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.

Why Are Marathons 26.2 Miles Long?

iStock/ZamoraA
iStock/ZamoraA

What's the reason behind the cursed distance of a marathon? The mythical explanation is that, around 490 BCE, the courier Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens to deliver news that the Greeks had trounced the Persians at the Battle of Marathon. The trouble with that explanation, however, is that Pheidippides would have only covered a distance of approximately 25 miles. So what accounts for the extra 1.2 miles?

When the modern marathon appeared in the late 19th century, the race distance was inconsistent. During the first Olympic games in 1896, runners jogged along Pheidippides’s old route for a distance of 40,000 meters—or 24.85 miles. (That race, by the way, was won by a Greek postal worker.) The next Olympic games saw the distance bumped to a pinch over 25 miles. And while subsequent marathons floated around the 25 mile mark, no standard distance was ever codified.

Then the Olympics came to London. In 1908, the marathon, which stretched between Windsor Castle and White City Stadium in London, lasted 26.2 miles—all for the benefit of England's royal family.

It wasn't supposed to be that way. Like previous races, the original event was supposed to cover a ballpark of 25 miles. The royal family, however, had other plans: They wanted the event to start directly in front of Windsor Castle—as the story goes, the royal children wanted to see the start of the race from the castle nursery. Officials duly agreed and moved the starting line, tacking on an extra mile to the race.

As for the pesky final 0.2? That was the royal family’s fault, too. The finish line was extended an extra 385 yards so the race would end in front of the royal family’s viewing box.

Those extra 1.2 miles proved to be a curse. The race’s leader, an Italian pastry chef named Dorando Pietri, collapsed multiple times while running toward the finish line and had to be helped to his feet. One of the people who came to his aid was a journalist named Arthur Conan Doyle. Afterward, Conan Doyle wrote about Pietri's late-race struggles for the Daily Mail, saying, "Through the doorway crawled a little, exhausted man ... He trotted for a few exhausted yards like a man galvanized into life; then the trot expired into a slow crawl, so slow that the officials could scarcely walk slow enough to keep beside him."

After the London Olympics, the distance of most marathons continued to hover between 24 and 26 miles, but it seems that Conan Doyle's writing may have brought special attention to the distance of 26.2, endowing it with a legendary "breaker-of-men" reputation. Indeed, when the International Amateur Athletic Federation convened to standardize the marathon, they chose the old London distance of 26 miles and 385 yards—or 26.219 miles.

Writing for Reuters, Steven Downes concluded that, "the marathon race may have been as much a Conan Doyle creation as Sherlock Holmes."

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Good Luck, Gritty: 8 Sports Mascots that Struck Out

Bruce Bennett, Getty Images
Bruce Bennett, Getty Images

This September, Philadelphia introduced us to Gritty, the new mascot of their hockey team, the Flyers. A spiritual cousin to the town's other brightly colored eccentric, the Phillie Phanatic, Gritty is already beloved by his city and the internet alike for his outrageous (though sometimes frightening) appearance and antics. But not all mascots make their way into the hearts of the masses the way Gritty has—and not all of them should. Here are eight mascots who struck out from across pro sports.

1. DANDY // NEW YORK YANKEES

A game at Yankee Stadium is usually more about the business of baseball than a fun day for the family—but starting in 1979, a pinstriped, mustachioed, Phanatic-like creature named Dandy could be found roaming through the stands at Yankee Stadium, in an attempt to delight children in the crowd. His weird Big Bird body was made entirely out of a furry, classic Yankees uniform and was accented with a bright orange handlebar moustache and orange hair sticking out from under his sideways ballcap. Needless to say, Dandy disappeared into obscurity quickly; by 1981, he was toast. In fact, in 1998, longtime Yankees owner George Steinbrenner claimed he had "no recollection" of Dandy's existence.

2. BOOMER // COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

In 2010, the Columbus NHL franchise introduced Boomer the Cannon, another mustachioed mascot, along with their then-new alternate uniforms. Though Boomer was made in the image of the goal cannon in the Blue Jackets arena, his drab color scheme and generally phallic appearance were off-putting to fans. After his less than stellar reception, Boomer was "unceremoniously resigned mid-season," according to Columbus Alive, the city's entertainment magazine.

3. CHIEF NOC-A-HOMA // ATLANTA BRAVES

One of the longer lasting mascots on our list, and certainly the most offensive, Chief Noc-A-Homa represented the Atlanta Braves for 20 years (though he was first introduced in 1953, when the team was in Milwaukee). One of the many examples of objectionable depictions of Native Americans in professional sports, Chief was given a teepee in the stadium that he was meant to emerge from to perform a ceremonial dance when the Braves would, uh, knock a homer. After disputes over payment, the third Chief Noc-A-Homa was retired in 1986 and hasn't been seen since.

4. BONNIE BREWER // MILWAUKEE BREWERS

The Milwaukee Brewers have one of the most vibrant and recognizable mascot cultures in pro sports with their popular sausage race during the sixth inning. However, long before the sprinting meat, there was Bonnie Brewer. Bonnie, clad in lederhosen and a Brewers hat, would emerge in the middle of the fifth inning to help the grounds crew clean up the infield, sweeping each base clean. She would also give the opposing team's third base coach a kiss on the cheek when passing. As antiquated as the role sounds now, the women who played Bonnie fondly remember their experience. "For Pete's sake," Anne Haines, the final woman to play Bonnie, quipped this year, "it got a woman on the field!"

5. PIERRE THE PELICAN // NEW ORLEANS PELICANS

True, Pierre still roams the stands of the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, but not in his original form. When Pierre was first introduced in October 2013 as the new mascot of the Pelicans basketball team, he had deep, dark pupils and a red beak, presumably colored with the blood of his enemies and prey. Kids and adults alike were rightfully put off by Pierre's appearance, and almost immediately the team announced that he needed "plastic surgery" to fix a "broken beak." Looks like he got an eye lift and hair cut while he was at it, too.

6. CRAZY CRAB // SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

All of these mascots were retired, at least in part, due to their lack of popularity, but none has been as downright hated and abused as the Giants' Crazy Crab, who only served one season in 1984. The hate was by design, oddly enough—fans were encouraged to boo and throw objects at the Crab, and players would push him around, too. Crazy Crab's suit had to be lined with a fiberglass shell to protect from actor Wayne Doba from the various bottles, batteries, and urine-filled balloons thrown at him. The legend Crazy Crab left is one well-known. ESPN produced a 30 for 30 short on his tenure as an "anti-mascot," and when he made a quick return in 2008, he was greeted with sneers, jeers, and beers to the face.

7. THUNDER // GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

What did Thunder ever have to do with the Warriors? Good question! No one really knows!

Thunder's blue physique and lightning-bolted head stood out as the proud logo and mascot for the Warriors in the '00s before their elegant redesign and rise to prominence. A sort of statuesque, superhero Adonis, Thunder was known for his high-flying stunt baskets and halftime shows in Oracle Arena. Unfortunately, he had to be let go in 2008 when the Seattle Supersonics moved to Oklahoma City and renamed their team the Thunder. The Warriors haven't had a mascot since.

8. METTLE THE MULE // NEW YORK METS

The anthropomorphic baseballs that are Mr. and Mrs. Met are quite possibly the loveliest couple in the MLB. But once upon a time before the team moved to their current Citi Field location, Mettle the Mule walked the foul line at Shea Stadium in 1979. Given his name by a fan, Mettle was meant to embody the "spirit, ardor, stamina, and courage" of the New York Mets. Mettle has been forgotten in large part because he was a real mule, not a goofy mascot, and also, almost no one went to Mets games during the 1979 season.

BONUS: KING CAKE BABY // NEW ORLEANS PELICANS

Apparently New Orleans is gunning to be the horror capital of the mascot world. Not to be outdone by Pierre the Pelican's original, frightening appearance, the team also introduced the King Cake Baby, a cartoonish, nightmare-inducing giant newborn meant to emulate the good luck charm found in the traditional Mardi Gras pastry. Each year, King Cake Baby terrorizes NOLA during Mardi Gras (even if he often comes bearing colorful king cake). Good luck sleeping, New Orleans!

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