CHARLOTTE, N.C. With college football now in full swing and the NFL ready to kick-off this week, Myth Trivia decided to focus this week on the worst blowout ever in college football history. That momentous gridiron event took place a little over 100 years ago in Atlanta.
Never violate the unwritten rules of sports
There are many unwritten rules in sports, but two of the most important are the following.
- Don’t intentionally embarrass your opponent.
- Coaches and players have long memories.
Back in the early days of college football history
This takes us back to the 1916 football season. 1916 was the year that Georgia Tech football coach John Heisman — the one and only John Heisman for whom the coveted trophy was named — got his revenge against Lebanon, Tennessee’s little-known team from Cumberland College. (Now Cumberland University.)
In those thrilling days of yesteryear, it was not uncommon for coaches to pull double duty. That was the case for Heisman. He doubled as the Yellow Jackets’ baseball coach and also served as football coach.
The Cumberland Plot
And so it was that during year previous to 1916, one Georgia Tech opponent, Cumberland College, had recruited several semi-pro baseball players from Nashville who masqueraded as college athletes.
We need to remember that baseball was actually the king of all American sports in those days. That’s what made the Tennessee college team’s 22-0 rout Atlanta’s Yellow Jacket 9 all the more difficult for the Georgia Tech baseball team, and for coach Heisman, to swallow. Indeed, Tech was severely humiliated by that baseball blowout.
But when Heisman later learned he and his team had been duped by a batch of ringers, he vowed revenge. Perhaps this was when Coach Heisman began to ponder payback time for Cumberland College.
The counter-plot sickens
As luck would have it, in a strange quirk of fate, Cumberland was scheduled to play Georgia Tech in football in 1916. But due to some financial difficulties, the Tennessee college cancelled its schedule. Unfortunately for Cumberland, they forgot to notify their Georgia Tech opponents.
As Sherlock Holmes once said, “The game is afoot.” Most likely Heisman said something far more colorful.
It turned out that Cumberland was contractually required to play the football Yellow Jackets with or without a team.
Heisman wrote Cumberland a stern letter giving them one of two choices.
- Accept a $500 fee and expenses to show up for the game.
- Or face a $3,000 fine and forfeiture.
Predictably, forfeiture be damned. It was the potential monetary penalty that forced Cumberland to play. Always follow the money. (And the lawyers.)
Cumberland’s 50 percent solution
And so it came to pass that at the very last minute, Cumberland said they would play the game. To do so, they hastily cobbled together a substitute football team whose roster was filled with misfits. The “team” consised of between 13 and 19 players, depending upon the source you conslt. It included fraternity brothers, law students and guys from town who volunteered to play.
Meanwhile, to save face, the school administration covered up Cumberland’s obviously colorful practice sessions to keep the budding disaster from prying eyes. They labeled them “men’s choir meetings” instead.
Most of the Cumberland players had never suited up for a football game. Most possessed little knowledge of how to play. Years later, Gentry Dugat, one of the team members, even confessed to Sports Illustrated that he had no interest in playing. He just wanted to ride the train.
Given the players’ general lack of football knowledge and skills, the Cumberland coaches simplifed things for them by giving each one the name of a vegetable.
Thus when the coach or the QB called a play, it went something like this. “Tomato goes over cucumber, Hut one! Hut two!” Or “Cauliflower gives to lettuce.” Needless to say, the final gameplan was a smorgasbord of confusion and chaos.
The worst blowout in college football history begins
And thus it came to pass that the worst football slaughter, the absolute worst blowout game in college football history took place at Atlanta’s Grant Field on October 7, 1916. Prior to the game, the Cumberland added to their rag-tag team’s trauma when they discovered that their skeleton squad had just been reduced by a total of three MIAs. Believe it or not, during their trip south, three of Cumberland’s players got lost during a layover in Nashville and failed to catch the connecting train to Atlanta. A bad omen indeed.
Could it be that in their nervousness, Cumberland was actually the original source of Georgia Tech’s longstanding team nickname, “The Ramblin’ Wreck?” (Actually the “wreck” is the old car they drive around Grant Field. But that’s another story.)
A thousand football fans showed up to take in the game. Cumberland took the opening kick. On their first play from scrimmage, they ran three yards. This may have been the highlight of the afternoon for them. As it turned out, it was one of Cumberland’s longest gains of the afternoon.
Tech took over and scored on their first play. For all intents that should have been enough, but Heisman was not about to forget that 22-0 baseball drubbing from the year before. Cumberland’s — and college football’s — worst blowout was now underway.
Heisman begins to make his point
On the next three plays, Cumberland fumbled. Tech recovered the ball each time and scored a touchdown each time as well.
Even so, Heisman was not about to let his football team become complacent. During his halftime pep talk he lectured, “You’re doing all right. We’re ahead. But you just can’t tell what those Cumberland players have up their sleeves. They may spring a surprise.” Tech was leading 126-0 at that point in the game. Likely, Heisman was already engineering what would indeed become the worst blowout in college football history.
The gruesome game ground on. The deadly stats continued to accrue. Sometime during in the second half, two Cumberland players actually fled the growing carnage by jumping the stadium fence.
At another juncture in the game, Yellow Jackets’ tackle Bill Fincher decided to have a little fun by removing his glass eye and dropping it into the water bucket, scaring some of the Cumberland players to death when they came over for a drink of H2O.
The fourth quarter proved to be the high water mark for Cumberland’s increasingly stingy defense. They managed to hold Tech to just 42 points.
Georgia Tech wins! The final disastrous tally
The Ramblin’ Wreck scored 32 touchdowns in total. All-American player G.E. Strupper crossing the goal eight times alone. Throughout the faux football melee, the Yellow Jackets never threw a single pass. However Cumberland actually completed 8 of eleven passes. Unfortunately for the Tennesseeans, Georgia Tech caught 6 of those.
During the entire disastrous game, the Tennessee squad never crossed the 50-yard line. Even worse, the team had five of its punts returned for touchdowns by the Yellow Jackets. Cumberland lost nine fumbles.
And the final score, of this, the absolute worst blowout in college football history:
Georgia Tech: 222, Cumberland: 0
This proves once and for all that those unwritten rules of sports can — and will — come back to haunt you.
— Headline image: The infamous 1916 scoreboard, showing the worst blowout ever in college football history. (Public domain image via Wikipedia entry on John Heisman.)
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com).
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