On New Year’s Day, 1929, undefeated Georgia Tech was playing once beaten California in the Rose Bowl. Late in the second quarter, linebacker/center Roy Riegels recovered a fumble for California, and in his excitement became confused and began running in the wrong direction. After racing 65 yards, he was finally stopped by his own player at the 3-yard line but tackled by the opposing team at the 1-yard line. California attempted to punt from deep in their own end zone, but the kick was blocked and Georgia Tech scored a safety.
Most people know the story of “Wrong Way Riegels,” and some may know the final outcome of the game (Georgia Tech won 8-7), but not many know what happened in the locker room at halftime.
Roy sat in the corner with his face buried in his hands, crying. The room was silent. The coach didn’t make his usual halftime speech, but shortly before the beginning the second half, he said, “The starting team is going back on the field to begin the second half.” The whole team left the locker room except for Roy, who remained in the corner with his face in his hands.
Coach Price went over to where Riegels sat and said, “Roy, didn’t you hear me? The same team that played the first half will start the second.”
“I can’t do it, coach,” he said, “I can’t play. I’ve ruined the team.” The coach responded, “Get up Riegels. The game is only half over. You belong on the field!”
Roy finally did get up. He went onto the field, and the fans saw him play hard and play well, although his team lost by a point. His faux pas proved to be a deciding factor in the game. From that day forward, Roy was known as “Wrong Way Riegels” until his death at the age of 84 in 1993.
In the aftermath of his egregious error, Roy received a multitude of gifts: upside down cakes, railroad tickets for the last car on the train, even proposals of marriage on the 1-yard line. The phrase “Wrong Way Riegels” became something of a national slogan for anyone who makes an embarrassing mistake in public. In 2003, a panel from the College Football Hall of Fame and CBS Sports chose Roy’s wrong way run in the Rose Bowl as one of six “Most Memorable Moments of the 20th Century” in college football.
As we say goodbye to 2019 and usher in 2020, maybe you have been going in the wrong direction and feel like you can’t go on. I have hope for you! The game isn’t over yet. You belong on the field. Now is the time to change direction and set a new course. A course that involves a stronger walk with God, stronger family life, faithfulness to church, breaking some destructive habits, building some quality relationships, a better work ethic and hope!
With this new year sprawling out in front of you, let me encourage you to consider this spiritual game plan. It’s found in Psalm 119:10-16: Seek the Lord on a regular basis (v.10). Keep Him involved in the everyday stuff of your life. Treasure His Word in your heart (v.11). A heart full of treasure leaves little room for trash. Share your faith with others (v.13). Make this the year you make your faith known. Give God your full respect (v.15-16).
If you follow the Psalm 119 game plan, you will find new strength to change your old direction and find new direction for whatever you face in this new year. All of us have had the experience of running the wrong direction “in front of God and everybody!” You may not be able to have a different beginning, but you can have a different ending.