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222-0: The Worst Blowout in College Football History

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College football fans are no strangers to blowouts. Just look at the 2016 season: 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.

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Fumbled: The Story of the United States Football League
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There were supposed to be 44 players marching to the field when the visiting Los Angeles Express played their final regular season game against the Orlando Renegades in June 1985.

Thirty-six of them showed up. The team couldn’t afford more.

“We didn’t even have money for tape,” Express quarterback Steve Young said in 1986. “Or ice.” The squad was so poor that Young played fullback during the game. They only had one, and he was injured.

Other teams had ridden school buses to practice, driven three hours for “home games,” or shared dressing room space with the local rodeo. In August 1986, the cash-strapped United States Football League called off the coming season. The league itself would soon vaporize entirely after gambling its future on an antitrust lawsuit against the National Football League. The USFL argued the NFL was monopolizing television time; the NFL countered that the USFL—once seen as a promising upstart—was being victimized by its own reckless expansion and the wild spending of team owners like Donald Trump.

They were both right.


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Spring football. That was David Dixon’s pitch. The New Orleans businessman and football advocate—he helped get the Saints in his state—was a fan of college ball and noticed that spring scrimmages at Tulane University led to a little more excitement in the air. With a fiscally responsible salary cap in place and a 12-team roster, he figured his idea could be profitable. Market research agreed: a hired broadcast research firm asserted 76 percent of fans would watch what Dixon had planned.

He had no intention of grappling with the NFL for viewers. That league’s season aired from September through January, leaving a football drought March through July. And in 1982, a players’ strike led to a shortened NFL season, making the idea of an alternative even more appealing to networks. Along with investors for each team region, Dixon got ABC and the recently-formed ESPN signed to broadcast deals worth a combined $35 million over two years.

When the Chicago Blitz faced the Washington Federals on the USFL’s opening day March 6, 1983, over 39,000 fans braved rain at RFK Stadium in Washington to see it. The Federals lost 28-7, foreshadowing their overall performance as one of the league’s worst. Owner Berl Bernhard would later complain the team played like “untrained gerbils.”

Anything more coordinated might have been too expensive. The USFL had instituted a strict $1.8 million salary cap that first year to avoid franchise overspending, but there were allowances made so each team could grab one or two standout rookies. In 1983, the big acquisition was Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, who opted out of his senior year at Georgia to turn pro. Walker signed with the New Jersey Generals in a three-year, $5 million deal.

Jim Kelly and Steve Young followed. Stan White left the Detroit Lions. Marcus Dupree left college. The rosters were built up from scratch using NFL cast-offs or prospects from nearby colleges, where teams had rights to “territorial” drafts.

To draw a line in the sand, the USFL had advertising play up the differences between the NFL’s product and their own. Their slogan, “When Football Was Fun,” was a swipe at the NFL’s increasingly draconian rules regarding players having any personality. They also advised teams to run a series of marketable halftime attractions. The Denver Gold once offered a money-back guarantee for attendees who weren’t satisfied. During one Houston Gamblers game, boxer George Foreman officiated a wedding. Cars were given away at Tampa Bay Bandits games. The NFL, the upstart argued, stood for the No Fun League.

For a while, it appeared to be working. The Panthers, which had invaded the city occupied by the Detroit Lions, averaged 60,000 fans per game, higher than their NFL counterparts. ABC was pleased with steady ratings. The league was still conservative in their spending.

That would change—many would argue for the worse—with the arrival of Donald Trump.

Despite Walker’s abilities on the field, his New Jersey Generals ended the inaugural 1983 season at 6-12, one of the worst records in the league. The excitement having worn off, owner J. Walter Duncan decided to sell the team to real estate investor Trump for a reported $5-9 million.

A fixture of New York media who was putting the finishing touches on Trump Tower, Trump introduced two extremes to the USFL. His presence gave the league far more press attention than it had ever received, but his bombastic approach to business guaranteed he wouldn’t be satisfied with an informal salary cap. Trump spent and spent some more, recruiting players to improve the Generals. Another Heisman winner, quarterback Doug Flutie, was signed to a five-year, $7 million contract, the largest in pro football at the time. Trump even pursued Lawrence Taylor, then a player for the New York Giants, who signed a contract saying that, after his Giants contract expired, he’d join Trump’s team. The Giants wound up buying out the Taylor/Trump contract for $750,000 and quadrupled Taylor’s salary, and Trump wound up with pages of publicity.

Trump’s approach was effective: the Generals improved to 14-4 in their sophomore season. But it also had a domino effect. In order to compete with the elevated bar of talent, other team owners began spending more, too. In a race to defray costs, the USFL approved six expansion teams that paid a buy-in of $6 million each to the league.

It did little to patch the seams. Teams were so cash-strapped that simple amenities became luxuries. The Michigan Panthers dined on burnt spaghetti and took yellow school buses to training camp; players would race to cash checks knowing the last in line stood a chance of having one bounce. When losses became too great, teams began to merge with one another: The Washington Federals became the Orlando Renegades. By the 1985 season, the USFL was down to 14 teams. And because the ABC contract required the league to have teams in certain top TV markets, ABC started withholding checks.

Trump was unmoved. Since taking over the Generals, he had been petitioning behind the scenes for the other owners to pursue a shift to a fall season, where they would compete with the NFL head on. A few owners countered that fans had already voiced their preference for a spring schedule. Some thought it would be tantamount to league suicide.

Trump continued to push. By the end of the 1984 season, he had swayed opinion enough for the USFL to plan on one final spring block in 1985 before making the move to fall in 1986.

In order to make that transition, they would have to win a massive lawsuit against the NFL.

In the mid-1980s, three major networks meant that three major broadcast contracts would be up for grabs—and the NFL owned all three. To Trump and the USFL, this constituted a monopoly. They filed suit in October 1984. By the time it went to trial in May 1986, the league had shrunk from 18 teams to 14, hadn’t hosted a game since July 1985, kept only threadbare rosters, and was losing what existing television deals it had by migrating to smaller markets (a major part of the NFL’s case was that the real reason for the lawsuit, and the moves to smaller markets, was to make the league an attractive takeover prospect for the NFL). The ruling—which could have forced the NFL to drop one of the three network deals—would effectively become the deciding factor of whether the USFL would continue operations.

They came close. A New York jury deliberated for 31 hours over five days. After the verdict, jurors told press that half believed the NFL was guilty of being a monopoly and were prepared to offer the USFL up to $300 million in damages; the other half thought the USFL had been crippled by its own irresponsible expansion efforts. Neither side would budge.

To avoid a hung jury, it was decided they would find in favor of the USFL but only award damages in the amount of $1. One juror told the Los Angeles Times that she thought it would be an indication for the judge to calculate proper damages.

He didn’t. The USFL was awarded treble damages for $3 in total, an amount that grew slightly with interest after time for appeal. The NFL sent them a payment of $3.76. (Less famously, the NFL was also ordered to pay $5.5 million in legal fees.)

Rudy Shiffer, vice-president of the Memphis Showboats, summed up the USFL's fate shortly after the ruling was handed down. “We’re dead,” he said.

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Arizona Teen Becomes First Female to Earn a College Football Scholarship
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In recent years, women have made great strides in male-dominated sports. Currently in the NBA, Becky Hammon and Nancy Lieberman have proven their worth as assistant coaches for the San Antonio Spurs and Sacramento Kings, respectively, while Sarah Thomas made news as the first official female referee in the NFL in 2015. Now, an Arizona teenager named Becca Longo is joining their ranks.

On April 12, Longo, an 18-year-old kicker from Basha High School in Chandler, Arizona, signed a letter of intent to receive an athletic scholarship and play for the Division II football team at Adams State University in Alamosa, Colorado. She is the first woman to be on scholarship at a Division II school or higher—a fact Longo herself didn't even realize until her high school coach informed her at the signing ceremony.

Longo’s kicking prowess in high school was highlighted by her making 30 out of 33 extra point attempts during her senior season, which caught the attention of Adams’s head coach, Timm Rosenbach. She also sent the school a highlight reel and began following coach Rosenbach on Twitter to show him what she could do.

"She's kind of put herself out there to let everyone know she wants to do this," Rosenbach told CNN. "If she's able to compete at a level we think she's able to compete at, we should afford her that opportunity to do that."

Longo’s persistence led to a visit from Adams’s offensive coordinator, Josh Blankenship, who told the young kicker that the school was interested in her being on the team. But being on scholarship doesn’t mean a spot on the starting roster is guaranteed. The kicking spot is up for grabs, according to Rosenbach, and there are two other kickers who Longo will have to beat out for the job. But despite the pressure, Longo told ESPN, "I'm ready to compete. I don't really have any expectations beyond that."

In addition to the football team, Longo has also committed to play basketball at Adams State next year.

[h/t CBS]

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