Georgia Tech, led by legendary coach and trophy namesake John Heisman, humiliated Cumberland College 222-0 in the most one-sided college football game recorded on that day in history, October 7, 1916.
The football farce pitted national pigskin powerhouse Georgia Tech against a Lebanon, Tennessee, school that was reportedly pulling volunteer students off campus and fraternity houses to fulfill a contractual obligation.
“The loss can be traced back to a 22-0 loss suffered by the Georgia Tech baseball team, also coached by Heisman, in the spring of 1915. Heisman suspected Cumberland had staffed his team with professional wrestlers,” the NCAA reported in its 2016 100-anniversary retrospective of the game.
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Heisman savored his opportunity for revenge on the rust.
Cumberland College had committed to playing tech in 1916. But the school, now known as Cumberland University, suspended its football program before the start of the season.
The almighty dollar proved to be a key factor in creating the mismatch.
“Cumberland would reportedly owe Tech $3,000 if the game wasn’t played. Heisman insisted that Cumberland come to Atlanta and play the game,” the NCAA notes.
“Thirteen noble fraternity brothers volunteered to dress up and beat up.” — Frank Deford, late sports reporter
Heisman was so hungry for repayment that he reportedly personally contributed $500 to help Cumberland cover travel expenses, which is about $13,500 today.
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“Thirteen noble fraternity brothers volunteered to dress up and beat up to practically save Cumberland from bankruptcy,” wrote the late sportscaster Frank Deford in a 2016 100th anniversary story for NPR.
The Yellow Jackets – Georgia Tech’s nickname, another Heisman contribution to the program – led 63-0 in the first quarter.
They were leading 126-0 at halftime before the swarm subsided. They scored just 54 and 42 points, respectively, in the last two quarters, which Heisman agreed to cut from 15 to 12 minutes.
The game contained “one of the strangest games in college football history,” reports the NCAA.
“In the second quarter, after Georgia Tech had scored to make it 105-0, Jim Preas started [Cumberland,] who fumbled the ball. Then Preas – the kicker – recovered the kick and scored before also kicking the extra point to take Tech’s lead to 112-0.
Georgia Tech scored 32 touchdowns, including six on kick and punt returns.
Georgia Tech has 32 touchdowns, including six on kick and punt returns, while Cumberland has committed 15 turnovers (lost nine fumbles, six interceptions).
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Georgia Tech rushed for 501 yards in just 29 offensive plays.
Cumberland finished with -28 total yards.
Neither team scored a first down.
Cumberland couldn’t move the ball enough while Georgia Tech hit so easily it didn’t need first downs.
The 222-0 debacle did indeed bring long-term benefits to college football, argue some observers, including Cumberland graduate student and longtime school trustee Sam Hatcher.
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In 2016 he wrote the book Heisman’s First Trophy: The Game that Launched Football in the South.
Hatcher argued that the game garnered enough attention nationwide that it helped transform Southern schools into the college football powerhouses they are today.
Georgia Tech were declared national champions the following season, the first Southern team to receive the honor, while Heisman was immortalized with the game’s highest individual honor.
Each year, college football’s best player is awarded the Heisman Trophy, an award that has now reached almost mythical status in American sports.
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And Southern schools dominate college football today, particularly those of the Southeastern Conference.
Sixteen of the last 17 national college football champions are from Southern schools. SEC Power University of Georgia Bulldogs defend national champions.
They defeated SEC rivals and 2020 champions, Alabama, in last season’s national title game.