Camp Randall 100: Mike Kalasmiki

The Camp Randall 100 honors a prestigious group of 100 people who shaped the first century of Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin Athletics will reveal a new honoree every day from May 24 until the Badgers’ 2017 opening game on Sept. 1 against Utah State.

BY MIKE LUCAS | Senior Writer

Mike Kalasmiki
Mike Kalasmiki

Mike “The Polish Rifle” Kalasmiki had a catchy nickname and a big arm. The strapping 6-foot-4, 210-pound Kalasmiki was also on a mission. He wanted to throw a football out of Camp Randall Stadium.

“I mean completely out of it,” stressed Bill Dudley, the quarterbacks assistant under Wisconsin head coach Dave McClain. “He wanted to stand on the field and throw it over the stands. And he did.”

Dudley saw Kalasmiki do it the week of the Oregon game in 1978 — McClain’s first season. From the field level, he launched a spiral over the rim of the stadium, the 70th row.

Kalasmiki, who was named all-state during his senior year at Addison (Illinois) Trail High School, was recruited and signed in 1976 by head coach John Jardine, who preceded McClain.

A pro-typical drop-back passer, Kalasmiki used his freshman season to work on his mobility in and out of the pocket while adjusting to offensive coordinator Mike Stock’s sprint-out attack.

As a sophomore, Kalasmiki, the No. 3 quarterback, got his first career start at Ohio State because of injuries to Anthony Dudley and Charles Green. It wasn’t pretty. The Buckeyes won, 42-0.

The following Monday, Kalasmiki was playing catch on the practice field when his knee buckled on the artificial turf. He had surgery that week. Some feared a career-ending injury. It was not.

But after McClain replaced Jardine, there was uncertainty regarding Kalasmiki’s future. “I knew I could throw the ball,” Kalasmiki said. “And I had confidence in myself. I just had to wait for my shot.”

On the Monday before the 1978 season opener, first-year head coach Dave McClain announced that John Josten, a true freshman and prep All-American from Arlington Heights, Illinois, would be his starting quarterback against Richmond at Camp Randall Stadium.

Three days earlier, Josten had turned 18. But he had been preparing for this challenge ever since he became one of McClain’s first recruits and building blocks. The 6-foot, 190-pound Josten beat out the three quarterback holdovers: senior Charles Green and juniors Jeff Buss and Mike Kalasmiki.

McClain, a Woody Hayes disciple, had success with power football at Ball State. But he was in the process of converting to the “Michigan” option with the Badgers, which was to Josten’s advantage since he ran the veer for two years at St. Viator High School. Kalasmiki, for now, was the odd man out.

Although Josten completed just one throw in his debut — he was 1-of-5 in little over a half of shared playing time with Green — he got the most out of it: an 80-yard scoring pass to David Charles. So much for the offensive highlights. The Badgers punted 11 times, but nipped Richmond, 7-6.

Week 2 went much better for Josten, who completed 7 of 7 for 79 yards in a 28-7 win at Northwestern, though McClain wasn’t ready yet to abandon his rotation of Josten and Green. The Badgers got a lift from Ira Matthews, who rushed for 125 yards and scored on a 78-yard punt return.

That was the backdrop for the final non-conference opponent, Oregon.

After the Tuesday practice, Kalasmiki slipped and fell on the fire escape that he used as the rear entrance to his State Street apartment. He needed 11 stitches to close the wound across the bridge of his nose. “I tried to grab the rail when I fell,” he said. “But I missed.”

Kalasmiki couldn’t get his helmet on the day after the freak accident. And his blackened left eye was so swollen that he had to ice it down each morning just to see out of it. On the morning of the Oregon game, Kalasmiki was still icing his cuts and bruises. No one was expecting him to see action.

“I’ve never been in a game like this, never. It was the most emotional moment I’ve ever experienced in football.”

– Mike Kalasmiki

On UW’s first offensive series, the Badgers lost their starting fullback, Tom Stauss, with a knee injury. On their second series, they lost their starting quarterback, Josten, to a knee injury. Early in the second quarter, they lost their starting tailback, Matthews, to a shoulder injury.

Green took over for Josten. But when he couldn’t move the team, McClain turned to Kalasmiki. It took many by surprise, including Oregon coach Rich Brooks. “I never even heard of him before,” Brooks said. “He didn’t show up on any of the film we had. He didn’t even show up on the depth chart.”

Kalasmiki was not an instant hit. Nor were the Badgers with their fans in Camp Randall.

After they fell behind 13-0 to the winless Ducks, Wisconsin State Journal sportswriter Tom Butler noted: The natives in the $8 seats were getting restless. After the Badgers executed 14 straight running plays without a pass in the second half, the boos rang out.

In the fourth quarter, Kalasmiki connected with Charles on a 26-yard touchdown pass. But the Ducks swiftly countered with a 70-yard scoring march, making it 19-7 with 7:07 left in the game.

Things looked bleak after a 49-yard scoring pass from Kalasmiki to Sugar Ray Sydnor was erased because of an offensive pass interference penalty on the 6-7 Sydnor, who also lettered in basketball.

With 3:04 remaining, Brooks could have burned some clock by running on third-and-5 from the Oregon 30. Instead, he called a pass that was intercepted by UW linebacker Dave Levenick. Suddenly, the Badgers, still trailing by 12 points, had new life.

A 12-yard pass from Kalasmiki to Tim Stracka and the extra point made it 19-14. On the ensuing kickoff, Mickey Casey recovered Steve Veith’s pooch kick on the Oregon 25. The drive stalled on the 15 when Kalasmiki misfired on a third-down throw. But the Ducks were guilty of roughing Kalasmiki.

Two plays later, Kevin Cohee, subbing for Matthews, scored the game-winning touchdown on a 5-yard run with 1:22 on the clock. That capped one of the more improbable rallies in Camp Randall history: 22 points in the final 10:29 with the last two scores coming less than a minute apart.

“I still can’t believe we won,” McClain said afterwards.

Throughout the frenetic fourth quarter, UW band director Michael Leckrone aroused the crowd by playing the “Bud Song” — whose punchline is “When you say Wisconsin, you’ve said it all.” The band had started playing their edited version in 1973 at Badger hockey games at the Coliseum.

All the clapping of hands and stomping of feet caused the upper deck to sway (sort of like the now-popular tradition of “Jump Around” between the third and fourth quarters). That prompted athletic director Elroy Hirsch to instruct Leckrone to stop playing the “Bud Song” during games.

That led to the famed Fifth Quarter.

Some 30 minutes after Wisconsin’s stirring 22-19 thriller against Oregon, the players, including the Polish Rifle, joined more than 200 students on the field to celebrate the epic comeback.

“I’ve never been in a game like this, never,” said Kalasmiki, who threw for 232 yards and was sacked just once thanks to his offensive line (Dave Krall, Ray Snell, Jim Moore, Jim Martine and Patrick Kelly). “It was the most emotional moment I’ve ever experienced in football.”


Wisconsin football players join in the fun at the Fifth Quarter - 1978
Wisconsin football players join in the fun at the Fifth Quarter – 1978


Later during the 1978 season, Kalasmiki brought the Badgers back from a 24-6 fourth-quarter deficit against Purdue and quarterback Mark Herrmann. Wisconsin scored with 25 seconds left and Kalasmiki executed the two-point conversion with a pass to Wayne Souza. The final score was 24-24.

Kalasmiki threw for three TDs against both the Boilermakers and Minnesota in the season finale. His 10 touchdown passes in Big Ten play tied the school record held by Ron Vander Kelen. Kalasmiki, who started seven of the final nine games, was named the team’s Most Valuable Player.

That should have served as a springboard into the 1979 season. But it didn’t.

Along with his teammates, Kalasmiki went into his senior year with a heavy heart. A freshman defensive back, Jay Seiler, was injured during spring practice and died on April 7. That summer, one of Kalasmiki’s classmates, Souza, a senior flanker, died in a boating accident on Lake Monona.

The Badgers struggled to a 4-7 record in 1979. Injuries destroyed the continuity at quarterback with four different players — Kalasmiki, Josten, Steve Parish and Kevin Motl — taking snaps.

Kalasmiki dealt with a knee injury and fractured right thumb. But he was able to salvage something positive out of the season by leading the Badgers to victories in their final two games.

In a 28-3 win against Northwestern in the home finale, he completed 17 of 23 passes for 265 yards. The following week, he rallied the Badgers from an early 14-0 deficit at Minnesota.

Kalasmiki not only threw for 252 yards and two touchdowns of 28 and 53 yards in the 42-37 win over the Gophers, but he also rushed 11 times for 72 yards and three scores.

It still stands as one of the more memorable individual efforts in the Border Battle.