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Riegels, 1929


Roy "Wrong Way" Riegels (April 4, 1908–March 26, 1993) played for the University of California, Berkeleymarker football team from 1927 to 1929. His wrong-way run in the 1929 Rose Bowl is often cited as the worst blunder in the history of college football.

The game

On January 1, 1929, the Golden Bears faced the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Californiamarker, USA. Midway through the second quarter, Riegels, who played center, picked up a fumble by Tech's Jack "Stumpy" Thomason. Just 30 yards away from the Yellow Jackets' end zone, Riegels was somehow turned around and ran 65 yards in the wrong direction.

Teammate and quarterback Benny Lom chased Riegels, screaming at him to stop. Known for his speed, Lom finally caught up with Riegels at California's 3-yard line and tried to turn him around, but he was immediately hit by a wave of Tech players and tackled back to the 1-yard line. The Bears chose to punt rather than risk a play so close to their own end zone, but Tech's Vance Maree blocked Lom's punt and Georgia Tech scored a safety, giving them a 2-0 lead.

Riegels was so distraught that he had to be talked into returning to the game for the second half. Riegels turned in a stellar second half performance, including blocking a Tech punt. Lom passed for a touchdown and kicked the extra point, but Tech would ultimately win the game—and their second national championship—by a final score of 8-7. The example of how the distraught Riegels was persuaded to pick himself up, return to the field and play so hard during the second half is sometimes used by motivational speakers to illustrate overcoming setbacks.

Aftermath

After the game, coach Nibs Price defended Riegels, saying "It was an accident that might have happened to anyone." Price credits Riegels as the smartest player he ever coached. Riegels explained that he was hit during a pivot and wound up doing a U-turn, which faced him the opposite direction. Later, the NCAA football rules committee would pass a rule barring a player from advancing a recovered fumble once it hits the ground. Riegels would take his spot as captain during his senior year, earning All-America honors.

Despite the nationwide mockery that followed, Riegels went on to live a normal life, serving in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II, coaching high school, and college football—including time at Cal—and running his own chemical company. He was even able to capitalize on his blunder, parodying the now-famous run in vaudeville acts. The opening sequence of the movie "Flight", by Frank Capra, is based on Riegels and uses photographs of him.

In 1991, Riegels was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame. Riegels died in 1993, at the age of 84. In 1998, he was posthumously elected to Cal's Hall of Fame.

In 2003, a panel from the College Football Hall of Fame and CBS Sports chose Riegels' "Wrong way run in the Rose Bowl" one of six "Most Memorable Moments of the Century."

In a regular season game in 1964, Jim Marshall of the Minnesota Vikings also ran a recovered fumble into his own end zone. Riegels reportedly later sent Marshall a letter reading "Welcome to the club".

Quotes from and about the 1929 Rose Bowl

  • "He's running the wrong way. Let's see how far he can go."—Georgia Tech head coach Bill Alexander


  • "What am I seeing? What's wrong with me? Am I crazy? Am I crazy? Am I crazy?"—Broadcaster Graham McNamee, calling the game on radio


  • "Coach, I can't do it. I've ruined you, I've ruined myself, I've ruined the University of California. I couldn't face that crowd to save my life."


"Roy, get up and go back out there — the game is only half over."—Halftime exchange between Riegels and head coach Nibs Price


  • "For many years I've had to go along and laugh whenever my wrong-way run was brought up, even though I've grown tired listening and reading about it. But it certainly wasn't the most serious thing in the world. I regretted doing it, even as you do, but you'll get over it."—Letter from Riegels to Paramount High School's Jan Bandringa in 1957. Bandringa had intercepted a pass only to run it 55 yards into his own end zone, resulting in a safety for Centennial High, who won the game 9-7.


References

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