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100 Years After Epic Mismatch, It's Still True: Carnage In College Football Pays


Ever noticed how lopsided college football scores can get? Commentator Frank Deford traces them all back to the worst defeat ever.

FRANK DEFORD, BYLINE: Two-hundred-twenty-two to 0, the most famous or infamous score in college football, if not in all football, or for that matter in all sport. Listen to it again - 222-0. Friday will be the centennial of this epic slaughter played on October 7, 1916, between Georgia Tech and Cumberland University. Now, how could such a mismatch happen?

Well, Sam Hatcher, an alumnus of Cumberland, the woebegone losing school, has written a sympathetic book that details that sad debacle. And moreover, Mr. Hatcher has posited that the so-called game got such attention that it led to the ascension of college football in the South. In other words, carnage in football pays.

Also, nothing much has changed. It's still the tradition for various football powerhouses to pay guarantees to schools with cream-puff teams to come on over to our place and submit to massacre. In particular, three cheers this season for the sportsmen of Louisville, Ohio State and Miami, who ran up these scores - 70-14, 77-10 and 70-3. Oh, well, for the poor turkeys who lose big, it's a living. Not for nothing are these called payout games or revenue games. Hey, Georgia Tech paid Cumberland $500, so come on over and get mauled.

It's interesting too, that the coach of that Georgia Tech team who led his valiant warriors to those 222 points was none other than John Heisman. Yes, he whom the Heisman trophy is named for, an award that honors that college player who best exemplifies excellence and integrity. As it happens, Cumberland was on the verge of bankruptcy and had to give up football. But the villainous Heisman made it play a game that had been scheduled when Cumberland still had a team, or Heisman threatened to demand a $3,000 forfeiture fee that could well have put the school out of existence. Thirteen noble fraternity brothers volunteered to suit up and get clobbered, in effect, saving Cumberland from bankruptcy.

But hail to the victors. The next year, 1917, Tech was declared national champion, the first time a team from Dixie was unanimously awarded that honor. And the South was on its way to preeminence in college football, as indeed coach Heisman would be immortalized with the most famous American athletic trophy to bear a person's name. Ah, the wages of integrity.


MONTAGNE: Commentator Frank Deford earning his wages of integrity here the first Wednesday of every month. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Deford died on Sunday, May 28, at his home in Florida. Remembrances of Frank's life and work can be found in All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and on