Roy “Wrong Way” Riegels

rosebowlThis week marks the end of the 2016 college football bowl season. After Monday night, there will have been 42 bowl games in the current cycle. But back in 1929, there was only one bowl game: the Rose Bowl. The 1929 Rose Bowl featured undefeated Georgia Tech against a one-loss University of California team, included one legendary play, and produced a unique nickname for one Cal player. As The New York Times reports:

The teams were scoreless in the second quarter when Georgia Tech’s John Thomason, nicknamed Stumpy, fumbled. Roy Riegels, California’s outstanding center and linebacker, … recovered at about the Tech 40. . . .

Riegels ran a few yards toward the Georgia Tech goal line, but then he turned and reversed course. Suddenly, he was in the clear, but racing toward his own end zone. . . . California’s star halfback, Ben Lom, did not hesitate. He chased Riegels, trying to turn him around. By the time Lom corralled him, Riegels was almost at his end zone and he was tackled by Georgia Tech players at Cal’s 1-yard line. The Cal coach, Nibs Price, ordered his shaken squad to punt on the next play, but Georgia Tech blocked Lom’s kick for a safety. Those 2 points, set up by Riegels’s gaffe, proved decisive when Georgia Tech went on to an 8-7 victory.

Until I saw the grainy, black-and-white archival footage of “Wrong Way” Riegels’ disoriented, 65-yard run in the wrong direction, I had never seen such a strange play. Thankfully, later in life, Riegels used his famous mistake to inspire and encourage others.

By using Roy’s errant run as an example, we may highlight some key biblical principles:1

  1. It is possible to become disoriented. The temptations of the devil will lead us to go in the wrong direction—to falsely assess the morality of our actions, to call good evil and evil good, and to believe that we can enjoy sin without harm. “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20).
  2. The direction we are currently taking will be critical to our success or failure. Despite Roy’s best efforts to make up for his blunder, Cal lost the game. We may repent and go in the right direction later, but only after we have self-inflicted the damage of our sins and pay the price. “[W]hatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7-8).
  3. We must listen to wise counsel. Like those teammates and fans who were loudly urging Roy to turn around, there are those in our lives who will plead with us to repent and serve God (e.g., Acts 8:22). Will we listen?

 


  1. See also Allen Webster, “Essentials for Running the Christian Race,” Jacksonville Church of Christ, http://jvillecoc.com/2017/01/allen-webster-essentials-running-christian-race-philippians-312-16/allen-webster-essentials-running-christian-race-philippians-312-16/ (2017). 

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- 2017