Cumberland ball coming home Saturday

Ryan Schneider will not watch Saturday’s game from the comfort of Georgia Tech president G.P. “Bud” Peterson’s suite, though he has been invited. He’ll sit, as he always does, with his family in section 122 in the lower east stands. Schneider, a Tech alumnus and longtime season-ticket holder, has received a number of such invitations lately, and has respectfully turned them down.

“I have my own seats,” he said, “but there are other people who deserve (such treatment) more.”

All Schneider did was buy an old leather football for the cost of a luxury sedan. It just happened to be a very celebrated football — the game ball from Tech’s 222-0 win over Cumberland in 1916, one of the more celebrated and recognized victories in the school’s proud history.

“I get the feeling that if I’d donated a million dollars, I’d never be invited to the suite or to meet Bud,” Schneider said, throwing down a dare that Peterson presumably would love to take him up on.

Schneider, a 46-year-old patent attorney who lives in Buckhead with his wife and three children, will celebrate Tech’s homecoming weekend in a most literal manner. During a second-quarter break of Saturday’s game against Virginia at Bobby Dodd Stadium, Schneider will present the ball, which he won in an online auction in August for $40,388, to Peterson and athletic director Mike Bobinski.

The ball will be put on display in the museum at the Edge Center, Tech’s athletics building. The purchase, and Schneider’s decision to donate the ball to Tech, has created a considerable response among Tech alumni and fans, many of whom reached out to Schneider.

“I just felt moved to let him know how proud I was of it,” said Mike Fincher, a retired police officer in Anniston, Ala., and a descendant of Tech great and College Football Hall of Fame inductee Bill Fincher, who played in the 222-0 game. “And I’m sure Bill would have felt the same.”

The ball had been owned by a sports-centered non-profit in Los Angeles that inherited the ball from a sports museum. The museum founder was known for writing to sports figures and requesting memorabilia. It is likely that that man, Bill Schroeder, wrote to Tech coach John Heisman and received the ball in return.

Motivated by a desire to return the ball to the school, Schneider sweated out the auction, bidding five or six times over the course of the 19-day online auction without even telling his family. It was entirely new territory. Beyond the packs of baseball cards he bought as a child growing up in Delaware, Schneider is not at all a collector. He guesses his second-most expensive sports purchase might have been $40, maybe a baseball glove.

But after winning, he informed Tech of his plans (in an email to Bobinski, he wrote “it’s the least I could do for what Tech has given me”) and then waited for the ball to arrive.

It did, unceremoniously, about a month ago. The ball was encased in plastic wrap, bubble wrap and packing peanuts.

“No stagecoach,” Schneider said. “Just UPS doing their job.”

Afraid to open it, Schneider kept it sealed for a couple days until his children, 14, 11 and 9, threatened to open it themselves when he wasn’t around. They recorded the opening of the box in case there was nothing in it. But there it was, a truly unique piece of American sports history.

After putting on gloves, the Schneiders underhanded spirals to each other and pretended to spike it. It perhaps goes without saying that they assumed Heisman Trophy poses with the ball that was long ago in the possession of the award’s namesake. Schneider’s parents, including his Tech grad father, came by to inspect it.

While the stitching was loose, the ball was in pretty good condition.

“You can throw it around,” he said. “It’ll play.”

Before long, though, he requested that Tech come pick it up, fearful of coming home and find his children throwing it around in the rain.

“I wasn’t ready for that kind of story,” he said.

In the meantime, Schneider was startled by the reaction, including several emails from grateful fans and alumni. When he visited his firm’s offices in Chicago, he attended a Blackhawks game in the firm’s suite at the United Center, where a firm client unrelated to Schneider’s practice knew who he was.

“It was very, very weird, a little spooky weird for me,” said Schneider, who was initially reluctant to be identified publicly and is ready for his modest fame to dissipate.

While walking to lunch on Peachtree Street in Midtown recently, a young man stopped him and told him, “You’re that guy who bought that baseball.”

Beyond homecoming, an additional breath of history will distinguish the day. A week ago, the Yellow Jackets recovered five fumbles in the first quarter of their win over Pittsburgh, tying an FBS record, and tied a school record with six fumble recoveries in the game.

Heisman was a forerunner in his emphasis on ball security and was known for telling his players, “Gentlemen, it is better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football.”

Schneider hasn’t endowed a professorship or donated enough money to put his name on a building. However, to the lasting pleasure of Tech fans and perhaps to the eternal satisfaction of an old coach, he did gain possession of a most valuable loose ball.

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