The 1916 Cumberland vs. Georgia Tech football game was the most lopsided in the history of college football, with Georgia Tech winning 222–0. The game was played on October 7, 1916, between the Georgia Tech Engineers and Cumberland College Bulldogs at Grant Field (now a part of Bobby Dodd Stadium) in Atlanta, Georgia.
With Cumberland opting to punt on multiple possessions, the infamous score can be partially attributed to 97% of the game's plays occurring in Cumberland territory, with 64 of those plays occurring in Cumberland's own red zone.
Cumberland College, a Presbyterian school in Lebanon, Tennessee, had discontinued its football program before the season but was not allowed to cancel its game against the Engineers. The fact that Cumberland's baseball team had crushed Georgia Tech earlier that year 22–0 (amidst allegations that Cumberland used professionals as ringers) probably accounted for Georgia Tech coach John Heisman's running up the score on the Bulldogs, Heisman also being the Engineers' baseball coach. He insisted on the schools' scheduling agreement, which required Cumberland to pay $3,000 ($66,000 in inflation-adjusted terms) to Tech if its football team failed to show. In fact, Heisman actually paid Cumberland $500 ($11,000 in inflation-adjusted terms) as an incentive to play the game; his letter to Cumberland's athletic department read in part:
I hearby offer you the sum of $500 and an all-expenses-paid trip to Atlanta for your football team on the condition that you honor your contract by participating in and completing the Cumberland-Georgia Tech football game ... However, if this offer is refused ... I shall be forced to demand that your school reimburse the Tech Athletic Dept. in the amount of $3,000 for losses from the projected net gate receipts ...
George E. Allen (who was elected to serve as Cumberland's football team student manager after first serving as the baseball team student manager) therefore put together a team of 12–16 players, most of whom were his fraternity brothers, to travel to Atlanta as Cumberland's football team.
Another reason for Heisman's plan to run up the score was the practice among the sportswriters of the time to rank teams based upon how many points they scored. Since this statistic did not account for the strength or weakness of a team's opponent, Heisman disagreed with the amount of weight the writers tended to assign to it, and he may have unleashed his players on Cumberland to make his point.
Cumberland received the opening kickoff and failed to make a first down. After a punt, the Engineers scored on their first play. Cumberland then fumbled on their next play from the line of scrimmage, and a Georgia Tech player returned the fumble for a touchdown. The Bulldogs fumbled again on their next play, and it took Georgia Tech two rushes to score its third touchdown. Cumberland lost nine yards on its next possession, and Georgia Tech scored a fourth touchdown on another two-play drive.
Georgia Tech led 63–0 after the first quarter and 126–0 at halftime. Georgia Tech added 54 more points in the third quarter and 42 in the final period.
Georgia Tech scored a total of 32 touchdowns, and Georgia Tech's left end James Preas kicked 18 extra points. Cumberland's only effective defense was an extra point blocked with a sort of human pyramid.
Several myths have developed around the game. Some have written that Cumberland did not have a single play that gained yards; in fact, its longest play was a 10-yard pass (on 4th-and-22 or 3rd-and-18). One page on Cumberland's website says Georgia Tech scored on every offensive play, but the play-by-play account of the game refutes this and suggests a more likely scenario: that Georgia Tech scored on every one of its sets of downs. However, neither team made a first down that was not also a touchdown.
Sportswriter Grantland Rice wrote, "Cumberland's greatest individual play of the game occurred when fullback Allen circled right end for a 6-yard loss." At halftime, Heisman reportedly told his players, "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!" However, even Heisman relented, and shortened the quarters in the second half to 12 minutes each instead of 15.These statistics are based on the sources listed below and may be incomplete.
Since World War II, only a handful of schools have topped 100 points in a college football game. The modern-era record for most points scored against a college opponent is 106 by Fort Valley State of Georgia against Knoxville College in 1969. In the previous year Houston defeated Tulsa 100–6 to set the NCAA record in major college football. In 1949 the University of Wyoming defeated University of Northern Colorado 103–0. The Division III football scoring record was set in 1968 when North Park University defeated North Central College 104–32, using ten passing touchdowns along the way.
The game ball had the score written on it as a memento. It was donated to the Helms Athletic Foundation sports museum by Bill Schroeder, an avid sports collector. When the museum moved locations in the 1980s, the ball was boxed and remained in storage. In 2014, Ryan Schneider, a Georgia Tech alumnus, purchased the ball in a charity auction for $40,388 ($33,657 without buyer's premium), with the intention of donating it back to Georgia Tech.
In October 1956, a 40th reunion was held for players from both teams, of whom 28 were able to attend. While reminiscing, one of the Cumberland players pointed out one play that saved Cumberland from an even worse defeat; had Cumberland punted as normal instead of running a sneak, the score would probably have been 229–0.