The college baseball team from Tennessee was really, really good. In fact, the team was suspiciously too good. As it rampaged its way through other college and university teams across the southern United States in 1916, the scores they racked up raised eyebrows among the teams they defeated along the way. Something was fishy, here.
It used to be that there was a sharp division between professional athletes and amateur sportsmen. Amateur sports were gentlemanly, they were more about competing and doing your best and learning life lessons rather than winning. That applied to collegiate athletics as well. So, when it became increasingly clear that this small private school from middle Tennessee was most likely using professional baseball players to build a reputation for itself, it rankled people closely associated with amateur athletics.
One of the people who was furious about this situation was legendary football coach John Heisman. Heisman was a passionate stickler for keeping college athletics pure and untainted by what he considered the vulgarity of professional sports. And, on top of that passion, Heisman was also the baseball coach for Georgia Tech University, a team this group of “ringers” from Tennessee had beaten.
The pros not only easily beat Heisman’s college boys, but they actually embarrassed both Heisman and his team by blanking the Yellow Jacket ball players by the score of 22-0. Now, if another institution of higher learning fielded a baseball team with amateur student-athletes and beat Heisman’s team, then the ol’ ball coach would have accepted that. But Heisman also knew that true gentlemen, true sportsmen, shouldn’t take pride in humiliating other amateurs who were playing sports to better themselves and not to win at all costs. And he hated cheaters.
Heisman vowed to get revenge, ten-fold. And he did.
That year before, in 1915, Tech had agreed to play the same Tennessee college in the other sport Heisman coached, football. However, the college had disbanded its football team in the interim months. When it became time to play the football game in the fall of 1916, the college sheepishly wrote Heisman to say that they no longer had a football team. Heisman insisted. He pointed to the contract that said the two schools would play each other in both baseball and football. He said that Tech would be entitled to receive $3000 dollars in 1916 money for the little college to break the contract.
And so, little Cumberland College of Lebanon, Tennessee, put together a team of college kids who’d never played organized football before and traveled to Atlanta, Georgia, to play mighty Georgia Tech in football. This time, there would be no pro players for Cumberland.
Heisman got his revenge for Cumberland using pro baseball players by eviscerating the visiting team.
The final score?