'Wrong Way' Riegels dies in Calif. at 84

March 27, 1993|By San Francisco Chronicle

SAN FRANCISCO -- Roy M. Riegels, the University of California football star whose 64-yard wrong-way scamper during the 1929 Rose Bowl created one of sports most memorable moments, died yesterday in his home in Woodland, Calif. He was 84.

Riegels, a center who played high school football in Oakland, Calif., was the captain of the 1929 California Bears football team, for whom he was selected as an All-American. He also coached high school football in Marin County, California, and was eventually inducted into the College Hall of Fame.

But it was his run in the second quarter of the 1929 Rose Bowl that would earn him a spot in history and the nickname "Wrong Way" Riegels.

Cal and Georgia Tech were tied, 0-0, late in the second quarter, when Georgia Tech's star halfback, Stumpy Thomason, lost the ball on the 35-yard line after a fierce tackle.

Riegels, playing on the defensive line, snatched the ball on one bounce, and -- to the disbelief of 70,000 spectators and his own teammates -- sprinted toward the wrong goal line. Teammate Benny Lom chased Riegels for 64 yards, to the 1-yard line, where Riegels stopped momentarily before he was swarmed upon by a gang of Georgia Tech tacklers.

The Bears tried to punt the ball away on the next play, but the kick was blocked and Georgia Tech took a 2-0 lead on the safety.

Cal lost the game, 8-7.

The play, captured on newsreel, was played and replayed to amused crowds across the country.

The humor persisted for decades.

Years later, Riegels was asked to be a guest on the "Ed Sullivan Show."

In 1971, Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern said, "Wrong Way Riegels must be directing President Nixon's economic policies."

"He learned to accept it as a part of life," his son David recalled.

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