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“Wrong Way Riegels” - How The 1929 Rose Bowl Led To Despair Then Redemption

It’s another history video, this time from the 1929 Rose Bowl.


In 1929, the Rose Bowl featured a game between Georgia Tech and Cal, with Georgia Tech winning 8-7. This game is most remembered for “Wrong Way Riegels’” infamous play, where Cal’s Roy Riegels ran in the wrong direction with a fumbled ball, leading to a safety that contributed to Georgia Tech’s victory.

Despite the intense media ridicule and personal embarrassment, Riegels faced the incident with resilience. He continued to play football, becoming a team captain and an All-American, and later had a successful career outside of sports.

The event became a cultural phenomenon, with Riegels receiving various endorsement offers and eventually gaining respect for his handling of the mistake.

He was honored by both Georgia Tech and Cal through inductions into their halls of fame and remembered for his ability to overcome and embrace his mistake as part of his life story.

Full Transcript:

In 1929, the Rose Bowl was the premier college football bowl game, capturing the nation’s attention since professional football was not yet as popular, with the NFL consisting of only 10 teams. On January 1, 1929, the 15th annual Rose Bowl featured a matchup between Georgia Tech and Cal, the latter having accepted the invite after USC declined. Under the guidance of third-year coach Nibbs Price, Cal finished the regular season with a 6-1-2 record.

They faced off against Georgia Tech, known as the Yellow Jackets or the Golden Tornado by those outside the South, highlighting the regional nature of football at the time. Georgia Tech emerged victorious with an 8-7 win, but the game became infamous for “the biggest boner play” involving Roy Riegels of Cal, who ran in the wrong direction with a fumbled ball, leading to a safety that contributed two points to Georgia Tech’s win.

The incident saw Riegels, playing as a roving center or middle linebacker on defense, picking up a Georgia Tech fumble and, after losing his bearings, running towards his own goal line.

His teammate Benny Lom managed to catch up and turn him around, but the mistake resulted in a safety that gave Georgia Tech a 2-0 lead at halftime. Despite a later score by Cal, they lost by a single point, 8-7, with the safety proving decisive as two-point conversions were not introduced until 1958.

Riegels faced significant media ridicule, with numerous cartoons and articles mocking his mistake. Yet, the event also made him a cultural phenomenon, receiving various endorsement offers and eventually gaining respect for facing his error and continuing to play. He went on to become a team captain, an All-American, and was honored by both Georgia Tech and Cal in their halls of fame.

After his football career, Riegels served in World War II, became an agricultural executive, and started his own company. He passed away in 1993 but left behind a legacy of resilience and redemption, often speaking about the incident with humor and perspective.

This account not only captures a pivotal moment in college football history but also tells the story of overcoming adversity and embracing one’s mistakes as part of life. Jon Johnston, in presenting this story, emphasizes its value as a lesson in resilience and acceptance.