Remembering a Forgotten Upset

The Praying Colonels did just that. When Centre came back to Cambridge in 1921, both teams were undefeated.

Though The Harvard Crimson acknowledged that the Colonels were greatly improved from the 1920 team, the newspaper never gave the team a real shot.

“The southerners enter the struggle today with odds, as far as actual victory is concerned, against them,” The Crimson wrote in a preview of the Harvard-Centre game. “Centre undoubtedly has a stronger combination than that which faced the Crimson last fall. This fact, however, does not necessarily imply that the southerners have as powerful a team as the Penn Staters.”

Once again, the two teams went into halftime tied, 0-0. But this time, the Centre defense continued to stifle Harvard’s offensive efforts, and a touchdown from McMillin was all the offense the Praying Colonels needed.

For Centre, it was—and probably still is—the biggest win in the history of the program.


“It put Centre on the map. Of course, Harvard was already on the map, but it put Centre on the map,” Robertson said. “It was a very defining period for Centre, to be able to be at least associated in the same sentence with Harvard.”

All around the tiny town of Danville, people celebrated with what became an iconic set of four symbols: C6H0. Centre 6, Harvard 0.

The signs popped up all around the town, and, even 90 years later, a few of the original markings still exist.

“[C6H0] was anyplace you could reach with a paint bucket and a brush,” Robertson said. “It was on the front of the main administrative building … Every building, every store window, [and] many of the houses had C6H0 written on them.”

Both schools had a few more seasons as national contenders, but the game came at the tail end of dominance for the Ivy League and for Centre.

“I think it wasn’t so much that the Big Three [of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton] got worse. It was just that everybody else just caught up to them and got so much better,” Stephens said. “The quality of play at the Big Three probably stayed the same, but the quality of play everywhere else improved.”

Harvard and Centre faced each other one more time in 1922, a 24-10 Harvard victory. The two haven’t met in the 89 years since.


According to Centre’s athletic website, the school has offered the Crimson rematches on a number of occasions, including as recently as the 75th anniversary of the game.

But Harvard has declined every one of the invitations from Centre, now a Division III athletic program.

According to Robertson, the two were engaged in serious talks of a rematch at the 50th anniversary of the game, with both sides expressed interest. Logistically, it didn’t work out, and the potential Harvard-Centre matchup was dropped.

These days, the Crimson rarely plays teams outside of the Ivy or Patriot Leagues. There are exceptions—for the first time, the team plays the University of San Diego of the Pioneer Football League next year—but these matchups are uncommon.

Alumni with a connection to a game, like Robertson, remain hopeful that the two teams could meet again in 2021. But with the discrepancy in the caliber of play so great between Division III and the Football Championship Subdivision, the chances of a reprisal between these long-forgotten rivals grow increasingly unlikely.

“If we can occasionally get an Army, Navy, or an academic school like Duke, that would be great,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “But [to play Centre] wouldn’t make a lot of sense. … Nothing to gain and everything to lose.”

—Staff writer E. Benjamin Samuels can be reached at