Wrong Way Riegels

by Tom Wacaster

Roy “Wrong Way” Riegels played center on the 1928 University of California football team, The Golden Bears, which had 6-1-2 record at the close of the 1928 regular season. On January 1, 1929, the Golden Bears faced the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, USA. Midway through the second quarter, Riegels, who played center on both offensive and defensive lines and who was then playing in a role similar to that of the modern defensive nose guard or nose tackle, 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 69 yards in the wrong direction. The following describes what transpired from Riegels’ perspective:

I was running toward the sidelines when I picked up the ball,” Riegels told The Associated Press. “I started to turn to my left toward Tech’s goal. Somebody shoved me and I bounded right off into a tackler. In pivoting to get away from him, I completely lost my bearings. -Roy Riegels

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 for a safety, giving Georgia Tech a 2-0 lead.

During Roy’s wrong way run, Georgia Tech’s coach Bill Alexander said to his excited players who were jumping up and down near the Tech bench: “Sit down. Sit down. He’s just running the wrong way. Every step he takes is to our advantage.” Broadcaster Graham McNamee, who was calling the game on the radio, said during Roy’s wrong way run: “What am I seeing? What’s wrong with me? Am I crazy?” After the play, Riegels was so distraught that he had to be talked into returning to the game by coach Nibs Price for the second half. Riegels did play, and he turned in a stellar second half performance, including blocking a Tech punt. In addition, Lom passed for a touchdown and kicked the extra point, but that was not enough. Tech would ultimately win the game and their second national championship 8-7. Georgia Tech’s safety score after the wrong way run made the difference in the outcome of the game, which increased the significance of Roy’s mistake.

Will Rogers, well known actor, comedian, newspaper writer and author picked up on the story and came to Riegels’ aid. Mr. Rogers wrote the following: “Why heap criticism upon this unfortunate fellow for running with a ball in the wrong direction? Is it not a fact that a vast majority of us are headed in the wrong direction and running at top speed toward the wrong goal?”

Over the past weeks I have heard numerous friends, work associates, preachers and pundits point out that this year has been one for the books; and indeed, it has! It is becoming increasing evident that the world is running in the wrong direction. In 1985 The Judds released an album containing the song ‘Grandpa, Tell Me About The Good Old Days.” The first stanza in that song contained the following lyrics:

Grandpa, tell me ’bout the good old days
Sometimes it feels like this world’s gone crazy
And Grandpa, take me back to yesterday
When the line between right and wrong
Didn’t seem so hazy!

That was in 1985, almost four decades ago. The scene has only gotten worse. Political leaders running so far to the left it staggers the mind. Theologians upholding abortion, homosexuality, and same-sex marriages. The list goes on! It is full speed ahead toward a goal that can only bring ruin and regret. The vast majority (Matt. 7:13-14) are plunging over the precipice into eternity every day. Blinded by the “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4), they are running toward the goal of sensual pleasure, material wealth, and personal glory, thinking all the while they are running toward victory and some imaginary utopia. And what can the righteous do? Preach the gospel! Let us, like Benny Lom, Riegel’s teammate, do all we can to rescue them before they cross the line into eternity. Let us run the race, and scream at the top of our lungs, “You are running the wrong direction!” Maybe, just maybe, we can reach them before they cross the line into eternity!

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