John Heisman Was a Jerk

Every year when the Heisman Trophy is awarded, which is this coming Saturday night in New York, I think back to Georgia Tech’s 222-0 slaughter of Cumberland College in 1916, the biggest score in college football history.

    John W. Heisman, after whom the trophy is named, was the Georgia Tech coach in that shameful game.

    A writer named Richard Bauman does a nice job of describing the circumstances. His story is in the recent November issue of the Elks Magazine.

    Cumberland didn’t even have a football team in 1916. It had dropped football in the summer of 1916.

    In the spring of 1916, however, Cumberland had defeated Georgia Tech in baseball by a 22-0 score and Georgia Tech fans wanted to avenge the baseball loss on the football field. That seemed impossible, however, since Cumberland had just dropped football.

    Not so fast, said John Heisman. There was a contract. Heisman insisted that Cumberland fulfill the contract or it would have to fork over a $3,000 forfeit fee.

    That was a lot of dough in 1916, comparable to $100,000 today. So Cumberland hastily put together a “team.”  A pair of students named George Allen and Butch McQueen assembled a roster of 14 players. They drew up half a dozen simple plays and held a few practices. Then they set off by train from their campus in Lebanon, Tennessee, to Atlanta for the Oct. 7, 1916, game.

    During a layover in Nashville, George Allen and Butch McQueen tried unsuccessfully to recruit some players from Vanderbilt. Instead of adding players, they lost some. Three Cumberland players missed the train when it pulled out of Nashville. They were down to 11 players.

    That was fine with the great sportsman John W. Heisman. He poured it on from start to finish. Heisman’s only concession to compassion was this. He agreed to shorten the quarters from 15 minutes to 12 1/2 minutes.

    Georgia Tech scored 63 points in the first quarter and 63 points in the second quarter. At halftime Heisman softened somewhat. He agreed to further shorten the quarters to ten minutes. Georgia Tech put up 54 points in the third quarter. They agreed to shorten the fourth quarter to seven and a half minutes. As a result, Georgia Tech scored only 42 points in the fourth quarter.

    Georgia Tech beat essentially an intramural team, a sandlot team, 222-0. How could anyone call that vengeance? How could John Heisman hold up his head? How could the most prestigious award in college football be named after this jerk?

     *     *     *

     That’s all for now. I’ll be signing books at Barnes and Noble in Mentor on Friday night, 7-8 p.m.  Saturday I’ll sign at the Fireside Bookstore in Chagrin Falls from 1-2:30 p.m. and at GPS Gifts on Center Ridge Rd. near Wooster Rd. in Rocky River from 3:30-5  p.m.

    Next week’s signings are at Mullarkey’s Irish Saloon in downtown Willoughby Tuesday night 7-9 p.m. and at the Red Lantern in Kamm’s Plaza, Cleveland, Wednesday 6-8 p.m.

    Had two great signings earlier this week at the Tradewinds bar in Euclid and at Around the Corner in Lakewood.  Great clientele. Great people. Great readers.

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