Cumberland University

GA Tech / CU Football Game

Football has been part of Cumberland University since 1894, a year when the forerunner to the Southeastern and Atlantic Coast conferences was formed, called the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association. The teams that were invited to join the new conference were Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Sewanee and Vanderbilt.

                                              Game photo of 1916 Georgia Tech vs CU football game.

In the early 1900s, Cumberland’s team was quite competitive with an excellent record, defeating teams such as Vanderbilt, Tulane and Alabama. However, because of budgetary reasons, football was cut after the 1915 season by new university president Homer Hill, who only served one year. Back then, the student managers of the athletic teams were in charge of the correspondence to schedule the games. When the word came that football was going to be reinstated for 1917, George Allen, who was the student manager of the baseball team, was elected student manager of the football team in September of 1916. George’s duty was to cancel the 1916 games, but unfortunately forgot to cancel the Georgia Tech game.

Here’s where it gets interesting. John Heisman, the coach for Georgia Tech, said either Cumberland played as agreed or had to pay a forfeiting fee of $3,000 ($69,000 in today’s dollars). As an incentive to the struggling team, he reportedly offered Cumberland $500 plus traveling expenses if they played. It happens that Heisman was also Georgia Tech’s baseball coach, and in the spring of 1916, Cumberland had beaten his team 22-0. The rumor was that Cumberland had filled the team with professional players, and Heisman likely wanted revenge.

Cumberland decided to make good on its original promise to play the game. Since there was no formal team, George Allen talked 13 members of the Kappa Sigma fraternity into playing. The rest, as we say, is history. Even though the game was played 100 years ago, it still comes up every year as sports trivia and sportscaster fodder --- the most lopsided game in history --- 222 - 0.

The game went something like this: Georgia Tech scored on its first play. 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. At halftime, the score was 126-0.

The Atlanta Journal wrote, “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.’ ” A game statistic: Georgia Tech rushed for 978 yards; Cumberland for minus 42.
Georgia Tech went on to become the 1916 Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association champions. If there was any consolation for the team who suffered the worst loss in football history, that would be it.

Looking at it today, there’s a certain amount of pride Cumberland University has in the infamous football game. Really, it exemplifies the spirit of Cumberland University. Seventy years before that game even happened, the school had encountered and overcome much worse defeats, albeit not on the football field. The university was burned down during the Civil War, but was not defeated and was rebuilt.  As educators, it is our job to teach (and demonstrate in this case), that you do your best with what you’ve got, and carry on. Learn from your mistakes and do better next time. It’s a “trivial” part of our 175-year history.