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Today in history... a scoreline best forgotten!

12:00am | & News

Today marks a centenary which probably won't be celebrated too enthusiastically at one American university.

On October 7th, 1916, the unfortunate football team from Cumberland College, in Tennessee, suffered the ignominy of being beaten in the most one-sided game in the history of American college football, losing 222-0 against Georgia Tech.

The Georgia squad, known as the Yellow Jackets, were one of the top collegiate teams at the time, while Cumberland had discontinued its football programme and disbanded its team before the start of the 1916 season. But there was a score to settle!

Earlier that year Cumberland's baseball team had crushed Georgia Tech 22-0, with the Georgia coach, John Heisman, suspecting Cumberland had fielded a number of "ringers" – professional players brought in to strengthen the squad.

Heisman also coached Georgia Tech's football team and saw an opportunity for revenge when Cumberland, no longer having a football team, tried to cancel the October 7th fixture. Heisman insisted the game be played, threatening to enforce the terms of a previously made scheduling agreement which would require Cumberland to pay Georgia Tech $3,000 (equivalent to $65,000 today) if its players failed to turn up.

Heisman even wrote to Cumberland offering to pay it $500 and cover the costs of its team's trip to Atlanta to play the game. Faced with little choice, Cumberland accepted his offer and hastily put together a football team, most of whom were the fraternity buddies of its reluctant student coach George Allen, and had little experience of the game.

On the day of the game, played at Grant Field, Atlanta, it was obvious from the outset that Cumberland were massively outclassed. Play after play was fumbled by Cumberland, with Georgia Tech seizing every opportunity handed to them on a plate. The Atlanta Journal later reported: "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'."

The practice of "running up the score" – striving to score more points long after the game's outcome was beyond any doubt – was considered poor form in most sports, including football, but that didn't stop Heisman. He reportedly told his players at half-time: "You're doing all right, team, 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! Hit 'em clean, but hit 'em hard!"

As well as gaining revenge by humiliating Cumberland, Heisman might have had another motive. He had previously objected to the way sportswriters at that time ranked teams based on how many points they scored, regardless of the quality of their opponents. Some claimed he had deliberately "run up the score" against Cumberland just to make a point.

In any case, Cumberland were roundly trounced while Georgia Tech continued to enjoy one of their most successful periods under Coach Heisman.

In 2014 former Georgia Tech student Ryan Schneider paid $40,388 in a charity auction for the ball (pictured) from the historic 1916 football game, which had the score written on it as a memento. He bought it to donate to his old college, where it will no doubt see a few glasses raised in its honour today!

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