by Travis Normand
Everyone has heard of 1916 Cumberland vs. Georgia Tech football game that ended with Georgia Tech shutting out Cumberland, 222-0. However, what you may not know about is Cumberland’s football troubles that came immediately before and after that famous defeat.
Cumberland’s game with Georgia Tech was their last game of the 1916 season. However, before Cumberland traveled to Atlanta to play Georgia Tech, they were defeated in a game by Sewanee. That game ended with a final score of 107-0. In other words, Cumberland closed out the 1916 season with back-to-back losses and a combined score of 329-0.
Unfortunately, the 1917 season didn’t go so well either. Cumberland only played one game in 1917 and it was against “Tennessee.” Cumberland was defeated by a score of 105-0.
- Link to Cumberland’s 2011 football media guide: Page 54 displays the games and scores from Cumberland’s 1916 and 1917 seasons.
Mystery Opponent of 1917: You will notice above that I wrote “Tennessee” (in quotes) when referring to Cumberland’s 1917 defeat. This is because Cumberland’s 2011 football media guide lists their 1917 opponent as “Tennessee.” I had assumed that this was the University of Tennessee but the 2014 Tennessee football media guide (page 156) says that Tennessee didn’t field a team in 1917 or 1918 because of World War I. However, Tennessee did have two unofficial teams during the 1917 and 1918 seasons (see page 162 of the 2014 Tennessee football media guide), but according to the media guide, neither of those teams played Cumberland in 1917. Therefore, at this point in time, I don’t know who the “Tennessee” team was that defeated Cumberland in 1917.
Was football at Cumberland discontinued or not?
An even further curious note is that Cumberland’s official athletic site almost seems to act as if the 1917 game (against Tennessee) never happened (although their media guide tells us otherwise). In the football history section of their athletics website, it says: [emphasis added]
Football has seen its ups and downs at Cumberland, however. The sport was dropped in 1906, resumed in 1912, dropped in 1915, resumed briefly in 1916 when the memorable 222-0 game with Georgia Tech was played in Atlanta, too well known to require description, and then was not resumed until 1920.
According to the above quote, Cumberland dropped football after the 1916 game against Georgia Tech and didn’t play again until 1920. This is obviously inconsistent with what can be found in their media guide (as they played a game in 1917).
The above quote also says that football was dropped in 1915, however, the media guide states that Cumberland played six games in 1915 and another five in 1916. So, if they did drop football in 1915 it was after the season, and they then resumed it in time for the 1916 season.
To make things even more unclear, the NYTimes.com posted an article on October 7, 2006 titled “In 1916, a Blowout for the Ages” (by Frank Litsky). In this article it stated that “Cumberland discontinued football before the 1916 season, but forgot to tell Georgia Tech.” However as we already know, Cumberland actually played five games in 1916 (with the game against Georgia Tech being its last of the five) — thus it doesn’t appear that they actually canceled football prior to the 1916 season.
Finally, according to their media guide, the only two years that Cumberland didn’t field a team (between 1913 and 1929) were the 1918 and 1919 seasons. So, despite the fact that Cumberland suffered some rough seasons during that time, I don’t know why there are so many claims that they had dropped football.