Buried Memories

Don't worry about a thing, Oklahoma. That 69-7 thumping Dr. Tom's hard-running Cornhuskers laid on you Saturday afternoon was child's play. Don't sweat it, Central Michigan. Steve Spurrier's Florida Gators may have chomped on you 82-6 earlier this year, but that ain't nothing. Don't get too upset, East Carolina, Rutgers, Temple and West Virginia. The fact that Syracuse outscored you guys 206-20 in its most recent four games doesn't necessarily mean the Orangemen were running it up.

And never you mind, Rick Neuheisel. The TV commentators may have called you classless for tacking on a meaningless, last-minute touchdown against Texas the game before last, but you're still a great 4-4 coach in our book.

Try this on for size: Georgia Tech 222; Cumberland College O.
No kidding. At the time, the helmets were leather, the forward pass was an infrequently used oddity, and American boys had yet to face the Kaiser's machine guns on the bloody fields of France. The game played October 7, 1916, in Atlanta, Georgia, remains the greatest rout in football history--and the deepest expression of revenge in all of sports.

Picture it. Georgia Tech coach John Heisman (that's right--the Heisman Trophy guy) sent onto the field one of the best football teams in the South, and within thirty seconds, Tech's immortal Everett Strupper scored the first of his six touchdowns. In all, the Yellow Jackets would put 32 TDs on the board, along with 30 extra points. Tech, which was also called the Golden Tornado in 1916, scored on every possession and ran up its total without throwing a single pass.

Its opponents, the ill-named Cumberland Bulldogs, were a ragtag collection of choir members, law students and Kappa Sigma fraternity boys. Cumberland had dropped varsity football in 1915, but Heisman held the little school from Lebanon, Tennessee, to its previously signed contract with the threat of a lawsuit. Cumberland coach George Allen (no relation, we trust, to the late mentor of the Washington Redskins) assembled a squad on short notice. By all accounts, the only reporter covering the game was one Blake Morgan of the Atlanta Journal, who wrote that Cumberland was "absolutely minus any apparent football virtues. They couldn't run with the ball, they couldn't block, and they couldn't tackle."

Apparently not. Mercifully, some details have been lost in the mists of history, but Tech gained either 528 or 978 yards rushing. The remainder of their touchdowns came on turnovers (Cumberland lost ten fumbles) and kickoff and punt returns. The most generous accounts credit the Bulldogs with twenty yards in total offense; the least generous say their most successful play was a six-yard loss.

In any case, late in the fourth quarter Cumberland halfback Eddie Edwards fumbled, and the ball bounced toward teammate B.F. Paty.

"Pick it up," Edwards yelled.
Replied the disheartened Paty: "You dropped it, you pick it up!"
Inevitably, You Dropped It, You Pick It Up! became the title of a self-published 1983 book (exactly 222 pages in length, of course) about the game. A collaboration between the father-and-son team of Marcel and Jim Paul, both from Louisiana, it reveals that Heisman's fury most likely was provoked in the spring of 1916, when Cumberland, in danger of losing its sports programs, recruited a team of professional baseball players from nearby Nashville for a game with Georgia Tech, coached by Heisman. The ringers won by the fateful score of 22-0.

Heisman's revenge? 222-0. October 7, 1916.
At the half the score was 126-zip, time for the Yellow Jackets' coach to come up with a pep talk worthy of Knute Rockne. "You're doing all right, team," Heisman told his charges. "We're ahead. But you just can't tell what those Cumberland boys have up their sleeves. They may spring a surprise."

The Cumberland boys gave up 54 points in the third quarter and 42 more in the fourth. The only surprise was that any of them were still standing when the thing was finally over.

These days Bulldog games are a little closer. After nearly half a century off the gridiron, Cumberland University (enrollment: 1,100) reinstituted football in 1990 and has since played .500 ball in the NAIA's Mid-South Conference. Dressed in maroon and white, the Bulldogs are 4-3 this year. They recently beat Lambuth 21-20 and their namesake, Cumberland (of Kentucky), 14-12. Their present coach, Herschel Moore, runs the old wing-T offense, and 2,500-seat Lindsay Donnell Stadium in Lebanon draws a pretty fair crowd most Saturday afternoons.

Here's something most people don't know. This season Cumberland celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of its 12-6 win over...Florida State. That's right. Florida State. Of course, 1947 was Florida State's first year as a football team. It had previously been an all-women's teacher's college.

Something else, too: Way back in 1903, the pinnacle of Cumberland College football glory, the Bulldogs beat not only Tennessee Medical School and Grant University of Chattanooga, but Alabama, LSU and Tulane. The total score? Cumberland 291, Opponents zero.

"I guess you could say we have a rather odd football history down here," says Ryan Simmons, Cumberland's director of athletic marketing and promotions. "The Georgia Tech game of 1916 is more nostalgic than anything else. It's not really a stigma, although some of our football kids take it on the chin a little bit about it. Certainly, it's comical--a bunch of frat boys fulfilling a contract--and some people are glad it happened. At least Cumberland's name comes up now and then."

Once in a while, irony also raises its head. Three years ago an offensive tackle named Collins Peaden transferred to Cumberland after family problems forced him to drop out of his previous school. In 1995 he won honors as a third-team NAIA All-American playing for the Bulldogs, and last year he made the first team. The school he had left was, of course, Georgia Tech. But none of Peaden's Cumberland teammates gave him much trouble about the Great Rout of 1916 or about how John Heisman ran up the score. That's probably because Mr. Peaden, in stark contrast to some of his Bulldog predecessors, stood 6-4, weighed 320 pounds and could blow holes in defensive lines as big as--well--let's say the Kappa Sigma house.

Thoroughbred racing's great annual celebration--The Breeders' Cup--unfolds this Saturday at Hollywood Park. What more could the seasoned railbird or the impeccably tailored turf clubber ask for? Once again, seven races featuring the world's best horses and riders will be run for purses totaling $11 million. In the finale, the $4.4 million Breeders' Cup Classic, the world's number-one ranked thoroughbred, Formal Gold, was to have run the classic American distance of a mile and a quarter against his arch-rival, third-ranked Skip Away, whose owners have paid $480,000 just to enter their charge in the race.

Formal Gold had beaten Skip Away in each of their past two meetings, including the Woodward Stakes September 20, but last Thursday Formal Gold suffered a condylar fracture of his right rear leg while training. Even without Formal Gold, Skip Away will face a field including such talented three-year-olds as Deputy Commander, Behrens and Belmont Stakes winner Touch Gold.

So why the long face, Mr. Horseman?
Well, the sport's still a mess, that's why. Attendance is down disastrously at the country's major tracks, and not even the lure of off-track betting can lure new customers away from the riverboat casinos and the ballparks. Shockingly, Chicago's Arlington Park closed its doors for good in October. It was a gleaming $200 million showplace that ran out of the money with fans, owners and jockeys. That's the latest, most severe blow to a sport whose regular fans are dying off and whose casual observers pay attention just once a year--on Kentucky Derby day.

Saturday's Classic seems to have caught some terminal disease, too. Silver Charm, the terrific, Bob Baffert-trained three-year-old who won the first two legs of this year's Triple Crown, is out of the Classic with a fever. The powerful four-year-old Will's Way is gone with the same kind of fracture as Formal Gold's. Silver Charm's Triple Crown rival, Free House, recovering from sickness himself, is aimed at the Malibu in December. The splendid five-year-old Gentlemen also has a temperature.

Meanwhile, the great horse who was supposed to save the game has retired. As luck and the times would have it, Cigar also proved to be sterile in his breeding efforts. There shall be no cigarillos. In five years there may be no Breeders' Cup, either.

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Bill Gallo
Contact: Bill Gallo