The Scarlet Knights’ upset of heavily favored Louisville last week didn’t stun those familiar with college football’s roots. The school after all won the first college game ever played, beating instate rival Princeton in 1869. The final score was a measly 6 to 4, perhaps a product of the sport’s early predilection for crowds (each team fielded 25 players) and a primitive offensive (The forward pass did not enter the game for another 37 years).
While Rutgers is celebrating now they undeniably had a bad run. (An official history of the team on Rutgers’ website includes this: “The following year, 1980, Rutgers had one of its great ‘near-misses.’”) But as bad as it got, the team could take solace in missing out on a different sort of record.
Cumberland University owns the dubious distinction of suffering the most thorough shellacking. In 1916 the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets managed to rack up 222 points against the Cumberland Bulldogs who managed to rack up no points. Seemingly still smarting from the loss, the Tennessee university dedicates a fair chunk of web space to the infamous game. In part, this is to debunk the “myths” that surround their legendary defeat—no, Cumberland’s biggest gain was not a 2-yard loss, thank you very much. They also beat the naysayers to the punch by embracing the loss. “The world immediately recognizes three sets of figures: 2001, December 7, and 222 to 0,” the site begins. “The first is a movie, the second is a day that lives in infamy, and the third is indissolubly connected with Cumberland football, a veritable landmark of American sports.” Simultaneously vainglorious and self-effacing, the sentence turns an embarrassing defeat into a historic performance.
In case Rutgers has another great “near miss” in the offing, fans should remember Cumberland’s semantic alchemy. To prime the pump, might we suggest “a day that lived in infamy (in New Jersey).”