In his first three seasons with the University of Wisconsin football program, Ron Vander Kelen had only 90 seconds of playing time with the varsity team.
Vander Kelen, who had a knee injury, finally got an opportunity to play for the Badgers as a senior. He made the most of it.
He quarterbacked the Badgers to an 8-1 regular-season record in 1962 — capping the regular season with a last-minute, 14-9 come-from-behind victory over the University of Minnesota — and a berth in the Rose Bowl. Vander Kelen was named first-team All-Big Ten Conference.
Vander Kelen, who was born in Preble, Wis. (which is now part of Green Bay), died of natural causes on Aug. 14. He was 76.
"I don't know what would have happened to me if I had not been privileged to have had that success my senior at Wisconsin," Vander Kelen, who lived in Edina, told the University of Wisconsin athletic department's Varsity magazine in 2012, "I don't know where I would have gone and what I would have done."
Vander Kelen's top performance his senior season was in the 1963 Rose Bowl in Los Angeles. Vander Kelen completed 33 of 48 passes for a Rose Bowl-record 401 yards in the Badgers' 42-37 loss to Southern California.
The Badgers trailed 42-14 early in the fourth quarter before Vander Kelen led the Badgers to 23 consecutive points. Vander Kelen was named the MVP of the game, which was the first bowl game in college football history which featured the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams.
Harry Wismer, the owner of the New York Titans of the American Football League (AFL), told the Minneapolis Tribune's Sid Hartman following the Rose Bowl, "I thought he looked like one of the best players I've seen in 30 years of watching football."
Vander Kelen, who had been selected by the Titans in the AFL draft, signed a free-agent contract with the Minnesota Vikings. He spent five seasons (1963-67) with the Vikings — backing up Fran Tarkenton for the first four and backing up Joe Kapp in 1967.
In his seasons with the Vikings, Vander Kelen appeared in 29 games, making five starts. He made his first career start in the final regular season game of his rookie season and led the Vikings to a 34-13 victory at Philadelphia to become the first Vikings quarterback to win his first start as a rookie. Only two other rookie Vikings quarterbacks have won their first start (Joe Webb in 2011 and Teddy Bridgewater in 2014).
Former Vikings athletic trainer Fred Zamberletti, who is now the team historian, wrote in a statement posted on the team's website that Vander Kelen "was an individual that was not self-serving. He was very humble."
In the 2012 magazine interview, Vander Kelen said, "I look back and think, 'Man, I was privileged to have spent five years in the NFL.' That was a long time for a lot of players, even back then. … Good, bad or whatever, I felt privileged to have played that long."
Following his playing career, Vander Kelen, who had earned a degree in economics at Wisconsin, stayed in the Twin Cities. He had a long career in advertising and marketing, working for D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles ad agency in Bloomington. He also worked for the admissions department at the Minnesota School of Business.
"I really enjoyed working with the students," Vander Kelen said in the interview with Varsity magazine.
Vander Kelen also worked as a color analyst on Wisconsin football broadcasts on WTMJ radio in Milwaukee for about 20 years.
Vander Kelen is survived by his wife of 49 years, Lorraine; daughters Kelly Vander Kelen and Katy Vander Kelen; brother Dick Vander Kelen and sister Mary Bennett. Services have been held.