University of Wisconsin–Madison

Sixty years ago, Rose Bowl loss had silver lining for UW professor

By Doug Erickson

The loss did, indeed, sting.

“Ohhhh, it was terrible,” says Gerald “Jerry” Kulcinski, 80, a member of the 1960 Badger Rose Bowl team. “Talk about your hard life lessons.”

Kulcinski, the Grainger Professor of Nuclear Engineering emeritus at UW–Madison, was a 20-year-old junior when the Badgers made only their second appearance ever at the Rose Bowl. The University of Washington prevailed easily, winning 44-8.

Kulcinski in his Wisconsin football uniform
Gerald “Jerry” Kulcinski in his Wisconsin Badgers uniform in the late 1950s. Photo courtesy of UW Athletics.

Kulcinski says he learned a lot from the Rose Bowl experience. Namely, that life wasn’t always going to go his way.

“Now that I have a lot of perspective on it, I can look back and see the silver lining,” he says. “Learning to accept defeat, especially when you’re young, is probably more important than winning all the time. You might say it was a character-builder. You pick yourself up and go on.”

Kulcinski did just that, and quite nicely. He earned multiple degrees from UW–Madison — bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. — and went on to a stellar career, including election to the National Academy of Engineering in 1993. He holds the distinction of being the only member of the 1960 Badger Rose Bowl team to become a professor at his alma mater. He joined the faculty in 1972.

A native of La Crosse, Wisconsin, Kulcinski tried out for the Badger squad as a freshman walk-on, successfully earning a football scholarship as a right guard and linebacker. The stakes were high. Kulcinski says he had only enough money for part of his freshman year at UW–Madison. The scholarship allowed him to stay.

He wasn’t a starter at the Rose Bowl, but he played a lot. Why did the Badgers lose?

“The other team put together a lot of big plays, and we weren’t built to overcome big deficits,” he says. “We were a grind-it-out team. Once we got behind by a couple of touchdowns, the roof caved in.”

Kulcinski remains a huge Badger fan — he’s had season football tickets for almost 50 years and served for a time on the UW–Madison Athletic Board. He keeps in touch with former teammates and has many reminders of his playing days, like a bum knee from a Michigan game. He finally addressed it a few years ago.

“I think I was the last guy in the line to have my knee replaced,” he says.

He won’t be traveling to the 2020 Rose Bowl due to a work obligation. But he’ll watch the game from his Madison living room—most likely wearing the decades-old Badger sweater he dons for all games, he says.