Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Legend of the Praying Colonels

I turn 42 in a few weeks. My baby girl is almost 18 months. I'm a freelance writer, and my wife's a minister. We're not even two years into a 30-year mortgage. All of this, of course, adds up to the fact that I've got an appointment at 2 today to go sign up for a boatload of life insurance.

The insurance dude I'm meeting has a son who played football at Centre College in Danville, and, for about 10 years, I've been meaning to read a paperback I picked up at a yard sale or junk store or somewhere about Centre's great football teams of 1917-24. It's The Legend of the Praying Colonels, and it's by John Y. Brown Sr. (the former Gov. Jr.'s dad), who played on the team. In light of the aforeimplied gathering sense of mortality, I'm giving up the ghost of actually reading the book and instead giving it to the insurance dude during our appointment this afternoon. He seems nice.

I skimmed the book over the last couple of days, and it's a lot of fun. My three favorite parts were, one, several gambling anecdotes at the start; two, a little piece about Ed Diddle, who played with Brown on the Centre football team and eventually went on to become a Hall of Fame basketball coach at my alma mater, Western Kentucky University, and, three, a terrific team portrait of the 1923 team that I'm going to attempt to scan before the insurance meeting.

Here's one of the gambling anecdotes: "... In our 1919 game, with Kentucky, the only way we could get a bet on the game was to meet the demands of the Lexington and University of Kentucky supporters by giving them the 50 points and most of us, including myself, put up all of our previous winnings on that game. (I recall that game because of the extra thrill engendered in me and in others by that 50-point bet.) Kentucky put up a spirited fight and we found ourselves in great difficulty trying to amass the number of points which we had given. With only ten seconds left to play, the score was 49 to 0 and we were on our 40-yard line, sixty yards from pay dirt. ... We lined up on the line of scrimmage and Bo called this play. Lefty is wide on the right sideline (and I remember it as if I were seeing it right now) and the ball is snapped by Red Weaver. Bo fades back for a pass, dodges three or four would-be tacklers, lets the proper amount of time pass while Lefty is racing down the sideline, he turns that pass loose and it's literally a bomb. While the ball is high in the air, Bo hollers over to the ones of us on the sideline and says, 'Tell the boys to go on downtown and collect their money.' Well, Lefty was under the pass, he caught it and went on for a touchdown. Red Weaver kicked the field goal and the final score was 56 to 0 and we who had been willing to take the long gamble doubled our money on that game. ..." (1)

And here's part of the chapter on Ed Diddle: "... Not many people realize it, but one of Coach Diddle's first jobs was a football coaching position. He started coaching at Greenville while I was coaching at Marion. The first game of the season, Coach Diddle's Greenville team played Morganfield and I went over to watch the two teams because I was to play them both (I coached Marion High 1921-1923). I knocked on the door where Ed was getting his team ready for the game and Ed came out and greeted me (and this was typical of Ed), and said, 'John Y., you know, if you don't mind, I wish you'd come in here and make that old pep talk that Chief Myers used to make to the Centre squad before a game. I don't remember how it goes.' So, believe it or not, I went in there and made the pep talk to Ed's Greenville team before the game. When I got through, Ed said to me, 'John Y., if you don't mind, draw on that blackboard over there where my boys are supposed to stand on the kick-off. I remember where I used to stand, but I don't remember where the rest of them were.' And so I drew on the board there where his team was supposed to stand on the kickoff. Now, Ed was the kind of a fellow who never hesitated at all to say he didn't know something and I think that's one of the things that endeared him so to his boys, because no coach was ever as nearly worshipped as was Ed Diddle. ..." (2)

I'll try to get to the scanning attempt later this morning. I don't want to do it right now. The scanner is in my office, which is next door to the baby's room, and she's still asleep.


1 Brown, John Y. The Legend of the Praying Colonels (Louisville: J. Marvin Gray & Associates, 1970) 25-26.

2 Brown, John Y. The Legend of the Praying Colonels (Louisville: J. Marvin Gray & Associates, 1970) 104-105.

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