99 Years Ago Today, One Man’s Revenge Put Cumberland College On The Map

The most lopsided game in NFL history came in 1940, when the Chicago Bears and the Washington Redskins met in our nation’s capitol to determine who the NFL champion of 1940 would be. Chicago won the contest by a score of 73-0 and records set that evening have yet to be matched, much less surpassed. As impressive as a 73-point shutout victory is, a 1916 gridiron face-off between the Georgia Tech Engineers and the Bulldogs of Cumberland College currently (and possibly forever) sets the bar for gridiron humiliation.

cumberland college georgia tech 1916 222-0
Cumberland College vs. Georgia Tech — Oct. 7, 1916 (Photo Credit: Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons)

The 222-0 victory Georgia Tech celebrated over Cumberland College is a tale for the ages, personifying the bronze age of a blood-and-guts, blue-collar, gladiatorial sport that has long since become a glitzy, Hollywood facsimile. Football a century ago was a game of conflict, turmoil, cracking bones, lacerations and grudges, and it’s the ability for old-school football geniuses to harbor animosity that led to college football’s equivalent of the Greek victory at Marathon.

Seeds were sown for the 1916 Georgia Tech-Cumberland College game a year earlier, when Cumberland College’s baseball team embarrassed head coach John Heisman (yes, that Heisman) and the Georgia Tech baseball team 22-0. Allegations that Cumberland College used professional ringers during the game infuriated Heisman and he vowed revenge.

Heisman got his chance on Oct. 7, 1916. He also coached the Georgia Tech football team and the Engineers were scheduled to host Cumberland College in Atlanta. However, Cumberland College had suspended its football program. Since Cumberland College had neglected to inform Georgia Tech of the program’s suspension, Heisman pressed the issue, informing Cumberland that if they did not show up for the contest, he would force them to pay a $3,000 forfeiture fee ($65,591¬†in 2015 terms). So determined to get his revenge, Heisman actually offered to pay Cumberland College $500 to show up ($10,931 in 2015 terms).

In his letter to Cumberland College, Heisman wrote:

“I hereby offer you the sum of $500 and an all-expenses-paid trip to Atlanta for your football team on the condition that you honor your contract by participating in and completing the Cumberland-Georgia Tech football game… However, if this offer is refused… I shall be forced to demand that your school reimburse the Tech Athletic Dept. in the amount of $3,000 for losses from the projected net gate receipts…”

Cumberland College’s student manager, George Allen, hastily assembled a team of 13 students to play the game. They were primarily Allen’s fraternity brothers. The group headed to Atlanta, ignorant of the fact they were walking into a lion’s den and were about to make history.

The Engineers scored on their first play of the game, going up 7-0. Cumberland College fumbled on their first play, which Georgia Tech ran back for another touchdown. With the score 14-0, Cumberland College fumbled again and two plays later, Georgia Tech increased their lead to 21-0. Before the makeshift Cumberland College squad knew what hit them, the first quarter had ended and they were in a 63-0 deficit.

The second quarter fared no better for the Bulldogs and by halftime, Georgia Tech had doubled their lead, 126-0.

Coach Heisman was satisfied with the assault his players had administered on Cumberland College. He agreed to shorten the second half of the game, but it’s very difficult to consider Heisman’s decision as merciful. Georgia Tech would score an additional 96 points during that shorted half. When the final gun sounded, Georgia Tech held a 222-0 lead and the squad representing Cumberland College was effectively destroyed.

Cumberland College would not field another football team until 1920.

Ninety-nine years ago, revenge enabled one of the most recognizable faces in American football to administer the most lopsided battering of a football team in the history of the sport. Unfortunately, the NCAA does not recognize the records set in the game between Georgia Tech and Cumberland College (as the NCAA was not formed until 1937). However, the game is transcendent in its statistics.

Beyond the final score, Georgia Tech scored the most touchdowns (32), the most extra points (30) the most points scored in a quarter (63), and the most points scored in a half (126), just to name a few. The Engineers ran for 978 yards, 210 more than the 768 yards gained by Oklahoma on Oct. 15, 1988 — the recognized NCAA record. Six of Cumberland’s passes were intercepted and five were run back for touchdowns. Each Cumberland College fumble was lost and three were run back for touchdowns. The list goes on and on and on.

Sportswriter Grantland Rice, the living legend himself, wrote of the game:

“Cumberland’s greatest individual play of the game occurred when fullback Allen circled right end for a 6-yard loss.”

Cumberland College suffered the most harrowing defeat in the history of football because one man, a legendary man, held a grudge, but that was the nature of the sport in the early-20th century. Football was a reflection of the blue-collar men who played it, and just like any other notable transgression, an eye must be given for an eye.

Cumberland College learned that lesson the hard way on Oct. 7, 1916.

Featured image by WikiMeida, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license.

Robert could go on about how he was raised by honey badgers in the Texas Hill Country, or how he was elected to the Texas state legislature as a 19-year-old wunderkind, or how he won 219 consecutive games of Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots against Hugh Grant, but those would be lies. However, Robert does hail from Lewisville, Texas, having been transplanted from Fort Worth at a young age. Robert is a college student and focuses his studies on philosophical dilemmas involving morality, which he feels makes him very qualified to write about politicians. Reading the Bible turned Robert into an atheist, a combative disposition toward greed turned him into a humanist, and the fact he has not lost a game of Madden football in over a decade means you can call him "Zeus." If you would like to be his friend, you can send him a Facebook request or follow his ramblings on Twitter. For additional content that may not make it to Liberal America, Robert's internet tavern, The Zephyr Lounge, is always open