Where Are They Now? Roy Riegels Worst Football Blunder
About Roy Riegels the California football player who made the worst blunder in history, biography and history of the man.
Headline--1929: ROY RIEGELS
At the Peak: Roy Riegels was a better-than-competent defensive lineman for the University of California's championship football team and had been elected captain by his teammates toward the end of the 1928 season. But history remembers him only as the man who blew the 1929 Rose Bowl for his team on New Year's Day by carrying the ball 70 yards in the wrong direction. It was a blunder of epic proportions, for it provided opposing Georgia Tech with the winning edge in a game that gridiron pundits had said would determine which team was the best in college football.
Seventy-two thousand people were on hand at Pasadena, cheering wildly as the Tech quarterback, Stumpy Thomason, fumbled on his own 36-yard line midway through the 2nd quarter. A mad scramble ensued, and Riegels, a lineman who rarely had the opportunity of getting his hands on the ball, grabbed the pig-skin and started running.
At this point, a confused Riegels apparently lost his bearings in the blur of uniforms, spun around, and reversed field. A few startled Tech players made a stab at tackling him, but then thought better of it and let Riegels dig his own grave. Galloping off into the sunlight toward his own goal line, he evidently had no idea that he was in error; a lone California teammate, Ben Lom, renowned for his speed, chased after Riegels, screaming, "No, Roy, no--not that way!" but his pleas were drowned out in the roar of the crowd.
Lom caught up with Riegels on the California 10-yard line and dragged him to a halt on the 2; at that point he got the bewildered ballcarrier to turn around momentarily, in the hope of blocking for him and gaining back some of the lost yardage, but Tech was already there and they hit Riegels with all they had, stopping him cold on the one-yard line. Dejected beyond words, Riegels sat on the ground. His teammates tried their best to console him.
On the next play, kicker Lom dropped back into the end zone to punt, but the kick was blocked and Tech scored a 2-point safety. Tech went on to win 8-7.
Riegels took a sound drubbing in the nation's press for many days to come ("BLUNDER DEFEATS CALIFORNIA: CAPTAIN ELECT RUNS 69 1/2 YARDS TO WRONG GOAL," was the headline on the story the Chicago Daily Tribune ran the next day), and his name became a household word. He had asked to leave the game after the mishap, but at the urging of his teammates, he returned in the 2nd half. In the wake of the disaster, California coach Nibs Price said that Riegels was his smartest player, and "It was an accident that might have happened to anyone."
And Today: After he graduated, Riegels became a teacher and coached high school football in California. He served in the U.S. Air Force during W.W. II and later worked in the agriculture field. Today he is owner of the Roy Riegels Chemical Company, Woodland, Calif.
"All the times I've run across or heard people saying 'wrong way,' even though they weren't referring to me, I immediately turned around to see if they were speaking about me," Riegels said not long ago. "I still don't understand how I did it."
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