In the many years that followed his role of captain on Georgia Tech's powerful 1916 football team, Tally Johnston made sure he took time to teach specific values to his son.
The importance of faith and family was an absolute must, but tales from the gridiron rarely came up, especially the mismatch that took place 100 years ago against Cumberland College at Grant Field in Atlanta. On that Saturday afternoon in early October, Johnston and his Yellow Jackets administered a 222-0 thrashing that a century later remains the biggest blowout in the sport's history.
"That was an issue of embarrassment for my dad," Lookout Mountain resident Tad Johnston said this past week. "It was not something that he bragged about or was proud of. I don't remember him ever bringing it up. He may have, but I don't remember. I really don't think he did."
Georgia Tech athletic officials have not determined when or even whether they will commemorate the anniversary of a demolishing that featured the Yellow Jackets scoring 63 points in each of the first two quarters. They followed up their 126-point first half with 96 in the second, when the quarters were shortened from 15 minutes to 12.
The Yellow Jackets produced not only a scoring record that remains today but a rushing output of 978 yards. They never attempted a pass.
"Whenever I think about that, I try to get Cumberland back on our schedule," current Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. "That is kind of hard to fathom. I don't think that one will ever be broken."
The most lopsided major college game of the modern era took place in 1968, when 11th-ranked Houston delivered a 100-6 stinging on a Tulsa team missing several key players due to the flu. The biggest rout in NFL history was the 1940 championship game, when the Chicago Bears defeated the Washington Redskins 73-0.
Never in doubt
The renowned John Heisman was Georgia Tech's football coach in 1916, and the origin of the blowout occurred several months earlier when Cumberland whipped Georgia Tech 22-0 in baseball. Cumberland's baseball team had used professional players from the Nashville area, which did not sit well with Heisman.
Cumberland had been stout in football at the turn of the 20th century, but the Lebanon, Tenn., school reportedly cut its program prior to the 1916 season without notifying Georgia Tech. Yellow Jackets officials demanded the game be played or Cumberland would be responsible for $3,000, and Heisman even offered Cumberland a $500 guarantee and paid for travel expenses.
George Allen, who later became an adviser to several U.S. presidents, had been a student manager with Cumberland's baseball and football programs and was charged with assembling a team. He compiled a roster of 19 players, including himself, but three of them were lost in Nashville when a train trip with an intent to borrow Vanderbilt players before heading to Atlanta came up empty.
Once the game started, Cumberland's offense began going in reverse, so the overmatched team eventually decided to punt immediately after receiving the kickoff.
"One of Allen's more brilliant plays was when he attempted a punt," Cumberland player B.F. Paty told Reader's Digest in its October 1955 issue. "It was a good, hard kick, but the ball hit our own center squarely in the back of the neck and bowled him over."
Legendary sports writer Grantland Rice reported, "Cumberland's greatest individual play of the game took place when fullback Allen circled right end for a six-yard loss."
Allen jokingly disputed Rice years later, saying there were several plays that lost only 3 yards. Neither team was credited with a first down that afternoon, because Georgia Tech scored within the first four downs of every possession and Cumberland couldn't manage one.
The Yellow Jackets had opened their 1916 season with a 61-0 trampling of Mercer before Cumberland's visit, and they wound up with an 8-0-1 record in the middle of a three-year stretch in which they went 24-0-2.
Tally Johnston was born in Fort Payne, Ala., and went to City High School before becoming a Georgia Tech halfback. He returned to Chattanooga and eventually ran Davenport Hosiery Mills, which was located in the building at 400 East 11th St. that since 1966 has housed what is now the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
"He was a caring person who had great integrity and did what he felt like God wanted him to do with his life and pass that on," his son said. "That's the main thing I remember about my dad. He was a generous man who helped provide for my two sons to go to McCallie. He loved his grandchildren.
"It was never about football. In fact, I hardly knew a thing about the Cumberland game until my mom showed me the Reader's Digest article."
Tad Johnston completed his college education at the University of Chattanooga and his two sons graduated from North Carolina, but he always has considered himself a "Yellow Jacket at heart." His father took him to a game in the 1950s, and he wound up taking his sons down Interstate 75 to watch the Jackets.
Georgia Tech's 1952 team, which won the Southeastern Conference and capped a 12-0 season by downing Ole Miss 24-7 in the Sugar Bowl, remains Tad's favorite. Former Baylor School standouts Leon Hardeman and Bill Teas were the halfbacks on that team.
Coach Bobby Dodd's 1952 Jackets outscored the opposition 323-59, which is an impressive feat until comparing it to Heisman's 1916 Jackets, who outscored foes 421-20.
According to Reader's Digest, Heisman put his team through a 30-minute scrimmage following the 222-point win, while Allen collected the $500 guarantee and showed his teammates the sights of Atlanta.
"Which we saw through swollen eyes," said Pete Gray, who told Reader's Digest that he was among the six Cumberland players who never came out of the game.
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.