Our greatest glory is not in never falling,
but in rising every time we fall.
When the dust settled, the game maintained an almost eerie quiet in the pages of the sports media, no doubt due to the spotlight stealing opening game of the World Series featuring the Bambino. But there were those who witnessed the carnage that took place that day. The reports in the paper the following day were like those that might have followed the confrontation between David and Goliath, had David forgotten his sling. The headline in the Atlanta Constitution read, “Yellow Jackets Roll Up Over Two Hundred Points in Beating Cumberland”.
Sportswriter Hal Reynolds noted the relentless scoring that led to the highest number of points ever put up by a football team. He also pointed out the platoons of players Heisman sent after the overmatched Cumberland team. “At the beginning of the second period,” Reynolds wrote, “practically a new team was sent in and they, not to be outdone by their team-mates, ran up another 63 points before the close of the period.” The sportswriter didn’t have much good to say about Cumberland, only recognizing the contributions of one player. “For Cumberland, the playing of Murphy was easily the best,” wrote Reynolds. “Although unaided, he fought the Jackets hard, at times almost getting away for a nice gain.”
Morgan Blake was even less kind to Cumberland in the Atlanta Journal. “The Lebanon boys were absolutely minus any apparent football virtues,” wrote Blake. “They couldn't run with the ball, they couldn't block and they couldn't tackle. At spasmodic intervals they were able to down a runner, but they were decidedly too light and green to be effective at any stage of the game.” The sportswriter said the contest was more like a burlesque than a football game, and claimed Tech walked over the Cumberland players like they were paper dolls. He noted Tech never once punted or attempted a forward pass. There was no need to do either. If the ball wasn’t returned for a score on a fumble, interception or punt, Tech would just run it in for a score, never requiring more than three plays to do so.
“As a general rule,” Blake admitted, “the only thing necessary for a touchdown was to give a Tech back the ball and holler, ‘Here he comes’ and ‘There he goes.’” His one and only criticism for the Georgia Tech team was in his acknowledgement that “the tremendous score was due more to the pitifully weak opposition than to any unnatural strength on the part of the victors.” After watching the gridiron debacle, Grantland Rice also weighed in, reporting that, “Cumberland's greatest individual play of the game occurred when fullback Allen circled right for a six-yard loss.” He was only slightly exaggerating.
The statistics from the game were the sports equivalent to Waterloo or Little Bighorn. In an abbreviated 45 minutes of play, Georgia Tech scored 222 total points, while holding the boys from Cumberland scoreless. The first touchdown by Georgia Tech occurred in less than one minute of play. The scoring continued at a rate not much slower than that.
If the 1915 Vanderbilt Commodores were a point-a-minute team, Georgia Tech, on this day anyway, was nearly a touchdown-a-minute team, scoring 32 touchdowns in just 45 minutes of play. “My good friend, Chip Robert, whom I later succeeded as Secretary of the Democratic National Committee, was Graduate Manager of Athletics at Georgia Tech in 1916,” wrote George Allen years later. “The assistant coach was John Brookes, a distinguished lawyer, with whom I now serve on the Republic Steel Board. John is always exaggerating, claiming that we were defeated by the ridiculous score of 232 to 0.”
On the way to victory and the record books, Georgia Tech racked up 501 rushing yards, averaging 17.3 yards per carry, compared to the -42 rushing yards put up by Cumberland. This record for ineptitude on the ground stood for 97 years until the Michigan Wolverines were held to -48 yards rushing by the Michigan State Spartans in 2013. The first half of the game featured eighteen consecutive extra points by kicker Jim Preas, which is still a college football record, as is most everything in this game. Cumberland ultimately lost 9 fumbles to Georgia Tech and threw 6 interceptions, finishing the game with 2 completions on 18 attempts for a total of 14 yards passing. Two of the fumbles and five of the six interceptions were returned for scores.
All-American halfback Everett Strupper, who was deaf and called the plays for Tech, scored eight touchdowns in only three quarters of play, and would have scored a ninth had he not intentionally downed the ball on the one-yard-line, in one instance, to allow a teammate to score. According to the record of the game, Strupper only touched the ball one other time in the game without scoring, getting tackled somehow by Cumberland after gaining 15 yards. Another Tech player punched it in from the five-yard line on the very next play. Strupper’s scores include a 60-yard touchdown run and two punt returns for scores from 45 and 50 yards out. He even chipped in with an extra point before getting pulled from the contest to allow his backup to finish the game’s final quarter. Morris Gouger, by comparison, was the leading rusher for Cumberland, finishing the game with -2 yards rushing on five carries.
On 29 rushing attempts, Tech netted 501 yards and 19 touchdowns. Cumberland only managed to stop a Tech runner from scoring about one out of every three times. The game statistics compiled from the play-by-play stated, “Tech had no lost yards in the game.” On nine punt returns, Tech netted an equally impressive 288 yards and 5 touchdowns. In other words, more punts were returned for touchdowns by Tech than weren’t. Kickoff returns netted another 220 yards for Tech, including the 90-yard score by Spence.
The Yellow Jackets held Cumberland to no first downs and prevented them from ever crossing the 50-yard line to make it into Georgia Tech territory. Eleven different players scored touchdowns for Georgia Tech (Everett Strupper, Marshall “Shorty” Guill, Jim Preas, Canty Alexander, Tommy Spence, Jim Senter, George Griffin, Bob Glover, Stan Fellers, Buzz Shavers and Walker “Big Six” Carpenter).
Not everything said about the Cumberland-Georgia Tech football game can be viewed as 100% accurate and verifiable. Stories of this nature are always prone to embellishment. Some have called into question the stealing of the uniforms by Cumberland. “The players did not have to borrow uniforms from Castle Heights, as has been said,” claimed G. Frank Burns, the late Cumberland University historian, “a photo of Gentry Dugat, made just before the Atlanta trip, shows him wearing the same kind of uniform Cumberland used in 1913-15.” Official records from the game helped correct some of the other myths.
Despite Grantland Rice’s satirical quip that the greatest single play had been a “six-yard loss”, Cumberland did manage to find a morsel of success on the field. There were a few runs from scrimmage that produced positive yardage, and quarterback Leon McDonald is on record as completing passes to Charlie Warwick, Jr. for 4 yards and “George Murphy” for 10 yards. The game records also show McDonald doing the majority of the punting for Cumberland, as opposed to Pete Gray, who reportedly earned the “Grayback” nickname performing those duties.
Another historical inaccuracy is the claim of Georgia Tech never getting a first down because they never needed one, always scoring with three tries each time Tech had the ball. While it was correct, the team never needed more than three attempts to score, they still would have gotten a number of first downs since plenty of their non-scoring runs went for more than ten yards. The game statistics compiled from the play-by-play recorded twenty first downs for Tech.
For those who appreciate reading such details, no matter how masochistic it may seem, below is the actual play-by-play account of the game by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Georgia Tech won the toss and elected to kick off, defensing the North Goal.
Preas kicked off for Tech who was tackled with no return on the Cumberland 25-yard line. Gouger hit left tackle for 3 yards. McDonald failed to gain. McDonald punted 20 yards to Preas who returned 18 yards to the Cumberland 20.
Cumberland reportedly lost their starting quarterback due to injury during the kickoff return. Morris Gouger started off the action with a promising 3-yard gain. The play was not indicative of what was to come.
On the first play, Strupper swept left end for a Georgia Tech touchdown. Preas kicked the extra point. Tech 7, Cumberland 0.
Spence kicked off for Tech to Gouger who returned 5 yards to the Cumberland 10. Murphy, attempting to sweep right end, fumbled at the line of scrimmage, Guill recovering for Tech and scoring. Preas converted. Tech 14, Cumberland 0.
It has been speculated that “Murphy,” as in George Murphy, is the name reporter, and Cumberland alumni, Johnny Dog Nelson played the game under as an unreported ringer. With a fumble the first time he touches the ball, he doesn’t turn out to be much of one.
Preas kicked off for Tech to Gouger who returned the ball 20 yards to the Cumberland 30. On the first play McDonald fumbled and West recovered for Tech on the Cumberland 20.
Strupper Lot 15 yards at right end. Preas went 5 yards for the score. Preas converted. Georgia Tech 21, Cumberland 0.
Two consecutive series resulted in two consecutive Cumberland fumbles. Georgia Tech capitalized.
Preas kicked off for Tech to McDonald who returned 10 yards to the Cumberland 20. Gouger lost 5 yards, McDonald's pass attempt was incomplete. McDonald's second pass attempt was also incomplete. McDonald punted 20 yards out of bounds on the Cumberland 35.
First two pass attempts by Cumberland, resulting as merely incompletions should be regarded as successful plays for Cumberland. Despite passing now being incorporated into college football, and Heisman being instrumental in having passing implemented into the sport, Heisman’s Georgia Tech team never attempted a pass in the game. Seems Heisman didn’t see the need. There would be no hidden ball tricks either. The play continued:
Shaver gained 25 yards at left end for Tech. Strupper hit the same spot for 10 yards and a touchdown. Preas converted. Now 28-0 Tech.
Cumberland, already down 28-0, and tired of losing yards, or worse yet, losing the football, on offense, decided to instead punt the ball back to Georgia Tech on first down.
McDonald kicked off for Cumberland to Shaver who returned the ball 70 yards to the Cumberland 10. Strupper got 9 yards at right end. Alexander scored from the 1. Preas' conversion made it 35-0 Georgia Tech.
The previous score is the infamous “Canty Alexander play” where the celebrated senior lineman for the Yellow Jackets, reportedly an extremely large fellow, was given the opportunity to score a touchdown for Georgia Tech after All-American halfback Everett Strupper intentionally downed the ball on the one yard line.
McDonald kicked off for Cumberland again, this time to Carpenter who returned 5 yards to the Tech 40. Strupper ran 60 yards for the score. Preas converted. Tech 42, Cumberland 0.
McDonald kicked off for Cumberland to Carpenter who returned 10 yards to the Tech 35. Shaver got 25 at right end. Puckett hit the middle for 5 to the Cumberland 35. Spence scored on the next play and Preas' conversion put Tech on top 49-0.
Spence kicked off for Tech to McDonald who was tackled for no gain on the Cumberland 10. McDonald attempted two passes, both incomplete. McDonald punted 35 yards to Strupper who returned the kick 45 yards for a Tech touchdown. Preas converted. Georgia Tech 56, Cumberland 0.
Two more Cumberland pass attempts. Two more incompletions. McDonald was now 0 for 4 in passing. Still, the incompletions had to be viewed as moral victories.
McDonald kicked off for Cumberland to Spence who took the ball on the Tech 10 and returned it 90 yards for a touchdown. Preas got his ninth conversion of the quarter to make it 63-0, Georgia Tech.
Spence kicked off for Tech to Gouger who returned 10 yards to the Cumberland 25, Gouger lost 5 to the 20. McDonald lost 5 more to the 15. McDonald's pass was incomplete as the quarter ended. 63-0 Tech.
Two five-yard losses by Cumberland and another McDonald incompletion. The first quarter ended with an unheard of 63 points scored in a single quarter. Certainly, those in attendance were sure they had witnessed a record for points scored in a quarter that would never be repeated. Not until it was repeated by Georgia Tech in the very next quarter:
SECOND QUARTER - Cumberland, fourth down on its own 15. McDonald punted 50 yards to Turner who returned 45 yards to the Cumberland 20, Senter scored at right end for Tech. Preas converted. Georgia Tech 70, Cumberland 0.
Preas kicked off for Tech to Murphy who returned 15 yards to the Cumberland 35, Gouger got 5 at right tackle. McDonald's pass was completed to Warwick for 4 yards to the 44. McDonald's punt sliced off his foot just, 11 yards out of bounds on the Tech.
George Allen must have given some words of encouragement to his Cumberland players between the change of quarters because his team responded with some of the most inspired play they demonstrated the entire game. A five-yard run by Gouger and a 4-yard McDonald pass completion, the first of two completions he threw that day, leaving Cumberland one yard short of a first down. Georgia Tech held them and Cumberland was forced to punt.
Senter raced 40 yards for Tech on an end-around to the Cumberland 15, Preas scored from the 15, then converted, to make it 77-0 Tech.
Preas kicked off for Tech to Gouger who returned 5 yards to the Cumberland 20. McDonald's pass was intercepted by Guill on the 20 and he returned it for a Tech touchdown. Preas converted. 84-0 Georgia Tech.
Preas kicked off for Tech to Murphy who was tackled for no gain on the Cumberland 10, Edwards fumbled. Glover recovered for Tech on the 10.
Griffin scored from the 10 for Tech. Preas' conversion made it 91-0.
Preas kicked off for Tech to Murphy who returned 5 yards to the Tech 15. McDonald's pass was intercepted by Senter who returned it to the Cumberland 3.
Three straight drives resulted in Cumberland turnovers. Interception. Fumble. Interception. The fumble by Eddie “QB” Edwards suggests the injured quarterback made some appearances back in the game.
Strupper scored from the 3. Preas converted. Tech 98, Cumberland 0.
Preas kicked off out of bounds at the Cumberland 10 where Cumberland took the ball. McDonald hit center for no gain. McDonald punted 15 yards to Guill who returned 10 to the Cumberland 15.
Griffin got 11 yards in two carries, then Glover scored from the Preas converted and it was 105-0 Georgia Tech.
Georgia Tech had now scored over 100 points in a single half of football.
Preas kicked off for Tech to Gouger who returned 10 to the Cumberland 10. Gouger fumbled at the line of scrimmage and Preas recovered, running the ball in for a Tech score. Preas converted and it was 112-0.
Preas kicked off for Tech to Murphy who returned 15 yards to the Cumberland 15. Murphy's pass was intercepted by Fellers who returned it 17 yards for a Tech score. Preas converted to make it 119-0.
Preas kicked off for Tech to Murphy who returned 10 to the Cumberland 25. Murphy lost 2. McDonald lost 5. McDonald lost 5 more, then punted 20 yards to Fellers who returned it 33 yards for a touchdown. Preas got his 18th straight conversion of the game and Tech led 126-0.
The eighteen consecutive extra points by Jim Preas continues to be a college football record for a single game, much less a single half of football. The point totals for a single half (126) and a quarter (63) also stand as college football records.
Preas kicked off to Murphy who returned 15 yards to the Cumberland 15 as the half ended. Georgia Tech 126, Cumberland 0.
Halftime. Heisman delivered his halftime speech where he told his players not to let up because the Cumberland team may still have something up their sleeves. The second half begins:
THIRD QUARTER - Spence kicked off to Murphy who returned 10 yards to the Cumberland 15. Edwards lost 5. Three more Cumberland plays were unsuccessful and Tech took over on the Cumberland 10.
Alexander ran for 7 yards. Strupper scored from the 3. Spence converted to make it 133-0 Georgia Tech.
Spence kicked through the Cumberland end zone and Cumberland was given the ball at its 20. Murphy lost 5. Murphy kicked 10 yards to Shaver who ran 25 for a Tech touchdown. Spence's conversion... 140-0.
Spence kicked off for Tech to Murphy who returned 10 yards to the Cumberland 10. Murphy fumbled, Spence recovered for Tech at the 10.
Spence scored on the next play and converted. Tech 147 to 0.
Edwards kicked off for Cumberland to Bell who returned 45 yards to the Cumberland 15. Strupper scored at right end from the 15. Spence's conversion made it Georgia Tech 154, Cumberland 0. This set a new world record for total number of points scored in a game of football by one college team against another college team. The former record was 153 points scored by Michigan in 1912.
As mentioned in the Atlanta Journal Constitution play-by-play, the 154 points eclipsed the previous game scoring record, held by the University of Michigan, and this game was only in the third quarter. Michigan, oddly enough, would wind up breaking one of the records set on this day decades later.
Spence kicked off for Tech to Cope who returned 10 yards to the Cumberland 35. On the first play Cumberland fumbled and Tech recovered at the 35.
On the first play Spence went 35 yards right up the middle for the Tech touchdown. Spence converted and Tech led 161-0.
Spence kicked off for Tech to Murphy who returned 10 yards to the Cumberland 10. McDonald lost 5 yards. Murphy was stopped for no gain. Murphy gained 3 to the 8, fumbled and Tech recovered at the 8.
Carpenter went 8 yards for the Tech touchdown. Spence's conversion attempt was wide, the first Tech miss after 23 straight had been scored. It was now Tech 167, Cumberland 0.
Spence kicked off for Tech to Murphy who returned 5 yards to the Cumberland 20. Murphy's pass was incomplete. Murphy's pass was again incomplete. McDonald punted 35 yards to Strupper who returned the punt 55 yards for a touchdown. Spence missed the conversion. 173-0 Tech.
Georgia Tech finally showed some weakness. Two straight possessions resulted in two straight missed extra points by Tommy Spence, who had replaced Preas of his kicking duties for the second half. Maybe there was still hope for Cumberland.
Spence kicked off for Tech to Murphy who was tackled for no return on the Cumberland 10. Murphy's pass was intercepted by Spence who returned it 20 yards for a Tech score. Strupper converted... 180-0.
After the two failed extra points, Spence was relieved of his kicking duties by Heisman. In fact, the starting fullback is not reported again in the play-by-play in any capacity. One of the two missed extra points was likely the result of a blocked kick that broke the nose of Vichy Woods. A photo of Woods after the game shows him with a bandaged nose and Jim Paul recounts the tale in his book on the game “You Dropped It, You Pick it Up!”, the title referencing an incident that would occur in the game’s fourth quarter:
FOURTH QUARTER - Guill kicked off for Tech to Murphy who was tackled for no return on the Cumberland 20. McDonald's pass was intercepted by Fellers who returned it 40 yards for a Tech score. Fincher's conversion, 187-0.
According to his own words, at some point in the game, due to the dwindling number of healthy players, “Fullback” allegedly makes an appearance as a player. Since Allen was the team manager, it’s not out of the realm of possibilities that, similar to his ringer Johnny Dog Nelson, he had to enter the game under a phony name.
Since Eddie “QB” Edwards makes a sudden reappearance in the stat sheet after reportedly being knocked out of the game on the opening kickoff, it’s not unreasonable to put two and two together and come to the intriguing, albeit historical irresponsible, conclusion that Allen checked into the lineup under the name of his injured quarterback.
Guill kicked off for Tech to Murphy who returned 10 yards to the Cumberland 30. Murphy failed to Gain. Edwards ran to the Cumberland 35 where his fumble was recovered by Glover.
Griffin got 35 yards at right end for the Tech touchdown. Fincher converted. Georgia Tech 194, Cumberland 0.
Guill kicked off for Tech to Edwards who returned 10 yards to the Cumberland 30. Edwards lost 3 yards. McDonald punted 20 yards to Guill who returned 17 yards to the Cumberland 30.
Glover ran 28 yards and Senter scored on the next play from the 2. Fincher's conversion made it 201-0 Georgia Tech.
Fincher kicked off to Edwards who returned 10 yards to the Cumberland 10. Murphy lost 3 and Edwards lost 5. McDonald's pass was completed to Murphy for 10 yards to the 12 (Cumberland's longest gain of the game). McDonald punted 28 yards to Fellers who returned 40 yards for a Tech touchdown. Fincher converted and it was 208-0.
As mentioned above, the McDonald pass completion to “Murphy” is the longest play of the game for Cumberland. Maybe securing a ringer was a good idea by Allen after all. Unfortunately, although the play gained ten yards it did not result in a first down, being it was 3rd and 18 at the time due to two straight runs for losses.
Fincher kicked off to Murphy who returned it 3 yards to the Cumberland 18. Edwards rushed for no gain. Murphy fumbled on the line of scrimmage, Senter recovering and returning it 3 yards for Tech.
The fumble by “Murphy” would seem to be the likely play the famed “You dropped it, you pick it up!” moment had taken place. In various reports of the game, the quote is often attributed to other players, such as B. F. “Bird” Paty. But in his autobiography, Allen, of course, attributes the humorous line to himself, stating it was ringer Johnny Dog who fumbled and shouted at Allen to jump on it, which he politely refused. A Tech player winded up recovering the ball.
Fellers got 15 yards at left end for the Tech touchdown. Fincher converted. Georgia Tech 215-0.
Fincher kicked off for Tech to Warwick who returned 5 yards to the Cumberland 15. Edwards and McDonald were each stopped for no gain. McDonald's pass was intercepted by Senter who returned it 30 yards for the game’s final touchdown. Fincher's conversion made it 222-0.
Fincher kicked off to Gouger who returned 5 yards to the Cumberland 20. Edwards lost 5 yards as the game ended.
FINAL SCORE: GEORGIA TECH 222, CUMBERLAND 0.
Included in the play-by-play from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution were the names of the Georgia Tech starters and substitutes, as well as the Cumberland squad:
Georgia. Tech Starters: J.C. (Jim) Senter, LE; W.G. (Six) Carpenter, LT; R.M. (Bob) Long, LG; G.M. (Pup) Phillips, C; G.R. (Hip) West, RG; J.C. (Canty) Alexander, RT; R.S. (Si) Bell, RE; D.E. (Froggie) Morrison. QB; G.E. (Strup) Strupper, LH; J.T. (Talley) Johnston, RH; T.L. (Tommy) Spence, FB.
Georgia Tech Substitutes: Ends - H.R. Dunwoody, P.O. (Frank) Pruitt, A.R .(Alton) Colcord, S.O. (Samuel) Fitzgerald, J.C. (Julian) Hightower, Ralph Puckett. Tackles - W.E. (Bill) Fincher, Hugh Mauck, C.A. (Curtis) McRee, W.F. Thweatt, Guards - W.C. Mathis, J.C. Funkhouser, J.H. (Jim) Preas, Bill Ward. QBs - G.C. (George) Griffin, M.F. (Marshall) Guill, A.B. (Albert) Hill. HBs - J.W. (John) Mangham I Wally Smith; C.F. (Charlie) Turner, J.W. (Wright) Brown, Stan Fellers, Buzz Shaver, FBs - W.F. (Bill) Simpson, A.D. (Dawson) Teague, R.G. (Bob) Glover,, G.E. (George) Ansley
Georgia Tech Coach: John Heisman.
Cumberland squad: T.N. (Morris) Gouger,, E.L. (Leon) McDonald., G.T. (George) Murphy., C.E. (Eddie) Edwards, C.W. (Charlie) Warwick, D.R. (Dow) Cope Gentry Dugat, D.N. (David) Harsh, E.W. McCall H.F. Carney., R.E. (Pete) Gray, B.F. (Bird) Patey, J.D. (Dean) Gauldin, Hamblen and Geiger* Coach - Ernest (Butch) McQueen. Manager - G.E. (George) Allen.
For the season, Georgia Tech put up 421 points while holding their collective opponents to only 20. The Yellow Jackets went unbeaten, with the season’s only blemish coming from a 7-7 tie with Washington & Lee:
1916 FOOTBALL RESULTS – GEORGIA TECH (7-0-1)
Washington & Lee
In the December 7, 1916 edition of The Sun, George B. Underwood commented on the horse race coming down to the wire between Georgia Tech and Georgetown for the college football scoring title. Georgia Tech rolled up 421 points to Georgetown’s 412, although Georgetown still had one game left to play. Beside the newspaper article, however, in the team standings for the season, the Tech game against Cumberland, in the second week of the season (likely due to limited space in the column) is only listed as being won by the score of 22 to 0, instead of the actual 222. This shorted the Georgia Tech team in the season point total by a full two hundred points, listing them as scoring only 221 total points for the season instead of the actual 421.
This also doesn’t take into account the fact Heisman had agreed to end the score-a-thon game against Cumberland by fifteen minutes of play. If Georgia Tech had merely matched their first half rate of scoring, that would have added another 30 points to their season point total. After beating up on Tulane, by the tune of 61-0, Georgetown made it a moot point, finishing with the 464-point scoring title, but still, this would have given Coach Heisman one more reason to be irritated by sportswriters.
On December 16, 1916, a gala celebration was held at the Druid Hills Golf Club in honor of the Georgia Tech team. The menu for the banquet to close the football season was inspired by Tech’s long list of defeated opponents, featuring such edibles as “Mercer Celery” that was “easy to digest”, “Davidson Almonds” that were “spicy and good” and, of course, “Cumberland Olives” described as being “enough and to spare”.
The evening featured the election of the following year’s team captain, the awarding of letters and other recognitions as well as a “special speech by Coach J. W. Heisman”. The football team was also awarded with a pennant declaring Georgia Tech “‘16 Champions of the South”. It was the largest ever made, even larger than the one presented to the team in 1915. The “Gorgeous Display of White and Gold” was 45 feet in length and 15 feet in height. The local sports authorities were glowing in their reviews of the 1916 Southern Champions:
The Tech Yellow Jackets presented during the past season the best all-around football team it has ever been my pleasure to witness in ten years as a sports writer in this section. It combined a varied and powerful drive of offense with the sturdiest defense I have ever witnessed, several individual stars, but primarily a co-ordination of team play and spirit and knowledge of the game that did credit to the coaching as well as to the ability of the men themselves. I do not hesitate to state that, in my opinion, it was not only the best Tech team ever, but equal to any the South has ever seen. And above all, it was composed of a group of splendid sportsmen and gentlemen. All hail Yellow Jackets! Southern Champions of 1916! – Dick Jemison, The Atlanta Constitution
In a rather extensive and variegated career I’ve seen a lot of football and a lot of football teams. In the good-old-days I used to see most of them double, but even when I enjoyed that extension of vision, I know I have never seen as good a football team as the Jackets of 1916. We all know what a splendid piece of mechanism it was and we all know how hard it was to get this polish, for that team was three years in the making, but the trouble is that it’s difficult to understand how it’s going to be more so next year. And that what the sharks tell me is going to happen. When it does happen, don’t gloat too much over your own success. Just be thankful that the other fellows had the nerve to put such a team on their schedule. – Fuzzy Woodruff, The Atlanta Georgian
There are five factors necessary in every championship football team. One is the coach; the second is the compactness and team spirit of the team as a whole; the third is the presence of individual stars who can arise to occasions; the fourth is a brainy signal caller - a cool general on the firing line; the fifth is the loyal support of the students and alumni of the college. And here’s the answer: Tech had Heisman and his able assistant coaches; wonderful team spirit; wonderful individual stars; a great field general in Morrison; and the loyal devotion of every Tech under-graduate and alumnus. No wonder Tech won the championship! – Morgan Blake, The Atlanta Journal
Running up the most lopsided score in the history of college football, however, did not sit so well with everyone. In the university archives are the words “Tech’s Disgrace” above photos from the game in a scrapbook belonging to one of the Tech players.
Not everyone agreed with his method of doing it, but Heisman had made his point to the sportswriters. And he had done it in a manner that would last far longer than any mere words, no matter how eloquent, ever would. Fans and sports commentators continue to argue how to accurately rank college teams one hundred years later, despite a playoff system finally being incorporated in 2014. Still Heisman’s reputation would be forever tarnished in the minds of some.
“By gawd, there might be some question as to which team is the best team at the end of the season,” a notable Tech alumni and supporter named George Adair was quoted as saying at the close of the contest, “but there ain’t going to be a question about which is the sorriest.” Senior lineman Canty Alexander was quoted as boasting, “Well boys, I got my touchdown.” To which fellow lineman Bob Lang scoffed, “I’d spurn a touchdown against that bunch of dubs.”
In the 1917 edition of the Blue Print, Heisman defended the game against Cumberland:
A word about this point-scoring before we go further: The writer has often contended that this habit on the part of sport writers of totaling up, from week's end to week's end, the number of points each team had amassed in its various games, and comparing them one with another, was a useless thing, for it means nothing whatever in the way of determining which is the better of an evenly grouped set of college teams. Still the writers persisted, and some at each season's end would still presume to hang an argument on what they claimed it showed. So, finding that folks are determined to take the crazy thing into consideration, we at Tech determined this year, at the start of the season, to show folks that it was not a very difficult thing to run up a score in one easy game, from which it might perhaps be seen that it could also be done in other easy games as well.
Accordingly, in the Cumberland game, the Jackets set all their sails to make a record run… And for the first time in our football career we turned loose all we had in the way of scoring stuff, and the result was a world's record of 222 points rolled up in 45 minutes of play. Now, we don't take any particular credit in doing that. If that were all we were after we could have followed exactly the same line of action and, while not compiling as many points as against Cumberland, we could nevertheless have so heaped 'em up as to have been able, dare say, to add at least another 100 to our season's grand total of 421. But even this 421 was a record for the entire country for the season, and here we find a lot of people and papers all over the country once more making much of it and printing our name in big type at the top of columns of flub-dub. My, my! But it's easy to fool some folks!
Now, our nice, plump score of 61 against Mercer was not made around the ends but almost entirely through the line. Had we taken the other route I fancy we could have made it well over 100; but we were testing out that day what our line was going to be good for; and we found out - to our entire satisfaction. The line gave all the evidence any football man wanted, what it was going to be like, and it lived up to that standard. Against Cumberland it was the backs who received their test, and after that game had also passed into historical oblivion we knew we had both a line and a backfield, and whenever we had to have the best efforts of both we got them, throughout the remainder of our games.
Heisman had accomplished what he had set out to do. He had put up an obscene point total against an inferior team to prove a critical point to the sportswriters. It must not have come as any surprise to him that his players could accomplish such a feat. What must have surprised him was the fact his opponents were still standing at the end of the game.
Even under the direst of circumstances, the boys from Lebanon never gave up. Every time they fell, they rose back up for the start of the next agonizing play. They had to. Their school depended on it. This was something that had certainly earned the admiration of Heisman. There are not many qualities Heisman despised more than a lack of grit. "Absolutely nothing can be done with a ‘quitter,’” Heisman was quoted as saying, “and if there are too many of that kind on a team, you might as well say ‘Good night,’ and give it up for another year.”
Though Cumberland lacked talent, they never gave up. Right down to the bitter end. As the story of the game played out, Heisman found himself the tragic Shakespearean hero whose virtue was compromised by his attempt to do what he believed to be right. George Allen, meanwhile, was the scoundrel who, despite suffering a devastating defeat on the field, managed to outwit the noble king to steal away his honor. In winning, Tech had somehow lost. And in losing, Cumberland had somehow managed to win.
The One Great Scorer would not only tally the points that were scored on the field that day, but also the men who could hold their heads high as they walked off it. For the hundred years that followed, the game provided an unusual take on what it means to win on the field as well as off of it. And the outrageous nature of the contest ensured the game would continue to resonate. Or at the very least provide a little bit of levity the next time there was a huge blowout in the sports world. As Gentry Dugat said, they had played themselves into immortality that day.
Georgia Tech would go down in history as the merciless Goliath that, under the encouragement of their famous head coach, rolled over an inferior football team to the double-take inducing score of 222-0. Cumberland, meanwhile, would spend much of the next century being regarded as the sports team most synonymous with losing (outside of possibly the fictional Washington Generals). The game wasn’t the best thing for either team to be remembered for, but at least they would both be remembered. And while the contest was unpleasant for many of the participants, particularly on the Cumberland side, they could find solace in the fact their misery would provide entertainment for generations to come.