Throwback Thursday | Unusual Moments in Rose Bowl History

Written and Produced by Rick Thomas

PHOTO: Tournament of Roses Collection | News | 1923 Rose Bowl game ball

During the Rose Bowl’s first few years, things did not go quite as planned or as hoped for the California player Roy Riegels.

Gloomy Gus Gets Revenge (1923 Rose Bowl Game)

The first New Year’s Day football classic at the Rose Bowl was played in 1923. The Tournament of Roses selected Penn State and the University of Southern California (USC).

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The Nittany Lions head coach Hugo Bezdek arrived 15 minutes after his Penn State team was scheduled to play. The USC coach Elmer “Gloomy Gus” Henderson went into a rage, waiting to confront Bezdek at the Penn State dressing room. Bezdek and Henderson nearly came to blows and needed to be separated before the game could begin.

PHOTO: Pasadena Museum of History | News | USC’s head coach Elmer “Gloomy Gus” Henderson
PHOTO: Pasadena Museum of History | News | The first Rose Bowl game USC vs. Penn State (1923)

The game began one hour late at 3:05 pm and finished “by the light of the moon.” The sportswriters and telegraph operators had to strike matches to complete their stories. USC defeated Penn State 14-3 in the packed horseshoe-shaped stadium.

PHOTO: Pasadena Museum of History | News | Panorama view of the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day (1923)

Interesting Fact: The Rose Bowl’s horseshoe-shaped stadium was closed in 1928 at a price tag of $115,000 making it a saucer-shaped stadium like the Yale Bowl.

Interesting Fact: Typical of early football stadiums, wooden goal posts were planted on the goal line. Today, the goal posts are elevated by a single padded post near the back of the end zone. However, back in the day a player could fall into the end zone for a touchdown unconscious after accidentally striking his head on the goal post.

PHOTO: Pasadena Museum of History | News | Roy Riegels running toward the wrong end zone (1929)
PHOTO: Pasadena Museum of History | News | Roy Riegels shortly after his historic Rose Bowl run (1929)

Wrong Way Riegels (1929 Rose Bowl Game)

After the 1929 Rose Bowl Game, none of the talk was about the new stadium, the coaches, or the teams play. Instead, one player is known for the greatest blunder in college sports.

California’s center Roy Riegels grabbed a fumble during the game and headed in the direction of the opposing team’s end zone. Riegels was brought down at the 1-yard line just before scoring a touchdown for Georgia Tech. But the play cost his team a safety which was the margin of victory for Georgia Tech. After Riegels’ wrong-way dash for the end zone, he is forever remembered in Rose Bowl history as “Wrong Way Riegels.”


Rick Thomas
Author Rick Thomas is the former museum curator and vice-chair of education for the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation. He served on the South Pasadena Natural Resources Commission, helping to maintain a strict policy protecting the city’s great old-growth trees. Using touchstone photographs from his own collection—one of the San Gabriel Valley’s largest accumulations of historical images and artifacts—as well as national, state, and local historical archives, Thomas provides a window to his city’s past and an understanding of why its preservation is so important.