Atlanta, Georgia, Oct. 8, 1916: This college football game came dangerously close to redefining the word “easy.” Georgia Tech easily wrote a new history in college football statistics, here yesterday, easing past the now timid, shy and toothless Cumberland Bulldogs 222-0—placing the Ramblin’ Wrecks comfortably at the top of the Most-Points-Scored-In-A-Single-Game column for centuries to come.
Even the play by play announcing of this game became nonchalant. Every time Tech got the ball, which was most of the game, the stadium announcer simply droned, “Har he comes! Thar he goes!” Tech was totally unrestricted—racking up 978 yards rushing (Another record). The Bulldogs racked up a startling “minus” 28 yards, which really made the game seem closer than it was.
Neither team made a first down. Cumberland couldn’t do it because of an inability to play the game. Tech couldn’t do it because every time they got the ball they scored. 32 touchdowns (Another record). 3.8 points per minute of play. 13 players on the team scored a touchdown (Another record). Neither team ever threw a pass. Cumberland probably didn’t know how, and Tech didn’t need to.
The Lebanon, Tennessee, boys appeared mystified by the football basics—like knowing how to block, run, or tackle. At halftime, Tech led 126 to nothing (Another record).
During the halftime break, in the locker room, Tech Coach John Heisman advised his team to be alert. The game wasn’t over. Heisman emphasized that this Cumberland team was sneaky. The first half could be a set up. Heisman’s final advice during his pep talk was “Be alert, men! Hit’em clean, but hit’em hard!”
Throughout the second half, that “hitting hard thing” became a definite issue with the Bulldogs. They became “painfully shy” about even touching the football—with an emphasis on “pain and shy.”
Case in point: Third quarter. A Bulldog halfback fumbled. The ball rolled toward the other halfback. The actual fumbler yelled to his teammate, “Pick it up! Pick it up!” His teammate shot back, “You pick it up. You fumbled it.” Both halfbacks were creamed. Tech got the ball. Not one of football’s more majestic moments. Names are withheld to protect the pitiful.
Fourth quarter. With the score 192 to 0, it began to sink in to the somewhat dazed Bulldogs that winning this game was slipping out of reach. So, they began to mix up their “pain avoidance” strategy. After each touchdown, Tech, of course, would kick off to the Bulldogs. Then, if the Dogs were lucky enough to catch the kick off, on the first play from scrimmage, the Bulldogs would punt the ball back to Tech. Trying to survive seemed to trump trying to score. As long as there is collegiate football, fans will remember this wanton slaughter and how lucky the Bulldogs were, yesterday, that no one was killed.
Now, what was this collegiate carnage all about? A couple of things. One. Revenge. Coach John Heisman, namesake of the Heisman Trophy, was also Tech’s baseball coach. In the spring of 1916, the Cumberland baseball team totally humiliated Georgia Tech 22 to 0. Cumberland did it by sneaking nine professional players onto the roster. Then, Cumberland refused to stop the baseball game as the points continued to mount. All Coach Hesiman did was return the humiliation, not in baseball, but in a football game.
Two. Stuck On Sports Stupid. During this early 20th century era of collegiate football, the number one team in the nation was determined by how many points it scored in a season. Coach Heisman felt that was “stupid” because that meant being number one just depended on how many weak teams were on a good team’s schedule. Heisman proved his point 222 to 0.
Of course, Coach John Heisman went on to become a genuine legend in college football, while the 1916 Georgia Tech-Cumberland game became its own peculiar type of legend in Southern Memories.