on the field and gave each other a warm hug. Cubbage wished Centre success in the upcoming game in Cambridge.

The Centre coach left the field feeling that his team had dodged a bullet. He had only used 6 plays, not wanting to give away any of his plans to eyes in the stands, two of which belonged to the starting quarterback for Harvard, Charles Buell.

The Crimson were playing Bowdoin while Centre and VPI went at it, and Coach Fisher felt that his team could win with a second string quarterback. It was a measure of the importance that Harvard placed on the upcoming rubber match with Centre that Buell was sent to Richmond to scout the Colonels.

Howard Reynolds accompanied the team back to Danville after the game. He typed out his story and hopped off in Lexington to hand it to a Western Union operator.

Reynolds said that Uncle Charlie was happy to escape from Richmond with a win, and that the Colonels had suffered no significant injuries.

However, he reported there was now a new worry. Several players were complaining of sore throats. Tom Bartlett, Hump Tanner, Hennie Lemon, Terry Snowday, Ed Kubale and Howard Lynch all felt ill, with Bartlett having rather severe symptoms.

First two starters, Bill Shadoan and Minos Gordy, had been declared ineligible. Red's sister, and the fathers of John Hunter and Dick Gibson, had died. Now, 6 starters were ill. What else could possibly occur?

VPI proved during the rest of their season that the strength displayed against Centre was no fluke. The week following the game in Richmond, the Hokies traveled to North Carolina and tied Davidson. They then reeled off 5 straight wins, beating Catholic University, Maryland, North Carolina State, W&L and VMI to finish at 8-1-1, tying Vanderbilt for 3rd in the inaugural year of the twenty-member Southern Conference.

The two colleges played again twice after the 3 games of 1920-22, with VPI winning 28-0 in 1939, and 10-6 in 1940, long after the Colonels' days of glory were but memories.