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Wrong-Way Run Finally Turns Out Right : College football: Despite his mistake that cost Cal in 1929, Roy Riegels is inducted into Rose Bowl Hall of Fame.

August 09, 1991|SHAV GLICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Nearly 63 years have gone by since Roy Riegels scooped up a Georgia Tech fumble, spun around and ran 65 yards toward his own goal line, but that run by the California center who became known as Wrong Way Riegels remains the single most famous--or infamous--play in Rose Bowl history.

Riegels, now 83 and afflicted with Parkinson's disease, was on hand Thursday when he and nine other college football personalities were inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame.

"This is a great day for Dad," said his son, David, a Sacramento attorney who accepted the Hall of Fame trophy as his father sat nearby in a wheelchair. "I haven't seen him this excited in years. He has a great deal of difficulty talking and he doesn't remember a lot of things, but he really looked forward to coming back to Pasadena again for this day."

Although the majority of those at the ceremony weren't born when Riegels' wrong-way run led to California's 8-7 loss to Georgia Tech on Jan. 1, 1929, they gave the old Golden Bear captain as loud a cheer of appreciation as any of the others received.

The scenario:

The game was scoreless early in the second quarter when Georgia Tech took over the ball on its 20. On the first play from scrimmage, Stumpy Thomason circled left end and when he was hit in the secondary by the Bears' Benny Lom, the ball bounced loose. Riegels, Cal's All-Coast center, grabbed the bouncing ball, took a step toward the Tech goal line and then suddenly whirled around and headed for his own goal line.

Lom, the Bears' triple-threat halfback and also their No. 1 defensive back, jumped up from having stopped Thomason and sprinted after Riegels, shouting at him to turn around. Riegels, thinking he was being chased by a Georgia Tech player, raced undaunted toward the wrong end zone. Lom finally stopped Riegels and got him turned around at the one-yard-line, just in time to be tackled by pursuing Georgia Tech players.

The freak incident might have been only a footnote the following day had not Lom's punt from the end zone been blocked for a Georgia Tech safety. When the game ended 8-7 and the safety was the difference between winning and losing, Riegels was marked for life.

"I just bounced out with the ball, saw a pair of goal posts and headed for them," Riegels said after the game.

Riegels rebounded to play an outstanding second half and outplayed Tech's All-American center, Peter Pund, and the next season was voted captain of the California team, which finished with a 7-1-1 record.

Even though he was named All-American at center in his senior year, the memory of his wrong-way run haunted Riegels for years.

"Dad used to get quite upset when people would come up to him and say, 'Hello, Wrong Way,' " David said. "Not many 20-year-olds make a mistake of that magnitude right out in front of all the world and keep getting reminded of it. Don't forget, the Rose Bowl was the only bowl game and there wasn't any pro football, so every football fan in the country was focused on Pasadena that day."

There wasn't any television, either, so no one could analyze what happened through the medium of replays.

"I wasn't born until 1944, so I couldn't understand what all the fuss was about when I was young," David said. "It wasn't until the mid-'60s when Dad saw the Georgia Tech game film that he finally saw what really happened. Up until then, he had played it over in his mind the way he remembered it, but he never really knew until he saw that film."

Riegels saw the film at a reunion of the Georgia Tech Rose Bowl team, where he was named an honorary Yellow Jacket.

"There were a few years when Dad didn't get bugged much about it, but since the advent of video and having it in Sports Illustrated's historical highlights has brought the run back into focus. But Dad is older now and a lot more patient. Mostly he just smiles when the subject is raised."

After graduating from Cal, Riegels coached the freshman team in 1930 and coached several high school teams before joining the Army Air Corps in World War II. During the war, he coached at McClellan Field and in 1943 brought a team to Berkeley to play the Cal freshmen. Brutus Hamilton, then director of athletics, called a meeting of Bay Area sportswriters and asked them to please refrain from questioning Riegels about the wrong-way run.

"It's a sensitive point with him and as a favor to the university, we would ask you to please confine your questions to this year's game," Hamilton said. When Riegels was reminded of that incident Thursday, he smiled and said haltingly, "That was a long time ago."

Riegels said he attended a couple of Rose Bowl games after his own, but couldn't recall which year. Then he brightened up and said: "I remember the day Sam Chapman played."

That was 1938, the year California defeated Alabama, 13-0, and the last time the Bears won in the Rose Bowl.

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