222-0: The Worst Blowout in College Football History

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

College football fans are no strangers to blowouts. A few years ago, Missouri pummeled Delaware State, 79-0; Michigan smothered Rutgers, 78-0; Miami slugged Florida A&M, 70-3. But those games sound like gentle drubbings compared to the lopsided 1916 skirmish between Georgia Tech and Cumberland University, which ended 222-0.

If that score sounds spiteful, it was. Georgia Tech’s coach, John Heisman—for whom the coveted trophy is named—was reportedly bent on revenge. A year earlier, during the spring of 1915, Cumberland’s baseball club had recruited a handful of semi-professional ballplayers from Nashville and disguised them as college athletes. Boasting a lineup stacked with pros, the little Tennessee college creamed Georgia Tech’s ball club, 22-0.

The defeat garnered national attention, leaving Heisman, who coached both Georgia Tech’s baseball and football teams, humiliated. When he discovered that Cumberland had cheated, he vowed to get payback.

Oddly, Heisman nearly missed his chance. By 1916, Cumberland, a university out of Lebanon, Tennessee, a small town about 30 minutes outside of Nashville, was facing financial difficulties and as such canceled that year's season of football. The football squad’s student manager notified its opponents that, since it would not be fielding a team that season, Cumberland would have to cancel all scheduled games. But Cumberland made a careless mistake—they forgot to brief Georgia Tech. When Cumberland discovered the error, it was too late: They were contractually obligated to play, football team or no football team.


Georgia Tech coach John Heisman. Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

Tasting blood, Heisman wrote Cumberland’s football manager a pointed letter to ensure he wouldn’t flake: "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." The offer was freighted with a legal threat: If Cumberland didn’t play, Georgia Tech would charge a $3000 forfeiture fee. The expense "would have been a severe blow to Cumberland," says Sam Hatcher, author of Heisman’s First Trophy, in an interview with The Tennessean, "and probably would have closed the school, if you want to know the truth."

Cumberland agreed to play. The old football manager assembled a team of at least 13 players (some sources say up to 19), consisting of fraternity brothers, law students, and boys from town. To avoid getting caught by university administrators—who were unaware of Heisman's ultimatum—the team covered up their practice sessions by calling them "men’s choir meetings."

Most of the volunteers had no knowledge of, or experience playing, football. "I played once in high school and once in prep school," Cumberland’s Gentry Dugat admitted to Sports Illustrated in 1961. He wasn’t that interested in playing football anyway. He had signed up because he’d never ridden a passenger train before; it was basically a free vacation.

As Cumberland practiced, no one bothered to cook up trick plays or study the Xs and Os of fundamental football. Instead, coaches assigned each player a code name that corresponded with a specific vegetable. When the offense took to the line of scrimmage, the quarterback called plays by hollering the names of different crudités. "Plays sounded like this: 'Turnip over lettuce. Hut one, hut two...'" reported Jay Searcy of the Chicago Tribune. "Cucumber to cauliflower. Hut one, hut two..."

The week before the big game, Cumberland’s rag-tag team tested their strategy in a meaningless exhibition game against Sewanee: The University of the South. They lost 107-0.


Georgia Tech's 1916 football team. Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

On October 7, 1916, more than 1000 fans passed through the turnstiles

of Grant Field in Atlanta to watch the greatest slaughter in college football history. Cumberland was a wreck before the first whistle blew. Aside from their obvious shortfalls—a severe lack of strategy, knowledge, and, well, talent—Cumberland was already at a disadvantage because three of its players had gotten lost during a layover in Nashville and failed to chase down the connecting train to Georgia.

The game that ensued would turn out to be a mythical comedy of errors that is today riddled with fuzzy details. We know that Cumberland received the first kickoff, and, as the ball hurtled through the air, their quarterback attempted a block and was promptly coldcocked. Morris Gouger took the reins and gave Cumberland fans a ray of false hope when, on the team’s first drive, he rushed for three yards. (It would be one of Cumberland’s best plays all day.) Shortly after, Cumberland punted, Georgia Tech got the ball, and it scored on its first play.

When Cumberland got the pigskin back, it wasted no time and fumbled. Georgia scooped it and scrambled to the end zone. Touchdown. When Cumberland got the ball again, it fumbled a second time. Georgia picked it up and rushed to the goal line again. Touchdown. According to some accounts, Cumberland must have believed in the power of threes, because when the team received the ball again, they repeated the fumble-turnover-touchdown trifecta for a third time.

By halftime, the score was 126-0. Coach Heisman appeared underwhelmed during one pep talk. "You’re doing all right," he lectured his team. "We’re ahead. But you just can’t tell what those Cumberland players have up their sleeves. They may spring a surprise."

If Cumberland had tricks up their sleeves, they probably weren’t the tricks Heisman was expecting. At one point, a few frazzled Cumberland players marched over to Georgia Tech’s bench and plopped down; one grabbed a blanket and hid underneath it. Heisman accosted them and screamed, "You’re on the wrong side of the field!" But the boys shook their heads. "No, we’re not. We’ve been in there too many times, and we’ve had enough."

Later on, two Cumberland players would jump the stadium fence.

Georgia Tech found time to goof off, too. "At one point, I remember, our tackle, Bill Fincher, took out his glass eye and threw it in the water bucket," Tech’s George Griffin told The New York Times in 1986. "Some Cumberland boys came over and started to drink out of it, and they got a terrible fright."

But nothing was as terrifying as the action on the field. In one (likely apocryphal) story, a Cumberland player fumbled and watched the ball bounce toward a teammate’s feet. The fumbler pleaded for his teammate to pick it up, but he was having none of it: "Fall on it yourself," was the reported reply. "You dropped it."

According to Sporting News, Cumberland’s Charlie Warwick would later brag that, "We were sort of getting to 'em in that last quarter." Which, statistically, was kind of true. Georgia Tech scored 63 points in the first quarter but only managed 42 in the fourth quarter. But Warwick neglected to mention that Coach Heisman, in what can only be interpreted as a merciful bid for sainthood, had agreed to shorten the second half to 15 minutes.


Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

The final score of 222-0 was so one-sided people must have expected the scoreboard to tip over. The statistics were obscene. Georgia Tech scored 32 touchdowns. One player, the All-American G.E. Strupper, scored eight times. He could have scored more, but at one point, Strupper ran through open field, stopped short of the goal line, gently placed the ball on the grass, and waited for a teammate to pick it up and walk into the end zone. Georgia Tech, which never threw a pass, finished with 501 rushing yards.

Cumberland, on the other hand, never earned a first down. It never crossed the 50-yard line. Five of their punts were returned for touchdowns. They lost at least nine fumbles. Their statistical superstar, Morris Gouger, finished the day with less than zero yards of offense. They threw 11 passes, and completed eight of them. (Technically, only two completions. Six of them were caught by the wrong team.)

To Cumberland’s credit, they weren’t the only big loser that season. Cockeyed mismatches were common during the sport’s nascent days: One week after Cumberland’s licking, Ohio State would rout Oberlin College, 128-0. And in Illinois, the Lane Technical School would give Cumberland’s dismal performance a run for its money in a blowout loss to St. Viator College.

That final score? 205-0.

This Course Will Teach You How to Play Guitar Like a Pro for $29

BartekSzewczyk/iStock via Getty Images
BartekSzewczyk/iStock via Getty Images

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Double Play: The Curious Life and Career of Ozzie Canseco

Otto Gruele, Allsport/Getty Images
Otto Gruele, Allsport/Getty Images

“Jose, we love you! Jose, you suck!” It’s 1992 in Louisville, Kentucky, and a man who bears a striking resemblance to major league home run king Jose Canseco is smashing baseballs out of Triple-A ballparks for the Louisville Redbirds, the minor league sibling of the St. Louis Cardinals.

A screen erected specifically for home runs at Pilot Field in Buffalo, New York, fails to contain one 550-foot drive. The ball goes over the screen and past the highway.

“Good job, Jose!”

Before and after games, the six-foot-two, 220-pound slugger will be asked about dating Madonna (he didn’t), antagonized into fights (he avoids them, mostly), and begged for autographs. When he signs his name, fans appear confused. They tell him to stop joking around. Doesn’t he know he’s Jose Canseco, perpetual All-Star and prolific masher of baseballs? Who ever heard of Ozzie Canseco, Jose’s identical twin, born two minutes earlier to Jose Canseco Sr. and his wife, Barbara? And if they are identical, why is it that Jose was earning millions as a member of the Oakland Athletics while Ozzie only made sporadic appearances in the majors?

Ozzie tried to explain all of these things over and over again. Every time he thought people got the message, he would head back out into the world, hearing his brother’s name. Once, a car veered and tried to run him off the road. When Ozzie hit the shoulder, the other driver laughed, as if it were a joke, and then referred to him as Jose.

 

There are relatively few examples of twins who excelled equally in sports. Ronde and Tiki Barber were both selected in the 1997 NFL Draft and had successful careers; Karyne and Sarah Steben, both accomplished gymnasts, toured with Cirque du Soleil and credited their psychological connection with helping them perform difficult aerial feats.

More often, siblings of star athletes idle in the shadows cast by their high-achieving counterparts.

Hank Aaron’s brother Tommie joined him in professional baseball. Hank hit 755 home runs during his career; Tommie connected with 13. There were three DiMaggio brothers, though it was Joe—the onetime husband of Marilyn Monroe—who stood out both on and off the field. Had any of these men looked identical to their famous brother, it would have compounded the comparisons. It’s unlikely anyone ever tried to run Tommie Aaron off the road.

Ozzie Canseco plays for the Oakland Athletics in a Major League Baseball game
Otto Gruele Jr, Getty Images

Born on July 2, 1964, Osvaldo “Ozzie” Capas Canseco and Jose Canseco would soon be another sports sibling story.

The two were barely a year old when their parents immigrated to the United States from Cuba. Both grew up learning to play "the great American pastime." Jose, an outfielder who could wallop a ball out of sight, was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in 1982 straight out of high school. After polishing his skills in the minor leagues for three years, he briefly debuted as a late-season call-up for the Athletics in 1985. His official rookie season came in 1986, when he went on to hit 33 home runs and knock in 117 RBIs, resulting in Rookie of the Year honors.

Ozzie, who had played as much baseball as his brother, decided to take a year for college. Instead of being a power hitter, Ozzie had gravitated toward pitching. The New York Yankees drafted him in 1983. After four largely unimpressive years on the mound in the minor leagues, he was released by the Yankees and picked up by the Oakland Athletics organization in 1986 to further develop his skills.

It amounted to a genetic experiment in sports: Two men, nearly identical in build—Jose was an inch taller and perhaps 10 pounds heavier—who played the same game for the same amount of time. In 1989, the two even suffered the exact same injury to the hamate bone in the hand. Yet it was Jose who became a sensation, earning exponentially increasing millions and stats for the Athletics and the Texas Rangers, while Ozzie struggled to get called up.

The problem, according to Ozzie, was that he had pitched for too long, refining a skill that wouldn’t pay the same dividends as an outfielder and star hitter. All those years pitching put him behind Jose and behind the game. When he was finally called up to the Athletics as an outfielder in 1990, the difference in ability when compared to Jose was obvious. After 20 homers and 67 RBIs with the Huntsville Stars farm team, he managed only a .105 batting average in nine MLB games during his first season, striking out in 10 of his 19 at-bats. Meanwhile, in 1988, Jose became the first MLB player in history to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in a single season—a feat only three players have replicated since. When Ozzie struck out in his first Athletics game, Jose hit two home runs.

 

Pundits tried to break down Ozzie’s deficiencies. Superficially, he had everything Jose had, including a powerful build that was likely bolstered by steroids. (Jose admitted to using performance-enhancing substances in his 2005 tell-all book, Juiced; Ozzie was arrested for driving in a car that contained vials of steroids during a traffic stop in 2003. Jose later told VICE that Ozzie "used the same type of steroids I used and in equal amounts.") But experts pointed out that Jose was more flexible, with a better range of motion in his swing and a faster sprint. He seemed to be more aggressive during play, too. These were subtle differences, but enough for Jose to make three World Series appearances while Ozzie toiled in the minors.

Ozzie Canseco bats for the Oakland Athletics during a Major League Baseball game
Otto Gruele Jr, Getty Images

Dejected, Ozzie headed for Japan to play for the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes to sharpen his game against different kinds of pitches. Playing for the Japanese equivalent of a farm team in Osaka, he quit midway through the season to return to the U.S. minors, joining the Louisville Redbirds, the Cardinals Triple-A team. In 1993, he got a chance to jump on the Cardinals for six uneventful games. When Bernard Gilkey came off the disabled list, Ozzie was bumped back down. In frustration, he briefly quit baseball before signing a contract with the Triple-A arm of the Milwaukee Brewers and, later, the Florida Marlins.

After being released by the Marlins in 1996, he remarked it was the first summer he had not played baseball since he was a kid. While other people may have confused him for Jose, baseball’s management did not.

 

If Ozzie was never quite his brother’s equal on the field, he found parity in other ways. For years, rumors circulated that Ozzie would show up in place of Jose for autograph signings. The two also got in nearly equivalent legal trouble for a 2001 nightclub brawl in Miami Beach that ended in probation and a civil lawsuit against both.

In what was probably their most audacious attempt to fool people, Ozzie reportedly showed up for a 2011 celebrity boxing match claiming he was Jose, who had performed in prizefights against the likes of Danny Bonaduce. Promoter Damon Feldman claimed he had paid Jose $5000 and that he was confused when Ozzie finally removed his shirt. (He lacks the bicep tattoo sported by his brother). Feldman had him escorted out and filed a complaint for breach of contract, winning a default judgment against Jose for the $5000 advance and travel expenses. Feldman later expressed doubt he had ever actually met Jose. (On Twitter, Jose Canseco denied Feldman’s claim that he had sent Ozzie in his place.)

In 2015, Ozzie was named the hitting coach for the Sioux Falls Canaries, a Double-A team in South Dakota. Not long after, he and his brother once again confused onlookers when Ozzie fooled his on-air correspondents into thinking “Jose” had arrived to film a segment for his role as an analyst for an NBC broadcast. It was a bit of levity that may have indicated that the years removed from the field had allowed Ozzie to feel more comfortable—both in his own skin and his brother’s.

It was a long time coming. Speaking to Sports Illustrated in 1994, Ozzie lamented the peculiar reality of resembling his brother in every aspect but the one that mattered to him most. “It’s difficult to explain my existence as Ozzie Canseco on a daily basis,” he said.