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GUEST COMMENTARY: Honoring those who went the wrong way

Monday, October 4, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 4:09 p.m. CDT, Sunday, October 10, 2010

Football season is under way, and right now some football fanatic somewhere is probably telling the often-repeated story about Roy "Wrong Way" Riegels. Riegels pulled one of the worst blunders in the history of college football by running the wrong way for 65 yards after picking up a fumble during the 1929 Rose Bowl.

Riegels, realizing his mistake just before reaching his own California Golden Bears goal line, turned to run back and was tackled by Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at the 1-yard line. One play later, Georgia Tech scored a safety, giving the Yellow Jackets two points. Georgia Tech won the game by one point.

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Pilot Douglas Corrigan was nicknamed "Wrong Way" in 1938 when he made a navigational error in heavy cloud cover; instead of following his transcontinental flight plan from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Long Beach, Calif., he flew from New York to Ireland.

Corrigan's "navigational error" was highly questionable. He was one of the builders of Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis and an expert aircraft mechanic. He made modifications to his plane preparing it for trans-Atlantic flight and wound up in Ireland even though federal aviation officials denied him permission to make the flight.

Finally, Cristoforo Colombo, aka Christopher Columbus, convinced King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain he could sail westward from Iberia to the Indies faster than the overland route through Arabia then being used in the lucrative spice trade.

Columbus landed in the Bahamas, naming the location San Salvador. Thinking he was in Asia, he called the native peoples he encountered Indians. Columbus severely underestimated the circumference of the Earth — and potentially the circumference of his own neck when he received royal backing to set sail.

How did these three "wrong ways" capitalize on their mistakes?

A distraught Riegels, convinced by his coach to return to play, had a great second half and blocked an extra point attempt. He went on to be a high school and college football coach and, yes, served as coach for his alma mater, the University of California, Berkeley. He was inducted into both the University of California, Berkeley, and Rose Bowl halls of fame.

For his wayward flight, Corrigan returned to a New York ticker-tape parade so big it surpassed the attendance of spectators of Lindbergh's parade. Within months of the flight, he wrote his autobiography, endorsed "wrong-way" products, such as a watch that ran backwards. He also starred in a movie about himself and earned the equivalent of 30 years of income at airfield jobs.

As for Columbus, instead of the shorter route to Asia he promised to find, he returned to Spain with previously unknown foods — such as peanuts, pecans, cocoa, chocolate, tomatoes, potatoes, bell and sweet peppers, blueberries, popcorn and turkey — that quickly became staples of the European diet. For his work and discoveries, Columbus was given the rank of Admiral of the Ocean Sea. America recognizes Columbus Day this year on Oct. 11.

Denny Banister, of Jefferson City, is the assistant director of public affairs for the Missouri Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization.


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