Mt. Juliet’s own on the bench during historic Heisman’s First Trophy football game 100 years ago
The story about college football’s rise to the top in the South 100 years ago that began when Georgia Tech whipped Cumberland 222-0 and included one student on the Bulldogs bench from Mt. Juliet.
College football in the South, as it is known today, was discovered one hundred years ago this October according to legends of the game and sportswriters from the northeast who covered the sport at the time.
Most agree there was one game that turned heads and made the nation realize that teams in the South were just as potent as those who had dominated the sport in the northeast.
Much of the credit for this southern football renaissance is given to a lopsided mismatch between tiny Cumberland University in Lebanon and a Georgia Tech team coached by the legendary John Heisman, the same person from whom the prestigious trophy gets its name.
Among those cited in the record books from this game is Porter Hamblen, a Mt. Juliet player, who played for Cumberland’s rag-tag fraternity squad.
By the end of the fourth quarter Tech had dismantled Cumberland’s makeshift team by a score of 222-0, a record that remains still today as the worse defeat ever in a college football game.
The story about this game; why it was played; and how it impacted the credibility of college football in the South is told in a book by Sam Hatcher titled “Heisman’s First Trophy.”
Hatcher, a retired newspaper journalist and publisher from Lebanon, describes his work as a “romantic sports history,” explaining that within the book there exists several side stories related to challenges faced by Cumberland at the time, Coach Heisman’s complicated personality, a young Cumberland student determined to save his university from financial disaster, and why the game played in Atlanta should be heralded by today’s southern powerhouses as the one event that put the nation’s focus on football in the South.
Played on October 7, 1916, the game, as depicted by Hatcher, provides a stage set with humor, disappointment, revenge, and a number of complexities.
“There is so much more to this story than what many know.
“Cumberland had discontinued its football program but had failed to notify Georgia Tech until just a few weeks before the two schools were to meet.
“If Cumberland did not play the game, Tech was threatening a lawsuit for breach of contract which likely would have closed Cumberland’s doors forever. But like heroes on white horses, Kappa Sigma fraternity brothers came to the rescue of their beloved school and traveled by train to Atlanta to play Heisman’s team,” Hatcher said.
He pointed out that besides Heisman, namesake of the trophy awarded annually to college football’s most outstanding player, the book has another lead character, George Allen, a Cumberland student who later became a consultant and good friend to four U.S. presidents.
Hatcher’s work, written as an entertaining and informative novel, captures much of the history and detail of the game and the period as it was reported at the time and noted in records held by university archives, presidential libraries, newspaper accounts and other sources.
His unique story telling style is strewn throughout the book and opens with a flare featuring a golf outing between Allen and President Dwight Eisenhower.
However the author hones-in on the absolute truth when it comes to Cumberland being a football power in the early 1900s beating the likes of Clemson, Alabama, Vanderbilt and other southern schools; in noting that one reason Heisman was so bitter at Cumberland and insisted that the game be played was because Cumberland’s baseball team had beaten Heisman’s Tech team 22-0 the spring before the football game; and that the 1916 game did awaken sportswriters to the fact that the South was playing championship quality football.
There are all sorts of quirks and turns in the 240 page book stocked with photos. Facts like the game had no first downs; that a Cumberland player actually hid on the Georgia Tech sideline so he wouldn’t have to go in the game; and what it cost to buy a pint of Jack Daniels in 1916.
This is a fun read that accurately portrays how football in the South got its rise to glory.
“Heisman’s First Trophy” is published by Franklin Green Publishing. Books are available where books are sold and online.