MINNEAPOLIS - Of all the athletes who have come out of Michigan Tech, Bob Lurtsema has put together one of the most improbable - and successful - careers.
Recruited to play football at MTU, Lurtsema first shined on the gridiron, and then took a turn on the basketball floor for the late Verdie Cox.
"I really didn't expect to play basketball when I came to Houghton," Lurtsema said in an interview a few years ago. "But Verdie (Cox) had recruited Doug Schuneman, who was a friend of mine in Grand Rapids, and I ended up as kind of throw-in."
Throw-in or not, the 6-foot-6, 260-pound Lurtsema combined with the 6-7 Schuneman, to power the Huskies to a 17-5 record and a Northern Intercollegiate Conference crown in the 1962-63 season.
That came on the heels of a 4-17 mark the season before.
"He (Lurtsema) was a rugged player," Cox recalled a few years ago. "He was a strong rebounder and defender. And he didn't shy away from contact under the basket."
Lurtsema transferred to Western Michigan University after just one season at Tech and starred there before being drafted by the New York Giants in 1967.
He became the first player with Tech roots to play in the National Football League.
After four seasons in New York, he was traded to Minnesota.
Inserted into a backup role in a line that featured future NFL Hall of Famers Carl Eller and Alan Page, Lurtsema played a key role in the success of the Vikings.
"Bob Lurtsema could play defensive tackle or end, and he always did a good job for us," Minnesota coach Bud Grant often said. "He was a valuable player."
Minnesota made it to the Super Bowl in the 1974 and 1975 seasons.
"Having the opportunity to play with guys like Alan Page, Carl Eller and Jim Marshall was a great experience," Lurtsema said, "And playing in a couple of Super Bowls was a real bonus for me."
After completing an 11-year pro football career with Seattle, he returned to Minnesota and quickly became a local celebrity.
Labeled as "Benchwarmer Bob" in television commercials for a local bank, the former Viking player gained a large following.
His popularity encouraged him to open a restaurant named "Benchwarmer Bob's Sports Cafe," which was in operation at two locations for several years.
Over the past decade or so, Lurtsema has been the publisher of Viking Update, which is a periodical publication focused on the Minnesota NFL franchise.
The former MTU athlete is active in the Twin Cities, taking part in many charity events.
Always remembered for his sense of humor, Lurtsema had one of the best lines when the Vikings honored their top 50 players at a banquet on the 50th anniversary of the team last December.
On his very first play as a Viking, Lurtsema recalled tackling Detroit Lions quarterback Bill Munson for a loss.
That prompted Munson to look up and ask "Are getting beat that bad already?"