Vander Kelen's sister, Mrs. Betty Kaminski, came to visit him at the hotel before the College All-Star Game. She said she has been his confidante since their father died in 1954. They have in common wide-set eyes and dark good looks and the high-sinus Midwestern accent (Ron directs the "oaf-fense"), and, said Vander Kelen, "if you give Betty five minutes, she'll tell you my life history."
"I write him letters to boost his morale," said Betty. "He's always underestimating himself." Ron told her she had better prepare herself for the melancholy facts: There were three other quarterbacks in the All-Star camp—Glynn Griffing, Terry Baker and Sonny Gibbs—"and they're all better than I am. So don't expect to see me play very much. I'll probably get in for two plays, and that'll be it." "Nonsense," said Betty.
Vander Kelen said he wished Graham would at least name the starting quarterback to relieve the suspense. "It's important to be the first guy," he said, "because if you get a hot hand, he might let you stay. It's this not knowing that bothers me. After the regular season at Wisconsin, I was really counting on being drafted by one of the National Football League teams. Every day I'd rush back to the dorms at Madison to see if there were any calls. They always call you before they draft you so they'll have an idea whether you're willing or not. There never was one. I got discouraged. The New York team in the American League drafted me on the 21st round, but it must have been an afterthought because they never called me either. I said the hell with it. I'll forget about pro football. Then came the Rose Bowl."
Ron Vander Kelen at the Rose Bowl has been compared to Hannibal at Saguntum, to General McAuliffe at Bastogne, to Charles Wells at the roulette wheel in Monte Carlo. In a breathtaking finish that broke records and sold seats for many Rose Bowls to come, his passes—33 of them for 401 yards—winged Wisconsin from behind at 42-14 at half time to within five points of Southern California before time ran out. "After that I averaged 20 letters a day," said Vander Kelen. "All kinds of letters. One girl named Marilyn, from Kansas I believe, told me she was going to divorce her husband and wanted my advice. She gave me details on what she looked like. I didn't answer that one. Anyway eight pro teams finally contacted me. I had to get a lawyer, Gene Calhoun of Madison, to help me decide what to do. I didn't want to make an issue over the money, because I was afraid there'd be hard feelings if I ever got traded. The thing to do, I decided, was to get a contract, make good and then worry about the money next year. I chose Minnesota because I liked [coach Norm] Van Brocklin and because I thought with the Vikings, I might get a chance to play. I knew they had Fran Tarkenton, and he's great, but I figured they were still a new team, and there would be games they would lose by big scores, and I'd get in.
"Van Brocklin said I had to be O.K. because I was Dutch. 'Vandy the Dandy,' he kept calling me. I don't think he knew my full name. He was very enthusiastic when I signed. He's talked to me since, though, and he doesn't seem quite so enthusiastic. I wonder sometimes what he needed me for anyway."
The Vikings needed Vander Kelen because his Rose Bowl performance merited a look and, publicitywise, getting Vander Kelen was a potful: Old Dutchman Van Brocklin, the quarterback "whose passes ought to be in a museum," they used to say, and Young Dutchman Vander Kelen. "We don't give no-cut contracts," said Van Brocklin. "You can't coach a boy who has that kind of deal. But Vandy will make it with us. You can bet on that. He's dandy."
Against the Packers he was not just good, he was brilliant. He did start, of course, and two early fumbles in which he was involved did not fluster Vander Kelen. He subsequently completed five passes in a row and kept his head up and his smallish body (6' 1", 180 pounds) snug in the pocket as crashing Green Bay ends and tackles convoyed around him. This is rare in a young quarterback. The tendency is to panic and break out. On the sixth pass the protection disintegrated before the Packers' charge. Still, Vander Kelen was serene. He sidestepped one man and dipped his shoulder to another. "It was the linebacker Ken Iman," he said. "I could see his face as he went by." Vander Kelen quickly reset and passed perfectly downfield into the hands of Northwestern's Paul Flatley. Flatley dropped the pass, but it was, on Vandy's part, the kind of move that brings a pro coach out of his chair.
Vander Kelen finished the game with nine completed passes in 11 attempts (the other two should have been caught) for 141 yards, and the 11th pass was to old-faithful Richter on a play that covered 74 yards for the winning touchdown. "The kid's got it, that's all, he's got it," said Packers end Max McGee. Back at Chicago's Sherman House, Vander Kelen drank a large Coke at the soda fountain and then went upstairs to a celebration so modest no self-respecting hero would want to admit to it—with his sister, her husband and two older couples from Preble in a tiny room on the fifth floor. At 2 a.m. Krumm called from Madison to say she'd be there at 5 to add her personal congratulations.
THE NEXT MORNING VANDER KELEN AND FLATLEY, an excellent pass receiver who figures immediately in the Vikings' plans, flew to Minneapolis, where they were taken to lunch by auto dealer H.P. Skoglund, an owner of the team. "It's embarrassing, all this attention," said Vander Kelen. They then were taken on a chartered flight carrying Minnesota fans to the Saturday-night scrimmage at the training camp in Bemidji.
Bemidji is an unimposing resort town in the beautiful lake region of Minnesota. The Vikings train at the state college on a field overlooking Bemidji Lake. They sleep in the dorms, two to a room, and eat in the school cafeteria. The rookies, traditionally, sit at the first table, and they are obliged, by tradition, to sing their college songs at the whim of a veteran. On Tuesday, Vander Kelen was called on. "Sing, Vander Kelen!" "Gosh, look, it's Ron Vander Kelen!" "You don't mean the Ron Vander Kelen!" "Show us your trophies, Vander Kelen!" "Sing!"