EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Vikings are sending condolences to the family of former quarterback Ron Vander Kelen, who passed away Sunday at the age of 76.
Although he was drafted in the 21st round of the AFL Draft by the New York Jets, Vander Kelen joined the Vikings as an undrafted free agent in 1963. He backed up Fran Tarkenton for four seasons before competing for the starting job in 1967 after Tarkenton was traded.
Vander Kelen led the Vikings to a 34-13 win at Philadelphia when Tarkenton was sidelined because of an injury and became the first Minnesota quarterback to win his first start as a rookie. He has since been joined by Joe Webb (2010 vs. Philadelphia) and Teddy Bridgewater (2014 vs. Atlanta).
The Preble, Wisconsin, native played quarterback for the Badgers and earned 1962 Big Ten Conference MVP and 1963 Rose Bowl MVP honors. Although second-ranked Wisconsin lost to top-ranked Southern Cal in the first No. 1-No. 2 bowl game in college football history, Vander Kelen set multiple passing records in the game as the Badgers tried to rally in the fourth quarter.
Vander Kelen was selected to play quarterback in the 1963 Chicago College All-Star Game and was named MVP after leading the squad to an upset of the 1962 NFL Champion Packers with a 74-yard touchdown pass to Pat Richter.
Former Vikings athletic trainer Fred Zamberletti, who is now team historian, recalled Vander Kelen's time with the Vikings.
"He was an individual that was not self-serving. He was very humble," Zamberletti said. "He came here after being a quarterback at Wisconsin, and he won the Rose Bowl MVP.
"Back in the old days, the college all-stars would go up to Lake Forest, Illinois, and they would practice for three weeks and then play the pro team that had won the NFL championship the week before," Zamberletti continued. "[Vince] Lombardi was coaching Green Bay, and Lombardi doesn't like to lose. But Vander Kelen was the quarterback that beat him. His home was in Green Bay, so that was a double whammy."