On New Year’s Day, 1929, a University of California football player named Roy Riegels made Rose Bowl history. He was playing defense when an opposing Georgia Tech player dropped eh ball. Roy grabbed the fumble and took off on a gallop for the end zone. The wrong end zone. For a moment, all the other players froze. Then, one of Roy’s own teammates, Benny Lom, took off in pursuit. After a spectacular fumble return of 65 yards, Lom caught and downed the confused Riegels just before he scored for his opponents. Cal took over the ball with their backs to their own goal line. Tech’s defense refused to give and California had to punt. But Georgia Tech blocked the kick in the end zone and scored a two-point safety (which was the ultimate margin of victory). That wrong-way run came shortly before the end of the second quarter. And as the teams left the field at halftime, everyone watching the Rose Bowl that day was wondering the same thing: “What will California Coach, Nibbs Price, do with Roy Riegels in the second half?”
The California players silently filed into the dressing room and found places to sit, on benches and floors. All of them except Riegels. He wrapped a blanket around his shoulders, sagged to the floor in the corner, put his face in his hands and cried like a baby. Football coaches usually have a great deal to say to their teams during halftime. But that day Coach Price was quiet. No doubt he was trying to decide what to do with Riegels. Finally, the timekeeper stuck his head in the dressing room and announced: “Three minutes till playing time.” Coach Price looked at his team, glanced over at Riegels and said simply, “Men, the same team that played the first half will start the second.”
The players stood and moved quickly for the door. All but Riegels. He didn’t budge. The coach looked back and called to him again: “Riegels.” Still he didn’t move. Coach Price walked slowly over to the corner, looked down and asked softly, “Roy, didn’t you hear me? I said, ‘The same team that played the first half will start the second.” Roy Riegels lifted his head. His eyes were red, his cheeks wet. “Coach,” he said, “I can’t do it. I’ve ruined you. I’ve ruined the University of California. I’ve ruined myself. I couldn’t face that crowd in the stadium to save my life.” Coach Price reached out, put his hand on the player’s shoulder and said to him, “Roy, get up and go on back; the game is only half over.” Roy Riegels went back out on that field. And the Georgia Tech players said afterward that they’d never seen anyone play as hard as Roy Riegels played that second half.
When I think of this story, I think “What a coach!” And then I think about all the big mistakes I’ve made in my life and how God is willing to forgive me and let me try again. I take the ball and run the wrong direction. I stumble and fall and am so ashamed of myself that I never want to show my face again. But God comes to me and bends over me in the person of his son Jesus Christ, and he says, “Get up and go back; the game is only half over.” This is the gospel of the second chance. Of the third chance. Of the hundredth chance. And when I think of that, I have to say, “What a God!”