“Wrong Way Riegels”
With all of the sports “going ons”, the big games like the Super Bowl, the Olympics, all of the world-wide sports, it seems crazy to me that so many people would get so worked up about a “game”.
What I’m about to tell you is a story of a game, a football game, But no matter how many games you’ve watched, no matter how big of a sports fan you may be, I can assure you that the story I’m about to give you is unlike any you’ve heard before. AND it is so much more than just another football story. So, hold on as I give you the story of “Wrong Way Riegels”.
The year was 1929, it was New Year’s Day and the big game at the Rose Bowl that year was the University of California Bears against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. And that day, starting at center for the California Bears was junior Roy Riegels.
Midway during the second quarter, Georgia Tech fumbled the ball and Riegels picked it up. But unbelievably, he somehow got turned around and he began to run the wrong way – toward his own goal – Riegels ran for 65 yards – the wrong way! As he ran for what he thought would be a great score, and the greatest single play of his life, his quarterback, Benny Lom, ran behind him, screaming as loud as he could – “Roy stop”. But the crowd was so loud, Riegels could not hear him.
Then, just at the last moment before Riegels crossed his own goal line, Lom tackled him, bringing him down on the 3-yard line. Roy could not believe what Lom had just done – he had stopped him from making a big score for his team – and then he realized – he had just run the wrong way! As he stood there near the end zone looking at the crowd he could see their faces, hear their laughter and mockery – he had just run the wrong way!
Later Riegels explained that when he had recovered the fumble he had been hit and, somehow, turned around; and that, somehow, in all of the excitement, he never knew he was running the wrong way. To make matters even worse for Riegels, on the next play, his team tried to kick out of the end zone, but the kick was blocked, and Georgia Tech scored a safety, giving them a two-point lead.
At halftime, Roy Riegels told his coach he could not go back on the field. His coach, Nibs Price tried to encourage Riegels, but Riegels kept saying, “Coach, I can’t do it. I’ve ruined you; I’ve ruined myself; I’ve ruined the University of California; I can’t face the crowd again to save my life”. Finally, coach Nibs convinced Riegels to go back out for the second half.
When Roy went back on the field for that second half, the crowd laughed and called him “Wrong Way Riegels” – it hurt Roy so much. But during that second half of play, they saw a young man possessed with determination. Riegels was all over the field, running, tackling, he even blocked a punt. But, despite all his efforts, sadly, Georgia Tech won the game by just one point. Riegels’ two-point safety had cost them the game – the season was over, and Roy Riegels was the national laughingstock in all of football. He felt that his life was ruined!
So, what happened to Roy Riegels? Did he go into hiding? Did he quit football forever? No! Here’s where the most amazing part of this story can be told. That next year Roy Riegels did return to play football for the University of California. In fact, he was voted to be captain of his team because of his hard work and great determination; and, get this, that football season he was voted as the best center in all of college football and he earned the honor of “All-American”.
You see, Roy Riegels refused to let one mistake, one foolish act, ruin his life; and despite the national mockery, he went on to live a normal life. He served in the US Army Air Corp in World War II, and afterwards he started his own successful chemical company. He went on to coach both high school and college football, and in 1991 Roy Riegels was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame.
What a powerful story of courage and determination, but the part of that story that strikes the deepest chord in me is the words of his coach at halftime. All Riegels wanting to do was to hide, to die, anything, just not go back out on that field. And what did his coach say? “Roy, get up and go back out there – the game is not over yet”.
What about you today? Where are you in your own game of life? Do you feel like a failure – that you can’t go on? That you’ve made such a mess of things that they can never be fixed? It may not be easy – it’s not easy, but remember – your game, your game of life – is not over yet. You see “Life consists only part of what happens to you – but the biggest part of life is what you do with what you have.”
As you watch any of the big games coming, try thinking about your own “big game” of life. Imagine and realize that at some time in your life, you might drop the ball, miss the tackle, or even run the wrong way. But what must we choose to do? I choose to finish the game – my life is not over yet! What about you?