Friday, October 29, 2010

October 29, 1921: C6H0

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - The third quarter was barely two minutes old when Centre College quarterback Bo McMillin walked up to the huddle. The Praying Colonels (seriously) were 30 yards from the end zone in a scoreless tie against powerful Harvard. Little did anybody know the shock that was about to happen.

Centre should have been overpowered, or at the very least intimidated. The Ivy League schools were the dominant forces in the early days of college football, with Harvard often in a tight battle with Yale and Princeton for the league title. Harvard was especially good in the years after World War I, and entered the October 29, 1921, game having gone unbeaten in its last 25 games, a 22-0-3 stretch.

Centre College, meanwhile, was barely qualified to be on the same field as Harvard. With an enrollment of barely more than 200 students, the school paled in size to mighty Harvard, and their presence on the schedule was seen as merely filler. But in 1920, Centre had surprised many observers by taking a 14-7 lead against Harvard. The game was tied 14-14 as late as the third quarter before Harvard pulled away, with many people saying that Centre had pulled a minor upset simply by staying that close to the Crimson.

And now they were doing it again. Centre had gotten as far as the Harvard 32 in the first half, but had missed a field goal to keep the game scoreless. Their next good opportunity came early in the second half, as they drove to the 30.

From there, McMillin entered into college football lore forever. Calling his own number, McMillin followed a lead block through the right side of the line, then cut back against the grain to run to the left. He had open field in front of him, but two Harvard defenders had the angle on him. As he got to the sideline, McMillin stopped, allowing the two Harvard players to run past him, before continuing on to the end zone. Though he was caught from behind, he got the ball across the goal line before going down, giving Centre a shocking 6-0 lead.

The missed extra point seemed to give Harvard some hope, but that didn't last. Harvard couldn't get close to the end zone, and Centre had a shocking victory.

Centre had become the first team from outside the east coast to beat Harvard, Yale, or Princeton, and they had snapped Harvard's 25-game winning streak. Though seen as a big upset, it might not have been as big as people originally thought. Centre ended up winning its first 10 games that year by a combined score 314-6, beating teams like Virginia Tech, Auburn, and Clemson. Centre didn't lose until a bowl game loss to Texas A&M in January. Meanwhile, Harvard lost two more games that season and started to fall back from its lofty position on college football.

Despite what happened afterward, the game was still seen as a monumental upset. The celebrations began instantly; students from MIT who had come simply to cheer against Harvard stormed the field, carrying McMillin off the field on their shoulders and tearing down the goalposts. In Danville, Kentucky, where Centre was located, the students went crazy, spray-painting "C6H0" on every building they could find. Until the 1990s, one such marking remained, displayed on the side of the post office and protected from the elements by an overhanging roof. It remained as a reminder of the day that Centre College was the center of the college football world.

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