- The Wonder Team: The Story of the Centre College Praying Colonels and Their Rise to the Top of the Football World 1917–1924
One of the significant stories of college football in the early 1920s is that of Centre College, and with The Wonder Team someone has finally produced an account of the years when the little college sought to make a place for itself among the ranks of the major football schools of the time. Yet while telling the story of Centre’s football seasons of 1917–1924, this needlessly lengthy book regrettably violates some cardinal rules for writing history and produces a disappointing experience for any reader with knowledge of the football world in the aftermath of World War I.
Centre College, located in Danville, Kentucky, was founded in 1820 and, except for a few seasons prior to 1911, had seldom fielded anything resembling outstanding football teams. But things began to change when an alumnus named Bob Myers, who had been coaching football and teaching English at Fort Worth (Texas) North Side High, turned up at Centre in 1917 as the new football coach.
That same fall a cadre of seven football players from Fort Worth North (including three future All-Americans) were also enrolled to play college football for Centre, and the author would have us believe that they had been enticed to come to Kentucky by stories of the college’s beautiful surroundings and facilities (p. 14). Three of the Texas players had to be stashed the school year before at Kentucky’s Somerset High where they helped to gain a share of the state’s 1916 prep football championship while gaining the credits needed to enter college.
Just two games into the 1917 season Centre had a new head coach in Charlie Moran— who had compiled a notable record at Texas A&M University from 1909 to 1914—as Myers stepped back to be the assistant coach while also taking over as the athletic director. With the obvious backing of the school’s administration, the Centre football program was off and running in trying to upgrade its schedules, gain more attention for the school, and make plenty of money in its travels.
Moran was a savvy football coach who realized—although the author does not—that college football in the South immediately after World War I generally trailed behind the East and the Midwest in terms of depth and quality. Thus, to gain more media attention for his team it would be necessary to land a game with one of the major football schools of the country. After an undefeated season in 1919, Centre was invited to play Harvard in 1920, which would begin an eventual three-year series (1920–1922) between the two teams.
Thereafter, the games with Harvard dominate much of the text through the last game in 1922. In 1921 Centre upset Harvard by a score of 6–0 in one of the famous games of college football history, one of several upsets suffered by the Harvard-Princeton-Yale trio at the hands of lesser teams between 1919 and 1921 that signaled the changing competitive balance of power. Of course, the fact that Harvard got caught looking ahead to its games with the other Big Three teams and only started three regulars against Centre, [End Page 318] playing primarily reserves through much of the action, does not enter into the author’s thinking about the game and warranted hardly a mention. In fact, the author devotes seventy pages of the book to Centre’s 1921 trip to Boston—twenty-three of those on the game itself.
Centre fielded possibly its best team in 1921 and compiled a record of 10–1–0 against mostly average competition—seven of the opponents from the South—and the author uses an incredible total of 208 pages on the one season. This was the year that the Centre team staged a twenty...