Wrong Way Reigels


It was the misdirection play to end all misdirection plays, and it naturally made sports history


Reigels What am I seeing?" announcer Graham McNamee screamed as he broadcast the 1929 Rose Bowl game between Georgia Tech and California. "Am I crazy? Am I crazy? Am I crazy? Am I crazy?"

In those moments of football history, Roy Riegels, a center and captain-elect of the California Bears, snagged a football fumbled by Georgia Tech back "Stumpy" Thomason. He caught the fumble on first bounce, got bumped, spun around and finding himself suddenly in the clear, sprinted frantically toward the goal line 64 yards distant.

He was headed the wrong way.

Teammate Benny Lom, a fleet halfback, chased Riegels half the length of the field, shouting "Stop! Stop! Turn back, Roy.... You're going the wrong way!"

Thinking the speedier Lom was pleading for the ball to out-race the pursuing Georgia Tech players, Riegels yelled back, "Giddoutta here, Benny! This is my ball!"

It wasn't until he had almost crossed the goal line, with Lom pulling at him, that Riegels understood and tried to reverse direction. It was too late. Georgia Tech gang-tackled him at the one-yard line.

In an era when passing the ball from the one-yard line was considered taboo, California lined up to punt out of the end zone. Riegels snapped the ball, but the left side of California's line collapsed, and Tech's Vance Maree blocked the punt, which rolled out of bounds for a safety. It was the margin of Tech's 8-7 victory, and the climax to a 10-0 Yellow Jacket season and national championship.

From that day on, Riegels would be haunted by his wrong-way run. The top sports writers in the country were at the game, and more than 450,000 column inches of newspaper space were written about Riegels' misdirectional blunder. The phrase "Wrong Way" Riegels became something of a national chuckle and Riegels received hundreds of gifts - upside down cakes, railroad tickets starting at the end of the line, even proposals of marriage on the 1-yard stripe.

Riegels, however, handled himself well and was able to laugh at the circumstances. He even performed in a vaudeville stunt, capitalizing on his unfortunate claim to fame.

On Sept. 25, 1971, Tech's entire 1928 team was inducted into the Georgia Tech Hall of Fame. Roy Riegels and teammate Benny Lom attended as special guests for the occasion, receiving a certain celebrity status among Georgia Tech athletes. The Georgia Tech Letterman's Club presented Riegels and Lom with membership cards, an event covered in the Fall 1971 Alumni Magazine.

At the podium, Riegels said, "I was telling Stumpy I was really sore at him, because if he had never fumbled that ball, it would have never happened."

"Heck," replied Thomason, "I feel like I made Roy Riegels famous."

When presented his membership card into the Georgia Tech Lettermen's Club, Riegels quipped, "Believe me, I feel I've earned this."