Ron Vander Kelen has been back to the Rose Bowl just one since 1963 when he led the Wisconsin Badgers on one of the greatest comebacks in bowl history.
"It's been a long time. I was back here in 1991 when I was elected to the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame. I got to come back to the city but I have not seen a game since the Rose Bowl I played in," Vander Kelen says. "I'm looking forward to it."Vander Kelen will watch the 1993 Badgers play today against UCLA and it will be just one more reminder of his performance in that game three decades ago.
People still recognize his name - "Aren't you the Ron Vander Kelen who?"- even though the Badgers lost to Southern Cal that day.
"It's very memorable, a great experience for me personally. Even 31 years later, people still remember the game and the names of various individuals who played in the game. It was a fantastic experience, something I'll never forget," Vander Kelen said this week during a reunion with some of his former teammates.
For a while it looked like the Badgers, most of them sporting the crew-cut hair styles, high-top spiked shoes and white helmets with a big red "W" on both the front and back, would want to forget the game as soon as possible.
They trailed Southern Cal 42-14 with 14:54 to play. But Vander Kelen led the Badgers to 23 straight points, tossing a 19-yard touchdown pass to Pat Richter in the closing minutes to make it 42-37. USC recovered an onside with 1:06 left and ran out the clock.
"I remember more the comeback, that we were down so far and came back," said Richter, now the athletic director at his alma mater. "We didn't win but a lot of people were not real concerned about the outcome. It was just a great game to watch."
Vander Kelen, now an executive in a fitness equipment company in Canton, Ohio, set Rose Bowl records that still stand by completing 33 of 48 passes for 401 yards with 406 yards total offense and 57 plays. In the second half, he hit on 22 of 29 passes for 269 yards. Richter caught 11 passes for 163 yards.