- The Washington Times - Monday, October 7, 2002


Asked to identify the most one-sided football game ever played, many Washingtonians might pick the infamous 1940 NFL championship game at Griffith Stadium: Bears 73, Redskins 0.
Forget it. Not even remotely close.
Try Oct.7, 1916, in Atlanta, when Georgia Tech whacked little Cumberland 222-0 and in a game that was only 45 minutes rather than 60.
Think about that the next time you're watching what appears to be a huge mismatch.
Fortunately perhaps, no one is believed to be around who saw this devastation 86 years ago today. But through the decades that followed, many members of the Cumberland team would shake their heads in wonder that they had survived. It was sort of like being a participant at Gettysburg, the Argonne Forest or Pearl Harbor and living to tell the tale.
And how's this for an understatement? Said David Harsh, who played on the Cumberland line and went on to be head of a Memphis law firm: "We never should have taken on Tech they had us somewhat outclassed."
Somewhat outclassed? Right, and the Atlantic Ocean is a creek.
In the midst of three consecutive unbeaten seasons under famed coach John Heisman (yes, that Heisman), Georgia Tech scored 63 points in each of the first two quarters both 12 minutes instead of 15 because of Cumberland's 16-man (16-boy?) squad. At halftime, "Old Heis" mercifully agreed to further shorten the last two periods to 10 minutes each.
We also should credit or blame Heisman with the most pointless halftime speech ever. With Tech leading 126-0, he told his troops honest! "You're doing all right, but we can't tell what those Cumberland players have up their sleeve. They may spring a surprise."
Yeah, like showing up for the second half.
For the day, Tech scored 32 touchdowns, six by a halfback named Everett Strupper. The Yellow Jackets did not have a first down (nor did Cumberland) because they scored every time they took possession. And they did not throw a pass.
The stats credit Tech with 528 yards rushing, mostly on end runs, and 450 more on punt returns. Cumberland gained 20 yards rushing and 12 passing. The Bulldogs also fumbled 10 times and lost all of them.
Astonishingly, Cumberland University, located in Lebanon, Tenn., had a pickup team composed mostly of professionals from Nashville in this live-and-let-live era of college football. The previous spring, Cumberland's baseball team had thrashed Tech 22-0, so the angry Heisman offered the Tennesseans a $500 guarantee to come to Atlanta for a football game and then rearranged the digits.
On the train ride from Lebanon, the Cumberland team stopped in Nashville to recruit some fresh talent from Vanderbilt. No luck; in fact, three of the wiser Cumberland players remained there to play for Vandy.
None of the remaining Bulldogs exactly struck terror into the hearts of opponents. In his story the next day in the Atlanta Journal, Morgan Blake described Tech as "walking over the Cumberland players just like they had been so many paper dolls." Blake added, "It must be admitted that the tremendous score was due more to [Techs] pitifully weak opposition than to any unnatural strength on the part of the victors. The Lebanon boys were absolutely minus any apparent football virtues."
Another journalistic eyewitness was Grantland Rice, who wrote, "Cumberland's greatest play occurred when fullback [George] Allen circled right end for a 6-yard loss."
Not so, recalled Allen, who also was Cumberland's "manager" (i.e. coach). "There were several plays on which we only lost 3 yards," he insisted.
Allen later became a commissioner of the District of Columbia, director of the New Deal's Reconstruction Finance Corp. and a confidante of presidents. But he was trumped in the strategy department by the wily Heisman, who alternated two teams during the game and promised a steak dinner to the one that scored the most points. Said Lawrence Roberts, Tech's admiring athletic director: "That fixed it. Holler 'steak' at a Georgia Tech man and he'll run for a touchdown every time."
Strupper scampered 20 yards untouched to score on Tech's first play from scrimmage, the first of nine in the opening quarter. After awhile, Cumberland was losing yardage so heavily that it began kicking the ball back to the Yellow Jackets on first downs.
Cumberland had a strange set of signals, as if the Bulldogs needed any. "Each player was named for a vegetable," quarterback Morris Gouger explained years later. "If I wanted to send the right halfback through left tackle, I'd call, 'Turnip over cabbage.' The trouble was that Tech made vegetable stew out of us."
Or maybe squash.
With Cumberland trailing by about 150 points in the third quarter, Allen came up with one of the least inspirational remarks imaginable: "Hang on, boys remember that $500 guarantee."
At one point, Allen attempted a punt of his own. "It was a good, hard kick, but it hit our own center squarely in the back of the neck and bowled him over," a teammate recalled.
Oddly, the game featured the introduction of the huddle. "Our boys were so groggy that they never knew what to do," quarterback A.L. McDonald recalled. "So I called them together now and then to figure out how we might best live through the game. And our huddle idea spread."
In the fourth quarter, with every Cumberland man praying for deliverance through the final whistle, a back fumbled the ball, and it rolled toward B.F. "Bird" Paty.
"Pick it up," the fumbler yelled.
Replied Paty: "Pick it up yourself you dropped it."
In the final minutes, Tech quarterback George Griffin saw a Cumberland player sitting on the end of the Yellow Jackets' bench. "Hey, you," Griffin shouted. "You're on the wrong bench."
The player turned and looked at Griffin with bloodshot eyes. "No, I'm not," he said. "I'm not going to be sent into this game again."
Finally, after what must have seemed a lifetime to Cumberland's players, it was over. Heisman was a tough coach. Saying his team had played "a pretty fair game," he put the players through a hard half-hour workout and then treated all of them to the steak dinner.
"As for us," Cumberland's Allen said, "we collected our $500 guarantee, and I showed the team the sights of Atlanta."
And you'd have to say Cumberland shook off its monumental defeat nicely. The following week, in perhaps the greatest comeback in sports history, the Bulldogs defeated Wofford 3-0.
Six months after Georgia Tech's rout to end all routs, the United States entered World War I, thereby changing the United States and its young men forever. Yet the game stands as a monumentally messy memorial to the way college football used to be.

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