C6-H0 – The Centre Harvard Game of 1921
Valarie H. Ziegler
Centre College Class of 1976
As practically anyone who grew up in Kentucky knows, the Centre College football team defeated Harvard in 1921 by a score of six to nothing. In losing to the smallest college it had ever played, Harvard suffered its first intersectional defeat in four decades. Coming as it did at a time in which football was the most outstanding spectator sport in the nation, the game had such an impact on the sporting world that in 1950 the Associated Press named it the upset of the half century. For one glorious moment Centre College was, as the New York Times noted, catapulted into the center of the football universe.
Not surprisingly, Kentuckians made outlandish claims about their team. “In every nook and cranny of the universe where deeds of mighty men of Caucasian races are recited, its achievements are known,” trumpeted the Louisville Herald. The Lexington Herald contented itself with the observation that the Colonels were, in many respects, the greatest football team the world had ever known. The Danville Advocate, mourning that no worlds remained to be conquered, was even less restrained. “CENTRE WINS,” the headlines screamed. “McMillin, The Hero of the Football World, President of the United States for Time Being. He Is The Great Effulgent Star.” As for the work of the team’s linemen, the paper’s delirious congratulations knew no limits: “The Line! The Impregnable Line! Held The Bridge, So Harvard’s Mightiest Could Not Cross It – The Line, The Line, Drink Hardy, The Line! – God Bless The Line!… God Bless Our Team, each and all of them.”
Perhaps even more astonishing than the compliments its worshipful fans paid the team was the fact that much of what was said also happened to be true. George Trevor of the New York Sun has aptly remarked that the Centre-Harvard game was perhaps the most romantic chapter of America’s gridiron annals. As he noted, the story – “an unbeatable combination of sure-fire wow, the more gripping because they were founded on fact, and not trumped up by publicity agents” – had all the elements necessary to create a legend. The Centre-Harvard game needed no mythical embellishments. The history of the 1921 Centre College team was just as colorful and unbelievable as any fantasy or tall tale that has emerged as part of the lore surrounding the team. C6-H0 – The Centre Harvard Game of 1921
Indeed, the closer we come to the facts of the matter, the more it is apparent that seemingly impossible images – of a team that prayed and cried together; of a star quarterback who earned his way through college by gambling; of a coach who brought a belt to practice to encourage stragglers and who then stayed after practice to repair uniforms; of a town that went absolutely berserk when its team won the big game – were all at one time quite real. The Praying Colonels of 1921 were the kind of team about which legends are made, but the team itself was just as remarkable as any legend ever was or could be.
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