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Legends: Lurtsema had many talents

MINNEAPOLIS — Of all the athletes who have come through Michigan Tech over the years, Bob Lurtsema was probably the most interesting.

For one thing, the Grand Rapids native was one of a very few Huskies to earn all-conference laurels in two sports in the same season.

He was the first and only Tech player to appear in a Super Bowl. He accomplished that feat in the 1961-62 campaign, first for coach Omer LaJeunesee in football and secondly in basketball for coach Verdie Cox.

The late Cox said Lurtsema had the size and skill to do well.

“He was big (6-foot-6, 245 pounds) and athletic enough to do well in college,” Cox said in 2005. “You didn’t find that, at least back then, very often.”

Lurtsema said he was part of a “package deal” when he was recruited by MTU.

“Verdie (Cox) came down here to recruit Doug Scheuneman for basketball and I met up with him,” he said. “I was an afterthought.”

Actually, Cox immediately recognized the potential in having the two Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills products on his team.

“Doug was the better basketball player, a skilled inside big man,” Cox said. “But Bob was a tough inside player.”

With the 6-7 Scheuneman doing the scoring and Lurtsema handling the underneath chores, Tech put together a 17-5 record and a Northern Intercollegiate Conference title.

In football, Lurtsema was a mainstay in the offensive line. But he decided to leave Houghton after one season, going to Western Michigan University.

Hancock’s Chuck Lucchesi was playing for MTU at the time. He remembered his former teammate well.

“He was a tough, physical player who used his size,” Lucchesi said. “But he was a free spirit who liked to have fun.”

Drafted by the Baltimore Colts after having a good season at Western Michigan, he ended up on the Colts taxi squad for a season before being signed by the New York Giants.

Lurtsema played well enough in New York on the defensive line to be named to the NFL All-Rookie Team.

He was waived by the Giants in 1971. The Minnesota Vikings picked him as a backup tackle the same year.

“I was playing behind Carl Eller, Jim Marshall and Alan Page,” Lurtsema said. “I wasn’t going to break into the starting lineup, but I got into some games and made a few plays.”

He also played in Super Bowls in 1974 and 1975 and gained some media notoriety in the Twin Cities.

“Playing in a Super Bowl was one of the highlights of my career,” he said.

His most famous role on TV came in a bank commercial as “Benchwarmer Bob” a role that ran for 13 years.

He concluded a 12-year pro career with the Seattle Seahawks in 1976.

He started putting out a publication named Viking Update soon afterward and is still involved.

Lurtsema said he gets to Houghton every now and then, mostly at reunions.

“This area was always very good to me, they put up with my antics,” he said. “I have a lot of good memories.”

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