Wednesday, August 02, 2006

ESPN names Centre's 1921 win over Harvard as a "Biggest College Football Upset"

DANVILLE, KY—The C6-H0 spirit continues to seep into America's sporting consciousness. Last year, the New York Times' "This Day in Sports" described Centre College's 1921 victory over the highly favored Harvard team as "arguably the upset of the century in college football."

Now, another media heavyweight is acknowledging the magnitude of Centre's contribution to America sports history. Eighty-five years after the fact, ESPN will pay tribute to the Praying Colonels by featuring the victory over Harvard as part of Who's No. 1? Biggest College Football Upsets, a show scheduled to air Aug. 28 on ESPN Classic.

Check your local listings for how to view ESPN Classic in your area.

Below is a story on this essential part of Centre lore by Advocate-Messenger columnist Hal Morris. (Used with permission.)

ESPN ranks 1921 Centre-Harvard game among college football's greatest upsets


Notre Dame has its "Touchdown Jesus;" Centre College has the "Praying Colonels" and C6-H0.

On Oct. 29, 1921, Centre traveled up to Cambridge, Mass., to take on mighty Harvard, which beat Centre 31-14 the year before, was 17-0-2 in the previous two seasons, had seven national titles and was 5-0-1 with four shutouts entering the game.

But Centre quarterback Bo McMillin scored the game's only touchdown, breaking a Harvard tackle and scoring on a 33-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that stood as the Colonels pulled off the win. Centre went on to beat Clemson, Kentucky, Auburn and Arizona and finish 10-1.

And 85 years, later this monumental upset still stands up in the annals of college football lore. ESPN has ranked the Colonels' win as its third-biggest college football upset ever, and the game is part of "Who's No. 1? Biggest College Football Upsets," a show that will air Aug. 28 on ESPN Classic.

"I can't imagine. It's hard for me to grasp that Centre-Harvard is the (third)-biggest upset," said Rube Kubale, whose father, Ed, played center and was a team captain on the squad coached by "Uncle" Charlie Moran. "But I think that's probably true, it was a big upset from everything I've heard about it.

"Harvard was a great team, and this little ol' school from the sticks went up there, and Lord, they came away with the thing."

McMillin's youngest daughter, Jane Bubier, said her father may find it hard to believe people are still talking about this game close to a century later.

"I think he'd be a bit surprised because it was his nature to be surprised," she said. "I'm sure in his heart of hearts, he'd be pleased, but I don't think he'd tell anybody."

ESPN Classic staff compiled the list

The list was compiled by the staff at ESPN Classic, ESPN coordinating producer Chris Martens said. The top upset was Navy's 14-2 win over No. 1 Army in 1950, followed by Notre Dame snapping No. 2 Oklahoma's 47-game winning streak 7-0 in 1957. No. 4 was a win by Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon) win over No. 4 Notre Dame in 1926, a game Knute Rockne was so confident he would win, he skipped it to attend the Army-Navy game. Martens said he would list this game as the greatest upset.

ESPN's Web site gives a brief description of the game: "The subhead in The New York Times reads: 'Bo McMillin the Hero: Zigzags Through Whole Opposing Team for Only Touchdown of Game.' While McMillin doesn't go through the 'whole' Harvard team, he does go through a good portion of it on his scintillating run in the third period that gives Centre the stunning 6-0 upset. 'I am the happiest man in the world,' McMillin says."

This isn't the first time the Centre-Harvard game has made a national list. In 1950, the Associated Press listed Centre's win as the No. 3 upset in all of sports over the first half of the 20th century.

According to Centre director of communications Mike Norris, who says he's the school's "resident C6-H0 expert," the players on that team became national celebrities.

"They toured Hollywood, met movie stars and were the subject of innumerable articles. There was even a Bo McMillin board game," said Norris, who said the reason the game is still big is because it's a classic American story.

"It's the archetypal story of the underdog; Centre was so much smaller than Harvard," Norris said. "Also, there was prejudice against the South, and Centre was viewed as being in the South. And the fact these Southern boys went up there and give mighty Harvard a lesson in football captured the nation's attention."

One of the C6-H0 signs still remains

When news of the Centre win came over the teletype at one of the newspaper offices and was announced to the large crowd below, Norris said people went wild and painted C6-H0, all over town. One of those signs still remains on the wall outside the Centre post office.

"I've got more newspaper articles and memorabilia than you can shake a stick at," said Bubier, whose father went on to coach at Indiana University and later coached the NFL's Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles. "And all the book she was mentioned it. It's just so much fun to read about."

And getting to talk about the game, which happens less frequently every year, never gets old for Kubale.

"Lord, I'm tickled to death anytime anyone mentions it," he said.

But his father, also knows as "Mr. Ku," who later coached at Centre from 1929-37 and is third on the school's all-time wins list with 51, didn't talk much about the game. That is, until his old teammates were around.

"When any members of the team got together, you couldn't hear anything from all the chatter. They had a big time," Kubale said. "They were a very close-knit bunch of people."

Bubier said she never heard her father mention it either.

"Only with his teammates. He wasn't big into being famous for anything. He was a football coach all of his life," Bubier said. "He loved the boys and his work. He was just busy coaching these young men, he didn't dwell on what he'd done in the past. "

But the game is still being talked about after all these years. Norris said he has even seen a script for a movie about the game.

"I think that would be a very neat thing," Kubale said. "I sort of hope they do that."

Copyright The Advocate-Messenger 2006

Founded in 1819, Centre College is ranked among the U.S. News top 50 national liberal arts colleges. Centre alumni, known for their nation-leading loyalty in annual financial support, include two U.S. vice presidents and two Supreme Court justices. For more, visit

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