We return for the seventh edition of Tech Throwback Thursday, a presentation of Georgia Tech-related items in the possession of the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.
As Tech will play at Pittsburgh for the first time since 1920, we present an artifact from that era, the game program from the 1929 Rose Bowl, won 8-7 by Georgia Tech over California. The game, most known for the ill-fated fumble return by Roy Riegels, known to history as “Wrong Way” Riegels, was Tech’s first-ever bowl and earned the Yellow Jackets their first national championship.
According to a few newspaper accounts written in the last couple decades, it appears that Riegels was exceedingly gracious as he grew older about his mistake, which occurred at a time when the Rose Bowl was something equivalent in popularity and notoriety to the Super Bowl.
He wrote to football players who made similar mistakes to offer his consolation and encouragement. A letter to a high-school player who ran an interception the wrong way for a safety read, “For many years I've had to go along and laugh whenever my wrong-way run was brought up, even though I've grown tired listening and reading about it. But it certainly wasn't the most serious thing in the world. I regretted doing it, even as you do, but you'll get over it.”
It must have often been unpleasant, living a life in which you gained outsized fame for a mistake you made playing a game at the age of 20. It's a funny thing about college football and basketball and the publicity they receive. That said, in some ways, I’m not sure that being known for the greatness you achieved at the age of 20 is a whole lot better.
Another thing that the Rose Bowl game makes me think is that the Jackets won their first Rose Bowl and national championship in no small part due to a mistake so monumental that the name of the perpetrator is still known almost a century later. That’s an all-time break.
In fairness, Tech made a play after Riegels’ run to cash it in. Riegels recovered a fumble near the Tech 20 and got turned around and ran nearly to the Cal end zone before a teammate turned him around, where Tech players tackled him. Tech held the Bears and then blocked a punt in the end zone for a safety. Tech won 8-7.
The best player on Tech’s team was center Peter Pund, one of the school’s first inductees to the College Football Hall of Fame. The team was coached by William Alexander, also in the hall of fame.
The Rose Bowl was also known, to a lesser degree, as the game after which a Tech team member, Stumpy Thomason, received a bear that he brought back with him to Georgia and kept on campus, apparently under the east stands of Grant Field. Thomason, in fact, was the player whose fumble was recovered by Riegels.
Week six: George Morris' letter jacket
Week four: Bobby Dodd portrait
Week three: Game ball from 1956 season
Week two: 1991 Kickoff Classic tankard
Week one: Greg Gathers’ jersey