On January 1, 1929, the California Bears faced the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. 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 hit by several players near the sideline and 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. Those 2 points turned out to be the difference in the game that California lost 8-7.
At halftime of that game Riegels told his coach, “Coach, I can’t do it. I’ve ruined you, I’ve ruined myself, I’ve ruined the University of California. I couldn’t face that crowd to save my life." Head coach Nibs Price responded: "Roy, get up and go back out there — the game is only half over.”
And that’s exactly what Roy Riegels did. In the second half he went out and played a great half of football, even blocking a Georgia Tech punt. In spite of the California loss and the unrelenting ridicule that followed, Riegels went on to live a productive and successful life. The following year he was the team captain and earned All-American honors. He served in the Army Air Corps during World War II and went on to a successful high school and college coaching career and ran his own chemical company.
That’s a pretty good picture of repentance. It’s the process of taking a life that going the wrong way and turning it around. Roy Riegels didn’t do all that in one afternoon, but he did take the first step to turn things around that day.