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On October 7, 1916, two college football teams met at Grant Field in Atlanta, Georgia, to do battle. The venue, which is now a part of Bobby Dodd Stadium, provided the backdrop for the host Georgia Tech Engineers and the visiting Cumberland University Bulldogs. This is the original football that was used in what became the most lopsided game in college football history as Georgia Tech, coached by John Heisman (yes, that Heisman), ran up on the score on their over-matched opponent to the tune of 222-0. The leather game ball shows obvious signs of wear and fading as the stitching is starting to separate and the laces seem to be about four eye-holes short of completion. On one of the top panels of the football is printed in bold, black marker the following descriptor: “GA. TECH. 222 CUMBERLAND•U•0 OCT. 7th. 1916.” Note: A total of 13 different players from Georgia Tech carried this football into the end zone that day.
Includes a Letter of Provenance from the Helms Athletic Foundation/LA84 Collection.
The Most Lopsided Game in College Football History
On Oct. 7, 1916, the Cumberland University Bulldogs took a train ride from Lebanon, Tennessee, to Atlanta, Georgia, to face the Georgia Tech Engineers in a college football game. The Bulldogs should have never gotten off the train. In what became the most lopsided game in college football history, the Bulldogs were annihilated, 222-0, by a Georgia Tech team coached by none other than John Heisman, the man whose name would become synonymous with gridiron greatness. On that fateful Saturday at Grant Field – which is now a part of Bobby Dowd Stadium – several factors were working against the Bulldogs. As it turns out, Cumberland had discontinued its football program before the 1916 season began, but forgot to inform Georgia Tech of its decision. Since the two teams were scheduled to play against one another, Heisman insisted that the game go on.
As the story goes, schedules were arranged by student managers so the burden fell upon Cumberland’s student manager, George E. Allen, to round up a team. With a guarantee of $500 for the school, he pieced together a 14-man squad, made up mostly of fraternity brothers, to go play Georgie Tech. Another piece to the story, which explains why Heisman was so adamant that the game be played, was that Georgia Tech’s baseball team (which he also coached) had been embarrassed the previous spring by Cumberland in the form of a 22-0 drubbing. Heisman vowed revenge that day and would get it soon enough on the football field. Another reason for Heisman's plan to run up the score was that collegiate rules at the time ranked teams based on how many points they scored. Heisman never considered that statistic a true mark of a team's success, and may have unleashed his players on Cumberland’s makeshift team to prove his point.
The game started out with the opening kickoff going to Cumberland, which was Georgia Tech’s only act of charity that day after winning the coin flip. The Bulldogs failed to gain a first down and punted back to Georgia Tech. That’s when the flood gates opened. The Engineers (now named the Yellow Jackets) scored on their very first run from scrimmage and wound up scoring on each of its possessions. Cumberland fumbled on the next play, and Tech returned it for a touchdown. Cumberland fumbled again on its first play, and Tech scored two plays later. This scoring pattern continued throughout the entire game. The first quarter ended 63-0. The Atlanta Journal reported the following day: “As a general rule, the only thing necessary for a touchdown was to give a Tech back the ball and holler, ‘Here he comes’ and ‘There he goes.’” At halftime the score read 126-0 as Heisman continued to pile it on. Georgia Tech would score 54 more points in the third quarter and 42 in the fourth to make the final score 222-0. Legend has it that Heisman told his team at halftime: “We’re ahead, but you just can’t tell what those Cumberland players have up their sleeves. They may spring a surprise. Be alert, men.”
The game ended with no first downs for either team. Georgia Tech scored every time on its first, second or third play. Cumberland’s only play of note was a 10-yard pass, little help since it came on fourth-and-22. Depending upon which side you were on, it was either the greatest margin of victory or the single biggest defeat. The stats told the story. By game’s end, Georgia Tech had amassed 528 rushing yards to go along with 220 punt return yards and 220 yards in kickoff returns. The Engineers threw not a single pass; they didn’t have to. Cumberland, on the other hand, ran for negative 42 yards on the ground and completed just two of 11 pass attempts for 14 yards. They also threw six interceptions and fumbled away the football nine times. Famed sportswriter Grantland Rice, who witnessed the contest, reported tongue-in-cheek: "Cumberland's greatest individual play of the game occurred when fullback Allen circled right for a six-yard loss." For Georgia Tech it was a day to remember. For Cumberland it was clearly a day to forget.