Say what you want, but there’s something beautiful about an overly lopsided game. Let me be clear: I’m not talking about a 21-0 shutout in a national championship game. That’s just boring, Alabama and LSU.
I’m talking about Yale beating Dartmouth, 113-0, in 1884. I’m talking about scoring 91 points against your opponent like Davidson did last year, which somehow still happens. I’m talking about the beatdowns, obliterations and blowouts that make a football program question its very existence.
Nothing, and I mean nothing, compares to what took place at Atlanta’s Grant Field on October 7, 1916, when the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets football team beat the Cumberland University Bulldogs football team by a score of 222-0.
TWO-HUNDRED-AND-TWENTY-TWO. It’s a game that will forever be entrenched in college football history.
I mean, how often do you hear of a kicker catching his own kickoff for a touchdown? When’s the last time you saw a player take a snap and immediately run off the field in fear? And just how does one team beat another by more than 200 points in a single football game?
Well, buckle up.
First, I need to introduce you to the backstory. John Heisman was Georgia Tech’s football coach at the time. He is one of the most storied football coaches of all time. Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1954, Heisman invented many aspects of modern football that you see in CFB and the NFL, including the forward pass, the center snap and the scoreboard. He led the Yellow Jackets to a national championship in 1917. The Heisman Trophy, of course, is named after the former Georgia Tech coach.
Heisman also happened to head GT’s baseball program. Earlier that spring, the Cumberland baseball team beat the piss out of Georgia Tech, 22-0. The thing is, it wasn’t really Cumberland that beat the Yellow Jackets. The Bulldogs baseball and football student manager, George Allen, had assembled a bunch of ringers (minor league players) to play for him to create some buzz and excitement around the baseball program.
You think Heisman forgot that game? Hell no. He probably had October 7 circled on his calendar for months. He was out for blood.
Cumberland’s football team was scrapped after the 1915 season. The school was in a financial crisis, and after a local reverend who didn’t know anything about the game took over as coach, everyone quit. However, Allen forgot they still had a Georgia Tech football game on the schedule that Fall.
Heisman, seeking his own revenge, told Cumberland they’d have to pay a $3,000 (worth about $65,000 today) forfeit fee if they didn’t make the trip to Atlanta as scheduled. He even offered the school in Lebanon, Tennessee, $500 to follow through.
Heisman also wanted to prove a point to sportswriters. During that time, they valued teams by the number of points they scored against their opponents without factoring in the strength of them.
Hands tied, Allen had to say yes to save his university. He rounded up no more than 20 of his fraternity brothers — most of which hadn’t played football at that level — and boarded a train for Georgia from Tennessee. (Note: there’s a Cumberland College that used to operate out of Princeton, Kentucky)
When the train stopped in Nashville, Allen attempted to coax a few Vanderbilt players to help him out, to which they all said no. Three of Cumberland’s players missed the train when it left Nashville and never even made it to Atlanta.
Allen’s “football team” had no idea what it was in for. Picture a bunch of guys bringing toothpicks to a gunfight.
Here are a few of the stats and notes from the game:
- Cumberland failed to complete a first down. The entire game.
- Georgia Tech didn’t attempt a forward pass the entire game.
- Georgia Tech scored 32 touchdowns.
- Georgia Tech rushed for 471 yards, including 18 touchdowns.
- Georgia Tech led 126-0 before the start of the second half.
- Cumberland rushed for -43 yards the entire game.
- Cumberland passed for 10 yards on 1-of-15 attempts.
- Cumberland committed 15 turnovers — nine fumbles and six interceptions.
Expected the Yellow Jackets to have gained more yards? They couldn’t. Most of the game took place in Cumberland’s red zone, because the Bulldogs barely ever were able to return a kickoff out of it if they didn’t fumble. GT running back Everett Strupper scored a 30-yard touchdown on their first play and they kept scoring at will.
Most plays, the Bulldogs failed to even reach the line of scrimmage. Legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice jokingly wrote that Cumberland’s greatest offensive play that day was a fullback run around the right side for a loss of six yards. They actually completed a 10-yard pass, but it came on fourth-and-22.
At halftime, with his team up up 126-0, Heisman gave a great, facetious pep talk, according to the New York Times:
“We’re ahead, but you just can’t tell what those Cumberland players have up their sleeves. They may spring a surprise. Be alert, men.”
At least five times, Cumberland opted to punt instead of receive after giving up a touchdown. Back then, apparently that was a rule. Maybe Cumberland figured to avoid getting hurt they’d rather just give away the ball. Safety wasn’t exactly at the forefront of college football in 1916.
On the opening kickoff, Cumberland returner and starting quarterback Charles Edwards was knocked out of the game on a vicious tackle. He returned later in the second quarter only to be hit in the head on the snap and knocked out again on the next play. If that play didn’t summarize the rest of the game, it sure set the tone.
Plenty more embarrassing plays followed.
On one kickoff, Georgia Tech kicker Jim Preas attempted to boot the ball through the uprights. He sprinted to the end zone, where a Cumberland player fell after backpedaling into the goal post. The ball bounced off his head and into Preas’ hands for an unbelievable touchdown.
A wild dog on the field chased a Cumberland player on another kickoff. That player — John “Johnny Dog” Nelson — was actually a sportswriter who had played football before.
In maybe the most famous play of the game, Nelson fumbled the ball. He shouted for Allen, who had entered the game for a few plays, to pick it up. Allen replied, “You dropped it, you pick it up!”
On another kickoff (sensing a theme yet?), a Cumberland player who went by “Pee Wee” — who was assured by Allen he’d never have to touch the ball — was given the snap and immediately tossed the ball and ran off the field in fear.
Cumberland’s golden opportunity to score came on a kickoff in which Georgia Tech players overran the returner. Left with nothing but open space ahead of him, he tripped over his own player at their 20-yard-line. That teammate was looking for his glasses at the time.
On the final play of the game, Cumberland successfully blocked an extra point when Vichy Woods climbed his teammates human pyramid style. His face, however, paid the price.
Since World War II, only a few times has a team scored 100 points. Two-hundred points is unthinkable in today’s game.
The game ball from that historic game has since been enshrined in American sports history. A Georgia Tech alumnus bought the ball in 2014 for $40,000 and donated it back to the program.
Cumberland football returned in 1990, and they still play in the NAIA today. Their baseball program is more widely known, however, for winning three NAIA World Series titles since 2000.
For the 100th anniversary of the legendary game in 2016, many outlets resurrected this glorious story. SB Nation’s Jon Bois created a fantastic video explaining the game using accounts from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, school yearbooks and Jim Paul’s book, “You dropped it, you pick it up!”
Although the Georgia Tech-Cumberland game will always be remembered as the most lopsided game in history, it should be remembered as the most embarrassing — for both sides.
Heisman making that “team” come play his, which was one of the best in the country, was not only extremely petty and dangerous but something a legendary coach of his stature shouldn’t want his name associated with.