Referee Herb Dana ruled the ball dead on the one. Lom attempted to punt the Bears out of danger on first down, but Tech tackle Vance Maree blocked the kick and the ball rolled out of the end zone for a safety. Thomason added a touchdown in the third quarter to give Tech an 8-0 lead. Then, with 1:15 left in the game, Lom passed to Phillips for a Cal touchdown, and right half Stan Barr added the extra point for what might have been a 7-6 win for the Bears. But Riegels's wrong-way run had given Tech the game, 8-7.
Riegels's boner was the subject of about 4,500 feature stories and an estimated 250,000 column inches in newspapers across the country the next day, according to an article preserved in one of Riegels's scrapbooks. Grantland Rice hoped the young man wouldn't take his mistake too seriously. And the Cleveland Plain Dealer editorialized, "The tragedy of Roy Riegels' terrific race to the wrong goal in the New Year's Game is that it is likely to stick with him through life. Fred Merkle made his boneheaded play in baseball 20 years ago, and it is his only bid for notoriety to this day."
But Riegels endured. Lost in the fuss was the fact that in the second half of that game, he played with such fury that Tech's All-America center, Peter Pund, called Riegels the best lineman he had faced all season. Neither Cal coach Nibs Price nor Riegels's teammates blamed him for their disappointing loss, and Riegels was elected team captain for 1929, his senior season. He made several All-America teams that year and was cocaptain, with the famous Dutch Clark, of the West team in the 1930 Shrine East-West game in San Francisco.
Riegels went on to coach high school, junior college and armed forces football, to become a business success and to weather in good humor the unwanted media reminiscences that boo-boos by other football players regularly provoked. When Alabama's Tommy Lewis jumped off the bench to make an illegal tackle in the 1954 Cotton Bowl game, Riegels wrote him a this-too-shall-pass letter of condolence. But he could only retreat into discreet silence when, during an NFL game in 1964, Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jim Marshall "pulled a Riegels" and ran 60 yards with a 49er fumble to a safety. It was a wrong-way run that brought out all the old Riegels jokes and all the embarrassing newspaper photographs. Marshall went on to considerable fame, and his boner was soon forgotten, while Riegels's remains part of football's mythology.
Today, aged and ailing, Riegels still manages a smile as he thumbs through dog-eared scrapbooks filled with such headlines as, ROY RIEGELS LOST DIRECTION and LONE MISTAKE COSTS CALIFORNIA VICTORY. "You know," he says slowly, "I really wasn't a bad football player. But for the life of me, I still don't know how or why I did what I did." He dismisses the damning memorabilia with a hearty wave. "Now I ask you, isn't this a hell of a way to become famous?"
It sure is. But you can say one thing for boner fame—it's not fleeting.