222-0: The Worst Blowout in College Football History

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

College football fans are no strangers to blowouts. A few years ago, Missouri pummeled Delaware State, 79-0; Michigan smothered Rutgers, 78-0; Miami slugged Florida A&M, 70-3. But those games sound like gentle drubbings compared to the lopsided 1916 skirmish between Georgia Tech and Cumberland University, which ended 222-0.

If that score sounds spiteful, it was. Georgia Tech’s coach, John Heisman—for whom the coveted trophy is named—was reportedly bent on revenge. A year earlier, during the spring of 1915, Cumberland’s baseball club had recruited a handful of semi-professional ballplayers from Nashville and disguised them as college athletes. Boasting a lineup stacked with pros, the little Tennessee college creamed Georgia Tech’s ball club, 22-0.

The defeat garnered national attention, leaving Heisman, who coached both Georgia Tech’s baseball and football teams, humiliated. When he discovered that Cumberland had cheated, he vowed to get payback.

Oddly, Heisman nearly missed his chance. By 1916, Cumberland, a university out of Lebanon, Tennessee, a small town about 30 minutes outside of Nashville, was facing financial difficulties and as such canceled that year's season of football. The football squad’s student manager notified its opponents that, since it would not be fielding a team that season, Cumberland would have to cancel all scheduled games. But Cumberland made a careless mistake—they forgot to brief Georgia Tech. When Cumberland discovered the error, it was too late: They were contractually obligated to play, football team or no football team.

Georgia Tech coach John Heisman. Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

Tasting blood, Heisman wrote Cumberland’s football manager a pointed letter to ensure he wouldn’t flake: "I hearby 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." The offer was freighted with a legal threat: If Cumberland didn’t play, Georgia Tech would charge a $3000 forfeiture fee. The expense "would have been a severe blow to Cumberland," says Sam Hatcher, author of Heisman’s First Trophy, in an interview with The Tennessean, "and probably would have closed the school, if you want to know the truth."

Cumberland agreed to play. The old football manager assembled a team of at least 13 players (some sources say up to 19), consisting of fraternity brothers, law students, and boys from town. To avoid getting caught by university administrators—who were unaware of Heisman's ultimatum—the team covered up their practice sessions by calling them "men’s choir meetings."

Most of the volunteers had no knowledge of, or experience playing, football. "I played once in high school and once in prep school," Cumberland’s Gentry Dugat admitted to Sports Illustrated in 1961. He wasn’t that interested in playing football anyway. He had signed up because he’d never ridden a passenger train before; it was basically a free vacation.

As Cumberland practiced, no one bothered to cook up trick plays or study the Xs and Os of fundamental football. Instead, coaches assigned each player a code name that corresponded with a specific vegetable. When the offense took to the line of scrimmage, the quarterback called plays by hollering the names of different crudités. "Plays sounded like this: 'Turnip over lettuce. Hut one, hut two...'" reported Jay Searcy of the Chicago Tribune. "Cucumber to cauliflower. Hut one, hut two..."

The week before the big game, Cumberland’s rag-tag team tested their strategy in a meaningless exhibition game against Sewanee: The University of the South. They lost 107-0.

Georgia Tech's 1916 football team. Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

On October 7, 1916, more than 1000 fans passed through the turnstiles of Grant Field in Atlanta to watch the greatest slaughter in college football history. Cumberland was a wreck before the first whistle blew. Aside from their obvious shortfalls—a severe lack of strategy, knowledge, and, well, talent—Cumberland was already at a disadvantage because three of its players had gotten lost during a layover in Nashville and failed to chase down the connecting train to Georgia.

The game that ensued would turn out to be a mythical comedy of errors that is today riddled with fuzzy details. We know that Cumberland received the first kickoff, and, as the ball hurtled through the air, their quarterback attempted a block and was promptly coldcocked. Morris Gouger took the reins and gave Cumberland fans a ray of false hope when, on the team’s first drive, he rushed for three yards. (It would be one of Cumberland’s best plays all day.) Shortly after, Cumberland punted, Georgia Tech got the ball, and it scored on its first play.

When Cumberland got the pigskin back, it wasted no time and fumbled. Georgia scooped it and scrambled to the end zone. Touchdown. When Cumberland got the ball again, it fumbled a second time. Georgia picked it up and rushed to the goal line again. Touchdown. According to some accounts, Cumberland must have believed in the power of threes, because when the team received the ball again, they repeated the fumble-turnover-touchdown trifecta for a third time.

By halftime, the score was 126-0. Coach Heisman appeared underwhelmed during one pep talk. "You’re doing all right," he lectured his team. "We’re ahead. But you just can’t tell what those Cumberland players have up their sleeves. They may spring a surprise."

If Cumberland had tricks up their sleeves, they probably weren’t the tricks Heisman was expecting. At one point, a few frazzled Cumberland players marched over to Georgia Tech’s bench and plopped down; one grabbed a blanket and hid underneath it. Heisman accosted them and screamed, "You’re on the wrong side of the field!" But the boys shook their heads. "No, we’re not. We’ve been in there too many times, and we’ve had enough."

Later on, two Cumberland players would jump the stadium fence.

Georgia Tech found time to goof off, too. "At one point, I remember, our tackle, Bill Fincher, took out his glass eye and threw it in the water bucket," Tech’s George Griffin told The New York Times in 1986. "Some Cumberland boys came over and started to drink out of it, and they got a terrible fright."

But nothing was as terrifying as the action on the field. In one (likely apocryphal) story, a Cumberland player fumbled and watched the ball bounce toward a teammate’s feet. The fumbler pleaded for his teammate to pick it up, but he was having none of it: "Fall on it yourself," was the reported reply. "You dropped it."

According to Sporting News, Cumberland’s Charlie Warwick would later brag that, "We were sort of getting to 'em in that last quarter." Which, statistically, was kind of true. Georgia Tech scored 63 points in the first quarter but only managed 42 in the fourth quarter. But Warwick neglected to mention that Coach Heisman, in what can only be interpreted as a merciful bid for sainthood, had agreed to shorten the second half to 15 minutes.

Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

The final score of 222-0 was so one-sided people must have expected the scoreboard to tip over. The statistics were obscene. Georgia Tech scored 32 touchdowns. One player, the All-American G.E. Strupper, scored eight times. He could have scored more, but at one point, Strupper ran through open field, stopped short of the goal line, gently placed the ball on the grass, and waited for a teammate to pick it up and walk into the end zone. Georgia Tech, which never threw a pass, finished with 501 rushing yards.

Cumberland, on the other hand, never earned a first down. It never crossed the 50-yard line. Five of their punts were returned for touchdowns. They lost at least nine fumbles. Their statistical superstar, Morris Gouger, finished the day with less than zero yards of offense. They threw 11 passes, and completed eight of them. (Technically, only two completions. Six of them were caught by the wrong team.)

To Cumberland’s credit, they weren’t the only big loser that season. Cockeyed mismatches were common during the sport’s nascent days: One week after Cumberland’s licking, Ohio State would rout Oberlin College, 128-0. And in Illinois, the Lane Technical School would give Cumberland’s dismal performance a run for its money in a blowout loss to St. Viator College.

That final score? 205-0.

5 Fast Facts About Muhammad Ali

Kent Gavin/Getty Images
Kent Gavin/Getty Images

Muhammad Ali is one of the most important athletes and cultural figures in American history. Though he passed away in 2016, the heavyweight boxing champ was larger than life in and outside of the ring. The man who coined the phrase "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” won 37 knockout victories. Here are five more fast facts about Muhammad Ali, a.k.a. The Greatest.

1. Cassius Clay was named for a white abolitionist.

Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. and named after his father, who had in turn been named for a white abolitionist. The original Cassius Clay was a wealthy 19th-century planter and politician who not only published an anti-slavery newspaper, but also emancipated every slave he inherited from his father. Cassius Clay also served as a minister to Russia under President Abraham Lincoln.

2. Muhammad Ali's draft evasion case went to the Supreme Court.

In the early 1960s, Clay converted to Islam, joined the Nation of Islam, and took the name Muhammad Ali. According to his religious beliefs, Ali refused to serve in the Vietnam War when he was drafted in April 1967. He was arrested and stripped of his boxing license and heavyweight title. On June 20, 1967, he was convicted of draft evasion and banned from fighting while he remained free on appeal. His case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which unanimously overturned his conviction in 1971.

3. He received a replacement gold medal.

At the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Ali won the gold medal for boxing in the light heavyweight division. But, as he wrote in his 1975 autobiography, The Greatest: My Own Story (edited by Toni Morrison!), he supposedly threw his medal into the Ohio River in frustration over the racism he still experienced in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. Some historians dispute this story and suggest that Ali just lost the medal. Either way, he was given a replacement when he lit the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremonies of the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

4. Muhammad Ali was an actual superhero.

In 1978, DC Comics published Superman vs. Muhammad Ali—an oversize comic in which Muhammad Ali defeats Superman and saves the world. In real life, Ali did save a man from suicide. In 1981, a man threatened to jump from the ninth story of a building in L.A.’s Miracle Mile neighborhood. Ali’s friend Howard Bingham witnessed the unfolding drama and called the boxer, who lived nearby. Ali rushed into the building and successfully talked the man down from the ledge.

5. Muhammad Ali starred in a Broadway show.

In Oscar Brown, Jr.'s 1969 musical adaptation of Joseph Dolan Tuotti's play Big Time Buck White, Ali played a militant black intellectual who speaks at a political meeting. The play ran for only five nights at the George Abbot Theatre in New York. His Playbill bio reported that Ali "is now appealing his five-year prison conviction and $10,000 fine for refusing to enter the armed services on religious grounds. The Big Time Buck White role that he has accepted is much like the life he lives off stage in reality.”

Can Watching the Super Bowl Give You a Heart Attack?

iStock.com/skynesher
iStock.com/skynesher

With the clock nearing zero, the 2006 divisional round playoff between the Indianapolis Colts and the Pittsburgh Steelers looked to be over: It was the fourth quarter, with one minute and 20 seconds left, and the score was 21-18. Pittsburgh held the lead and, by all appearances, was about to score again.

Pittsburgh's offense lined up on the Indianapolis 2-yard line and handed the ball to future Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis, a cannonball of a man who famously went by the nickname "The Bus." Nearly everybody assumed Bettis would pound the ball through the goal line. Instead, Colts linebacker Gary Brackett forced a fumble. The Colts picked up the ball and nearly ran it back for a touchdown. For Steelers fans, it was a sudden and heartbreaking turn of events. Literally.

Watching from a bar, a diehard Steelers fan named Terry O'Neill watched the ball tumble to the ground and suddenly felt a pain in his chest. Luckily, two firefighters in the crowd helped resuscitate him.

"My heart just quit beating completely," O'Neill later told the South Pittsburgh Reporter. "For all intents and purposes, I died."

Research indicates he wasn't the first. Watching a high-stakes game could actually kill you.

A 2002 study in The BMJ, which focused on the health of English soccer fans, found that a "myocardial infarction can be triggered by emotional upset, such as watching your football team lose an important match." A 2008 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine followed the World Cup-watching habits of German soccer fans and found that watching a stressful game more than doubled viewers' chances of experiencing a cardiovascular event. A similar result was found when other researchers looked at cardiovascular deaths in the Netherlands after the country's soccer team lost the European soccer championships on a penalty shootout in 1996.

In 2011, a study published in Clinical Cardiology looked at the Super Bowl specifically and found that deaths increased after the big game in the losing city, finding an "absolute increase in all cause mortality" in people over the age of 65. The researchers argued:

"Acute risk factors usually involve some form of stress—physical, emotional, or both—that increase the sympathetic nervous system and releases catecholamines. The subsequent increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and ventricular contractility increase oxygen demand and may change the shear stress of blood against an atherosclerotic plaque, contributing to plaque fracture."

This particular study, however, has received some criticism. It only looked at mortality statistics for the 1980 and the 1984 Super Bowls, a relatively small sample. Some researchers said the study went too far in implying that the Super Bowl caused death, considering that the viewer's behavior and health history (and not the events of the game itself) could have been responsible. Super Bowl Sunday, after all, is a day filled with fatty fried foods and copious amounts of alcohol—all possible risk factors for a cardiovascular event.

As Gregg Fonarow, director of the Cardiomyopathy Center at UCLA, tells LiveScience, "It may be other behaviors associated with important sporting events rather than the stress of watching the home team lose that may explain these associations." Additionally, pre-existing conditions could be a huge contributing factor. (This was the case for our fateful Steelers fan.)

Study limitations aside, becoming invested in the outcome of a sporting match is undeniably stressful on the heart. A recent (though small) study out of Canada surveyed the heart rates of hockey fans during games, revealing "a mean increase of 92 per cent among the 20 test subjects, rising from an average rate of 60 to 114 beats per minute," according to the Montreal Gazette. In other words, people sitting and watching TV had heart rates equivalent to people undergoing mild exercise. Their heart rates only got higher when they watched games in person.

Of course, you don't have to do a study to learn that close games can cause a diehard fan's heart to pound—just go and ask one. And if they mutter, "This team is going to kill me!," kindly suggest that they step away from the TV before it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER