Although USC plays its first bowl game against Georgia Tech, the teams really should have played in the 1929 Rose Bowl. And the fact they didn’t set up the famous Wrong Way Riegels run.
Story after the jump courtesy of a loyal reader:
USC won its first national championship in 1928, and posted its first win over Notre Dame (and only victory against Knute Rockne). USC went 9-0-1, the only loss being a 0-0 draw against Cal on a waterlogged field in Berkeley.
Georgia Tech, 9-0, with four shutouts, including one over the Irish, was the Eastern representative in the 1929 Rose Bowl. But it did not play the undefeated Trojans. Instead, the 6-1-2 Golden Bears went to the Rose Bowl.
How that happened is not altogether clear. The USC media guide states that USC declined the bid from the Tournament of Roses to play in the New Year’s Day game. There was some anger in University Park arising from the previous season, when Stanford had been picked to play in Pasadena rather than USC. According to the 1982 book, Pac-10 Football by John McCallum, the Trojan team voted not to go to the Rose Bowl, after SC defeated the Indians, 10-0, in one of the greatest upsets in Trojan history.
But there is an eyewitness with a different story. Arnold Eddy, a longtime USC Administrator, wrote in his book, Troyditionally Yours, in 1988, that USC was not even asked to play in the Rose Bowl. According to Eddy, the Tournament of Roses delegated the power to select the western representative to one Les Henry, a California alumnus. “To everyone’s surprise, he designated California, the runner up to USC….” Eddy says that USC was “cheated out of the privilege” of playing in Pasadena, and noted that, as a result, the Tournament of Roses changed its selection procedures, turning over the process to a three-man committee.
So, the first Georgia Tech-USC bowl game was put on hold, to the next century, as it turns out.
So how did things turn out for Cal?
Well, they had a 68-yard touchdown on a returned fumble disallowed, because it was ruled that the forward progress of the ball had been stopped before the fumble.
During a California punt play, the football collapsed, with the resulting improved field position for Tech eventually leading to Georgia Tech’s only touchdown.
There was also a play in which, according to Golden Bear chronicler Dan Brodie, Bear fullback Lee Rice, all alone and about to catch a Lee Eisan pass, tripped and fell over a small rise in the turf, because he was wearing an unfamiliar pair of football shoes with a “cleat near the toe.”
Despite all that, Cal’s offense outscored Georgia Tech’s, 7-6. And so the Bears should have won.
But they didn’t.
In the second quarter, with the game scoreless, Georgia Tech had the ball, first and ten, on their own 25. Dan Broadie described what happened next.
“Thomason [of Tech] took the ball and headed for a hole between the end and tackle. As he sped through the opening and after going approximately five yards, the ball flew out of his hands, and [Cal center] Roy Riegels, running parallel to the line of scrimmage, grabbed the ball, dodged toward his own end-zone to avoid a tackler, straightened up and kept going in the same direction!…As Riegels started running in the wrong direction, many of his own players started blocking the Georgia Tech men in such a manner that the only way in which Riegels could run was toward his own goal line if he wanted to avoid being tackled. [Cal Left Halfback] Benny Lom was probably the first person in the entire stadium to realize that something was wrong, and, ignoring the rest of the California team, and the few pursuing Georgia Tech men, started on his own after Riegels. Roy was not a fast runner, but he had a good head start. As Benny chased Roy down the field, he tried to shout to Roy that he was all mixed up and attempted to get Riegels to throw him the ball. It was to no avail, for the din of the crowd made any sort of verbal communication between the two impossible. At the moment Roy reached the California goal line, Benny made a huge lunge and caught him by the arm, spinning him around in such a manner that although the main portion of his body was over the goal line, his head and shoulders were still in the playing field. Then, as the two were falling, Waddey of the Yellow-jackets piled on top of them and all three tumbled in a heap to the ground.” Dan Broadie, 66 Years on the Cal Gridiron (1949).
Broadie reports that the entire stadium suddenly went quiet, eventually replaced by the murmur of hundreds of questions from amazed spectators. Cal, on its own one, decided to punt. Unfortunately, the punt was blocked, and despite a wild scramble, the ball went out of the end zone (although another account states that the Bears recovered the blocked punt in the end zone). A safety, two points for Tech: the eventual margin of victory.
Next time you are at the Rose Bowl Stadium, look towards the northwest end of the field. That is where Benny Lom tacked Roy Riegels, at the end of the most infamous run in the history of college football.
And none if it would have happened, had USC, as it should have, played Georgia Tech in the 1929 Rose Bowl Game.