Dec. 28, 2010
MADISON, Wis. -- There was the trip to Disneyland, where Steve Underwood wound up getting stranded at the top of the Matterhorn with Pat Richter and one of the Rose Bowl princesses. They were stuck for 10 minutes before the ride was repaired and operational again.
(Underwood and Richter were the co-captains of the 1962 Badgers. They also had assumed those responsibilities while playing together as seniors for Butch Mueller at Madison East High School.)
There was the luncheon at the historic Huntington Hotel in Pasadena. Underwood was dining with his parents, and they were joined by a distinguished looking gent who possessed a quiet confidence and said all the right things. Must be a politician, they thought. Or a very good actor.
(They had dined with Ronald Reagan, who was just embarking on a political career that would lead him to the White House as the 40th President of the United States.)
There was the 1963 Rose Bowl game, itself, one of the most memorable ever staged; punctuated by a furious fourth-quarter rally (23 unanswered points) by Wisconsin which fell agonizingly short (42-37) for the Badgers against Southern Cal.
"The '63 game,'' said Underwood, an undersized guard who played on offense and defense, "is the only one I ever played in - or know of - where the losers historically became the winners.''
(That was the perception until the Badgers finally returned to Pasadena and beat UCLA in 1994.)
The 1963 Rose Bowl was special from the start because it pitted the No. 1-ranked Trojans, who had won 10 straight games (outscoring their opponents 219-55); against the No. 2-ranked Badgers, whose only loss was to Ohio State and had already knocked off a No. 1 ranked team (Northwestern).
It was no secret that UW coach Milt Bruhn wanted to make amends for the 1960 Rose Bowl, a humbling 44-8 loss to Washington. To this end, Bruhn wanted to make sure there were no distractions for the players, so he booked the team into the Order of Passionist Fathers' Monastery.
"That was Milt's response,'' Underwood said, "for receiving so much criticism, perceived or real, when the 1959 team went out and had too good of a time. He wasn't going to be criticized again. As far as I was concerned, it was a good move. It was a beautiful setting and we were there by ourselves.''
It didn't seem to make much of a difference in the first half against the Trojans, who took advantage of a trick play (a tackle eligible pass play) to get on the board first. The Badgers matched that score before USC took control of the game with a couple of touchdowns in the second quarter.
John McKay's offense revolved around quarterback Pete Beathard and All-America receiver Hal Bedsole. After scoring on the first possession of the third quarter, the Trojans led 28-7. The Badgers countered with a touchdown, but USC came back with two more scores, making it 42-14.
"They started substituting people for their first stringers,'' Underwood recalled, "and my guess is that they thought they had the game wrapped up. But we just seized control.''
The final 12 minutes of the game belonged to UW quarterback Ron VanderKelen and Richter. Together, they put on a passing clinic unmatched in Rose Bowl history. VanderKelen ended up completing 33 of 48 throws for 401 yards while Richter finished with 11 receptions for 163 yards.
In the fourth quarter alone, VanderKelen completed 17-of-21 passes. What an unlikely hero, too? Prior to his senior year, VanderKelen had 90 seconds of playing experience for the Badgers, and all 90 came as a defensive back in a rout of Marquette in 1959. He was then a sophomore.
VanderKelen injured his knee the following spring, had surgery and sat out the 1960 season. He had eligibility issues in 1961 and dropped out of school and worked in construction. But he stayed in touch with the football program and was committed to returning to the UW.
When he did come back, he received another year of eligibility because of the knee injury. The irony is that Bruhn was hoping to get an extra year for another quarterback, Ron Miller, whose petition to the NCAA was rejected. Miller had proven himself. VanderKelen had not.
Going into the 1962 season, VanderKelen was one of seven quarterbacks auditioning for the job. The others were John Fabry, Harold Brandt, Jim Hennig, Arnie Quaerna, Bob Allison, Greg Howey and Lew Fawbush. What Bruhn liked the most about VanderKelen was his mobility. That gave him the edge.
VanderKelen played himself on to everybody's radar by completing his first eight passes against Notre Dame at Camp Randall Stadium. The Badgers had gone winless in seven previous meetings with the Irish, dating to 1928, but VanderKelen helped end the streak in a 17-8 victory.
Although VanderKelen was intercepted three times, Bruhn told the Wisconsin State Journal, "Vandy's the boy I'm going with from now on. He and Richter are going to be my offense.''
VanderKelen knew how to command a huddle, not unlike a Scott Tolzien
"He showed so much leadership,'' Underwood remembered. "He was always cool and collected. He was always composed and had everything under control. That was the hallmark of his performance.''
After the Badgers knocked off No. 1 ranked Northwestern, VanderKelen said, "Nobody figured Wisconsin was going to have a great year. They thought we'd be in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten or down in the lower level. But we played every game like it was the first game of the year.''
What he said next about the 1963 Badgers mirrored what Tolzien might say about the 2010 Badgers. "We knew who we were,'' said VanderKelen, "and we went out and played our game.''
It was almost good enough to upend USC. Almost - though few remember the almost in a losing context. Instead they remember VanderKelen and Richter and the storybook ending they almost wrote.