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June 27, 2022

It happens every Sunday

Team takes defeat over forfeit
When the train pulled into Lebanon, Tenn. on Oct. 8, 1916 most
of Cumberland College’s student body and many townspeople surged
forward cheering and laughing. As members of the football team
alighted, they were borne around the depot on the shoulders of the
crowd.
On the previous day the Cumberland Bulldogs had played against
Georgia Tech’s Engineers in Atlanta in one of the most legendary
contests on the gridiron, a game indelibly inscribed in the
chronicles of football lore nearly a century later.
Team takes defeat over forfeit

When the train pulled into Lebanon, Tenn. on Oct. 8, 1916 most of Cumberland College’s student body and many townspeople surged forward cheering and laughing. As members of the football team alighted, they were borne around the depot on the shoulders of the crowd.

On the previous day the Cumberland Bulldogs had played against Georgia Tech’s Engineers in Atlanta in one of the most legendary contests on the gridiron, a game indelibly inscribed in the chronicles of football lore nearly a century later.

It came about through a fluke. Cumberland had dropped its football schedule a couple of times in the decade, and dropped it again after the 1915 season. However, the college had not notified one of its rivals, Georgia Tech, about the 1916 cancellation. Georgia Tech coach John Heisman, already well into his spectacular career, might have overlooked it but earlier in the 1916 season the Cumberland baseball team had trounced Georgia by 22-0. He wired back, “Either field a team or forfeit the $3,000 guarantee.”

Because that was an exceedingly large sum in 1916, Cumberland made George Allen, student manager of the baseball team, student manager of the football team. He hurriedly put together a squad of 14 scrubs, many of them Kappa Sigma fraternity brothers, and wired Heisman that they would play on Oct. 7.

Cumberland received the opening kickoff but was unable to make any headway, so punted on the fourth down. Georgia ran it in for a touchdown. Cumberland then fumbled the ball, and Georgia carried it across the goal lines. Another Cumberland fumble had the same result, and the visitors were already three touchdowns behind in the first 15 minutes of play.

Cumberland fought back hard and was relieved when the first quarter ended, although 63 points behind. Someone remarked that Georgia couldn’t repeat it. He was wrong; the first half ended with 63 more for Georgia, bringing the score to 126-0. During half time, Heisman told his players that whichever of the first-and second-string teams scored the most points would earn a steak dinner. Then he said, “When you go back out there, hit them clean – but hit them hard!”

By then the game had become more than a game. Even Cumberland supporters watched in awe and applauded as Tech scored each time the ball was in its possession. They joined the general laughter when a Georgia runner dropped the ball, and invited a Bulldog to pick it up. “Pick it up yourself,” he replied; “you dropped it.”

But Georgia was beginning to feel the pace and scored only 54 points in the third quarter, and 42 in the final to make it Georgia 222, Cumberland 0. Every Georgia player ate steak that night.

It was more than a rout or catastrophe. It was legend – and Cumberland had been part of it. Wonder turned into laughter, and when the hastily assembled team returned to Tennessee, it was welcomed not as a conquering legion but as battered but dauntless warriors in an American saga.

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