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Wisconsin football: Legendary QB Ron Vander Kelen dies at age 76

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The author of one of the most legendary moments in Wisconsin football history passed away Sunday.

UW Athletic Communications

The author of one of the most legendary moments in Wisconsin football history, former quarterback Ron Vander Kelen, died Sunday at the age of 76.

Keith Niebuhr from 247Sports and CBS Sports first reported Vander Kelen’s passing via a former Badger’s Facebook page. Both the Wisconsin State Journal’s Jason Galloway and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Jeff Potrkyus reported the famous signal caller died of natural causes.

Vander Kelen was the quarterback of the 1962 Wisconsin team that finished second during the regular season and came into the Rose Bowl with a chance to win the national championship. It was a season that earned him ninth-place in the Heisman Trophy race and wide receiver Pat Richter sixth in votes. The Preble, Wis.,, native earned all-Big Ten and all-American honors for his play.

For three quarters, that Rose Bowl did not go Wisconsin’s way. A Pete Beathard-to-Fred Hill touchdown pass put the Badgers down 42-14 at the start of the fourth quarter. It was the sort of lead where people would turn off the television and go to church or run errands, but those who stopped watching missed one of the all-time great comeback attempts as Vander Kelen went to work.

By the end, the Badgers fell short 42-37 as Vander Kelen’s last score came with 1:19 to go, and the ensuing onside kick as well as a last-ditch punt-block attempt came achingly close, but did not fall the Badgers’ way.

Vander Kelen broke several records along the way that day, finishing with records in completions (33), attempts (48), passing yardage (401) and total offense (406). He completed 17 of 21 passes in that fourth quarter, helping him earn Rose Bowl MVP despite the loss.

Vander Kelen was drafted in the 21st round of the AFL Draft by the New York Jets, but he decided to sign a contract with the Minnesota Vikings instead, playing five seasons and backing up NFL Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton most of the way. He was named to the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame in 1991.