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'Wrong Way' Riegels takes off into history
By BRUCE LOWITT
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 26, 1999
On Jan. 1, 1929, when Roy Riegels went into the Rose Bowl against Georgia Tech, he was the center and captain of California's football team.
When he left the field, he was indelibly labeled "Wrong Way" Riegels.
The game was scoreless in the second quarter when the Bears drove to Tech's 25-yard line before losing the ball on downs. The next play was one of college football's most famous.
Stumpy Thomason of Georgia Tech was hit by Cal halfback Benny Lom and fumbled at the Tech 30 and Riegels scooped up the ball and took off.
"I was running toward the sidelines," he said the next day, "and when I picked up the ball I started to turn to my left toward Tech's goal. Somebody shoved me and I bounded right off into a tough tackler. In pivoting to get away from him, I completely lost my bearings."
Riegels headed at full speed toward his own goal line, his teammates and Tech players in pursuit with Lom shouting in vain that he was going the wrong way.
Riegels slowed as he approached the end zone and Lom, the first player to reach him, spun him around at the 1-yard line. Instantly Riegels was swarmed under by Tech players.
Cal, unable to advance the ball, had to punt, and Lom's kick was blocked out of the end zone for a safety. The two points were the difference between winning and losing.
In the Cal locker room at halftime, Riegels put a blanket around his shoulders, put his face in his hands and cried.
After several minutes, coach Clarence "Nibs" Price announced that the second-half starters would be the same as those in the first half.
All but Riegels began heading toward the field.
"Coach, I can't do it," he said. "I've ruined you. I've ruined my school. I've ruined myself. I couldn't face the crowd in that stadium to save my life."
Price told him, "Roy, get up and go back. The game is only half over."
According to accounts of the game, Riegels played a brilliant second half, particularly on defense, blocking a Georgia Tech punt.
But Tech scored in the third quarter on a 15-yard run by Thomason (the extra-point kick failed), offsetting Lom's 10-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth. The extra point left Cal trailing 8-7. That's how the game ended.
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