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Wisconsin Wiz : As a Player and Now as Athletic Director, Richter a Badger Hero

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A Rose Bowl hero in 1963, and a Rose Bowl hero again 31 years later.

If this sounds implausible, even impossible, so be it. It’s the story of Pat Richter, then an All-American end on Wisconsin’s football team and now the school’s athletic director.

When Richter played in the Rose Bowl against USC, he teamed with quarterback Ron VanderKelen to lead a rally in which Wisconsin slashed a 42-14 deficit to 42-37 before time ran out. Now, win or lose Saturday against UCLA, he is the man behind the Badgers’ return to Pasadena after what seemed an interminable absence.

Obviously, Barry Alvarez deserves credit for one of the most remarkable coaching jobs in recent memory. He took over a football program in ruins and led the Badgers to a Big Ten co-championship in only four seasons.

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Still, it was Richter who hired Alvarez, and who is to say that any other coach would have turned the program around this soon? Alvarez was able to recruit first-class players after Wisconsin’s 1-10 season in 1989.

Richter interviewed countless candidates after firing Don Morton, and somehow, he saw something in Alvarez that made him think he had found the right man for one of the toughest jobs in the country.

Alvarez, a former Nebraska linebacker, had been the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator at Notre Dame and, before that, linebacker coach at Iowa. He had been a head coach only at the high school level. So why did Richter pick him out of a field that included Don Nehlen of currently undefeated West Virginia?

“I got a feel about him as soon as I met him face to face,” Richter said. “He was enthusiastic, but very much under control, and I felt comfortable when I talked to him. He said he thought Wisconsin was a sleeping giant, and that impressed me.”

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It eventually came down to Alvarez or Nehlen, and since Nehlen didn’t seem as excited as Alvarez about the opportunity, the decision was easy.

Amazingly, Alvarez’s first recruiting class produced 11 of the 22 starters on his Rose Bowl team. Among them is tailback Brent Moss, the nation’s No. 3 rusher, the Big Ten’s most valuable player and a second-team All-American.

“We took a shot at some blue-chip players and got lucky on some others,” Richter said. "(Lamark) Shackerford received our last scholarship that year, and he’s been all-conference twice. We wound up with the fifth-rated class in the Big Ten.”

Shortly after hiring Alvarez, Richter said: “I realize it will take time. I told Barry my objective is the national championship, but if we go 6-5 or 7-4 and get a bowl bid, I’ll think he’s bringing us the moon.”

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Now that the Badgers are 9-1-1 and going to the Rose Bowl, Richter said: “We figured 7-4 or 8-3, because we had a decent schedule and a good nucleus coming back. But this? It exceeds our wildest dreams.”

Home attendance had plunged 30,000 a game during Morton’s 6-27 regime, but with success on the field this year came four sellouts of 77,745 in five games.

Richter’s magic isn’t confined to football. Wisconsin hasn’t won a Big Ten basketball title or been to the NCAA tournament since 1947, but Stu Jackson, hired by Richter last year, has the Badgers in the top 25. The fans are so excited by this turnabout that the entire home schedule was sold out in advance.

As a result of this two-sport bonanza--plus the traditional run of sellouts for hockey--the athletic department already has wiped out the $2.1-million deficit that Richter inherited.

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Richter has a law degree and was a practicing attorney for a year, then began an 18-year run at Oscar Mayer in Madison, where he was vice president for personnel when his alma mater drafted him. He said the personnel position gave him the training that helped him strike gold in selecting coaches.

“I got a lot of experience at picking the right people,” he said. “Interviewing applicants all those years gave me a good reading on people.”

How does going to the Rose Bowl as an administrator compare with going as a player?

“This is more exciting,” he said. “As a player, it kind of creeps up on you, and you’re just part of it. This is more satisfying. I can look back on a hell of an accomplishment.

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“When you realize what it takes to get into this position, you can appreciate it a lot more. After all, it’s been a generation since it happened before.”

Wisconsin made such a thriller out of the 1963 Rose Bowl game that Richter said: “We probably got more notoriety for losing than Southern Cal did for winning. When VanderKelen and I went to the Hula Bowl, all the people were talking about was our comeback. That didn’t make the guys from Southern Cal very happy.”

The defeat left Wisconsin with a record of 0-3 in the Rose Bowl--it had lost to USC in 1953, 7-0, and to Washington in 1960, 44-8--but the Badgers are fondly remembered for what generally is considered the most exciting Rose Bowl game ever.

After taking a terrible beating for 46 minutes, the Badgers staged a counterattack unprecedented in Rose Bowl annals. Since they had the ball on their 40-yard line when the game ended, Badger fans have long suggested that Coach John McKay’s Trojans were saved by the clock.

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Speaking of the clock, the game lasted so long--with 66 passes--that it ended in semi-darkness under lights that at that time were little brighter than gaslight.

Wrote Times columnist Jim Murray: “It was only slightly less long than the War of 1812 (which didn’t end until 1815). If it had lasted one more quarter, they would have run into next year’s Rose Bowl traffic.”

The aerial combination of VanderKelen and Richter set several Rose Bowl records. VanderKelen completed a record 33 of a record 48 passes for a record 401 yards, and Richter caught a record 11 for 163 yards, only five yards shy of a record.

On the Trojan side, Pete Beathard completed eight of 12 passes, four for touchdowns, and shared the most-valuable-player award with VanderKelen.

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Richter recalled that Wisconsin Coach Milt Bruhn, by nature an easygoing man, had run a much tighter ship than he had before the 1960 disaster.

“He decided that the players had had too good a time,” Richter said. “For the last two or three days before the game, he took us to the Passionist fathers’ monastery in the Sierra Madre Mountains.”

Still, the Badgers were a lethargic lot until the score reached 42-14.

Asked what set off their comeback, VanderKelen, now an advertising executive in Minneapolis, said: “Things like that just happen. We had stunk up the place in the first half, and we said, ‘Let’s go out and at least make it respectable.’ Once we got rolling, we just kept on going.

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“Some plays were unbelievable, the way they worked out for us. I’d scramble and see a man open and just throw the ball. I’d get creamed, and it wasn’t until I’d get up that I’d know what happened.”

Beathard, whose brother, Bobby, is general manager of the San Diego Chargers, offered a different perspective. He now has a commercial brokerage business in Houston.

“I know we got a little complacent with that big lead,” Beathard said. “But I looked at the game film for the first time a few weeks ago, and that changed my recollection. I don’t mean to take anything away from Wisconsin, but we made a lot of mistakes. We had a couple of penalties that let them back in the game.

“VanderKelen made a couple of real good scrambles, and he and Richter played catch all day long. We had to play both ways in those days, and I had to cover Richter. He didn’t have a lot of moves, but he was just too tall (6 feet 6) for me.”

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As steep a hill as the Badgers had to climb, they might have made it if USC’s Willie Brown hadn’t intercepted a pass in the end zone with the score 42-28. They had reached USC’s four-yard line, and even though they salvaged a safety on a botched punt attempt, the five points they didn’t score made the difference.

“The interception killed us,” VanderKelen said. “The receiver ran the wrong pattern and stood there. Not to take any blame off myself, though. Maybe I should have eaten the ball.”


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