New Years’ Day, 1929. It was one of the most embarrassing moments in college sports history. The University of California, Berkeley Golden Bears faced the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, USA. Midway through the second quarter, Roy Riegels, who played center, picked up a fumble by Tech’s Jack “Stumpy” Thomason. Just 30 yards away from the Yellow Jackets’ end zone, Riegels was somehow turned around and ran 65 yards in the wrong direction.
Teammate and quarterback Benny Lom chased Riegels, screaming at him to stop. Known for his speed, Lom finally caught up with Riegels at California’s 3-yard line and tried to turn him around, but he was immediately hit by a wave of Tech players and tackled back to the 1-yard line. The Bears chose to punt rather than risk a play so close to their own end zone, but Tech’s Vance Maree blocked Lom’s punt and Georgia Tech scored a safety, giving them a 2-0 lead.
Riegels explained that he was hit during a pivot and wound up doing a U-turn, which faced him the opposite direction, but was so distraught that he had to be talked into returning to the game for the second half. The Tech won the game—and their second national championship—by a final score of 8-7. Roy deservedly earned the nickname “Wrong Way”, and took a sound drubbing in the nation’s press for many days to come (“BLUNDER DEFEATS CALIFORNIA: CAPTAIN ELECT RUNS 69 1/2 YARDS TO WRONG GOAL,” read the headline in the Chicago Daily Tribune the next day), and his name became a household word.
The above picture was taken by Sam Sansone and was the only photo taken that day by any photographer of Reigels running the wrong way. Ill that day, and being someone not very interested in football, Sansone was resting behind the California goal while Riegels ran towards it. Loud cheers and yells prompted Sansone to take the picture but he didn’t realized the importance of it until his editor discovered the photo and ran it for eight columns.