It’s Good To Know The Whole Story

In the midst of another football season, I share with you the answer I discovered when asking, “Why in the world would a coach allow his team to beat an opponent 222-0, and why would the opponent even finish the game?”

When football began in 1894 at tiny Cumberland College in Lebanon, Tennessee, the schedule was imposing. Opponents included Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana State, Georgia Tech, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tulane, Vanderbilt, Sewanee and Mississippi A&M (now Mississippi State). Cumberland’s win over Mississippi A&M in 1902 attracted attention and gained the college respect. In 1903, Cumberland defeated Vanderbilt and then went on a five-day trip that led to victories over Tulane, LSU and Alabama on November 14, 16 and 18.
Following the 1903 season, Clemson coach John Heisman arranged for a Southern Championship Game against Cumberland. The final score was 11-11, and Cumberland was proclaimed Champion, much to Heisman’s dismay. He decided then and there to “get back at Cumberland.” After the season, in which Clemson defeated Georgia Tech 73 to 0, Heisman was offered the Tech coaching job. He began in 1904, and Georgia Tech grew to be a national powerhouse.
Meanwhile, Cumberland College was suffering financially. Football was dropped in 1906, resumed in 1912, dropped in 1915, resumed briefly in 1916, and then dropped again. The school did continue to play baseball, however, and in 1915 defeated Georgia Tech 22-0, which did not set well with Heisman.
In those days, student managers were responsible for correspondence to schedule athletic contests. John Burns, Cumberland football team student manager, wrote letters in the winter of 1916, making out a schedule for the coming season. Burns lacked one course to graduate in June 1916, but found a job that paid well and didn’t return to school. Cumberland’s president resigned in the spring of 1916, and the acting president and board of trustees decided to eliminate football in order to trim the budget.
George Allen, baseball student manager, was elected football manager to replace Burns and was told to write the schools with which Cumberland had contracts and cancel. He did as instructed, but overlooked Georgia Tech. When the oversight was later discovered, Tech (Heisman) insisted on having the game – or Cumberland would have to forfeit $500. Cumberland was also promised $500 to keep the agreement and complete the game. Allen agreed to work with the team and get them to Atlanta if he personally received half of the money.
On October 7, 1916, Cumberland took the field with 16 players from the school’s enrollment of 178. They started the trip with 19, but lost three along the way. Heisman, with numerous trained and conditioned athletes, including eight All-Southern players, was intent on redeeming himself against Cumberland and building a reputation.
The score was 63-0 at the end of the first quarter and 126-0 at the half. All the while, George Allen paced the sidelines, exhorting his team, “Hang in there for Cumberland’s pride – and $500.”
The teams went to the locker rooms to plan second half strategies. The record is silent about what transpired on Cumberland’s side, but Heisman’s admonition to his players is well known: “Men, we might be in front, but you never know what those Cumberland players have up their sleeves.” He went on to urge Tech to continue fighting as if they were behind. “Show Cumberland no mercy,” he intoned. The Tech players stormed back and ran up another 96 points, even though the half was cut short by 15 minutes.
Cumberland received $500 for taking the worst walloping in the history of American college football and Allen got his $250. John Heisman gained his revenge and later had the Heisman Trophy named in his honor. Competition can sometimes be very ugly.
Carl Mays, author of over a dozen books and speaker at over 3,000 events, may be contacted at carlmays@carlmays.com. His books (including A Strategy For Winning, Winning Thoughts, Anatomy Of A Leader, People of Passion and Are We Communicating Yet?) are available in stores, on www.carlmays.com, Amazon.com, and other Internet locations. You are invited to contact Carl about speaking at your next meeting.
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