Former Iowa State quarterback Tim Van Galder has a fascinating story to tell.
Van Galder is a man who can claim his college football team scrapped its traditional offensive schemes for his immense talents, ultimately etching his name into the Iowa State and Big Eight record books.
He’s a man who excelled in two sports while at Iowa State, catching the eye of ISU Hall-of-Famer Cap Timm by chance and subsequently molding him into an all-conference pitcher on the baseball diamond.
He’s also a man who enjoyed a wonderful post-graduate career in professional football and sports broadcasting, rubbing elbows with a slew of American sports icons along the way.
So, who is Tim Van Galder?
For starters, Van Galder is now an Iowa State Athletics Hall-of-Famer. He earned the ultimate achievement bestowed upon his alma mater’s athletics department on April 13 when it was announced he was a member of the six-person Class of 2015.
It was a phone call he wasn’t prepared to receive.
“Wow, it is a tough emotion to describe because I thought my days of being inducted into any kind of Hall of Fame were over,” Van Galder said about receiving the news of his enshrinement. “When I got the call from the senior associate AD (David Harris), I was obviously shocked and I think they must be running out of folks to go back 50 years. But nonetheless, it’s a wonderful honor.”
A Trend-Setter At Iowa State
Van Galder laid the groundwork for his charmed life when the QB enrolled at Iowa State in the Fall of 1963 after a season at New Mexico Military Institute.
The Madison, Wis., native, who was nicknamed “Spider” by his teammates, had a cannon of an arm, but college football in that era was a grounded game where teams sparingly threw the ball and mostly relied on a pounding rushing attack.
ISU was no exception, as Hall-of-Fame football coach Clay Stapleton had molded his squads around the single-wing offense, a formation which featured four-back sets and few passes.
A natural drop-back passer, Van Galder didn’t fit, and the 1964 season was a disaster.
“They (Iowa State) threw an average of 2-4 times a game and were just a running football team, just like the entire Big Eight Conference was,” Van Galder remembered. “We didn’t throw it a ton. As an example, in 1964 there wasn’t one drop-back pass in the entire offense. Everything was roll-out or sprint-out. In high school, all I did was drop-back. My sophomore year I was pretty much lost and my statistics I think back that up. I was pretty much last in the conference in every category.”
Changes were coming in the off-season. Stapleton saw talent in his strong-armed signal-caller and decided to start passing the ball more.
Ditching his old schemes, Stapleton geared his offense toward the arm of Van Galder. A star began to shine in 1965.
“He (Stapleton) basically did change the offense for me,” Van Galder said. “When this new coach came in my sophomore year (Tommy Steigleder), he convinced Stapleton to alter the whole offense to a drop-back offense, and that’s what I had been used to. That’s when instead of throwing 3-5 times a game, we started throwing 15-20 times a game.”
Flanked by a pair of outstanding receivers in All-Big Eight performer and future NFL star Eppie Barney and Tom Busch, Van Galder posted record-setting numbers. He led the Big Eight in both passing (1,418) and total offense.
Having a target like Barney to throw to certainly helped Van Galder and the Cyclones. ISU finished 5-4-1 and was in consideration for its first ever bowl bid until falling at New Mexico, 10-9 in the season finale.
“In my sophomore year, he (Barney) was a defensive back,” Van Galder said. “In my junior year, they moved him to wide receiver, which was a hell of a break for me and obviously panned out. He could really fly and he could catch the ball and was fun to play with. He was a great guy, too.”
“My junior year, I thought we were really competitive,” added Van Galder. “Going into the last game we got upset by New Mexico. Had we won the game, we had a chance to go to the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, but, hey, it didn’t work out.”
Van Galder broke virtually every school passing record in his senior season in 1966. He once again led the Big Eight in both passing (1,645) and total offense (1,749), shattering school marks in both categories. His total offense tally eclipsed the Big Eight record and ranked 12th nationally.
In his second-to-last game, Van Galder destroyed ISU’s single-game passing mark by becoming the first Cyclone ever to throw for over 300 yards in a game (335) in a 27-24 loss at Arizona.
He ended his ISU football career by playing in the East-West Shrine Game.
Cyclone Star On The Diamond
Van Galder’s heroics in baseball happened by accident.
During spring football in 1964, Van Galder injured his shoulder. Barely able to lift his arm, he couldn’t bat or field as a member of the freshman baseball team. Instead, he was just regulated to tossing soft throws in batting practice.
The following season, ISU head baseball coach Cap Timm had a transfer third baseman, the position Van Galder played, pegged to take over at the spot. Timm remembered Van Galder’s ability to toss strikes in batting practice.
“Cap told me, ‘Well, I’ve got my third baseman and I saw last spring that you could throw strikes,’” Van Galder recalled. “He told me I could make the team as a pitcher. Low and behold, I started the first game of the season against Kansas State and had a good game. I would practice spring football from Monday through Thursday. On Friday, I would pitch the first game of the double-header and play in the field in the second game. I would then go back to football practice on Saturdays. I only got to play baseball one day a week.”
Timm’s observation was astute. Van Galder was named First-Team All-Big Eight as a pitcher in 1965, ending the season with an impressive 1.57 ERA, six complete games, 45 strikeouts and a 4-3 mark.
“He was the greatest, nicest coach I have ever had in any sport,” Van Galder said about Timm.
Iowa State’s Last No-Hitter
Van Galder played one more season of baseball in 1966 where he will forever be an answer to an Iowa State trivia question. On May 6, 1966, Van Galder became the last Cyclone pitcher to throw a no-hitter, helping the Cyclones defeat Colorado, 4-2.
Van Galder struck out six batters, issued six walks and two runs crossed the plate, but none of them were earned and zero Buffaloes could muster a hit.
“I would make a bad pitch and they would hit it right to somebody,” Van Galder said humbly about the historical game. “There is so much luck in that (throwing a no-hitter).”
Moving On To The NFL
Van Galder’s accomplishments on the gridiron attracted interest from many professional teams and was eventually drafted by both the NFL (St. Louis Cardinals) and the AFL (Houston Oilers).
After choosing the NFL, Van Galder spent two seasons on the Cardinals’ practice squad where he was able to take graduate courses at nearby Washington University.
Because of Van Galder’s commitment to the Army’s ROTC program, he had a two-year obligation to fulfill for Uncle Sam. He opted to take a break from his football career.
“When you are in ROTC, normally you take care of your two-year active duty right after you graduate,” Van Galder said. “When I was thinking ROTC, professional football might have been the furthest thing from my mind. After the second year with the Cardinals, I thought I had to get these two years out of the way. So I dropped out of graduate school and went in for two years. I spent one year in Korea and one year in Oklahoma.”
With his Army commitments fulfilled, Van Galder returned to the Cardinals’ practice squad for one more season.
Little did he know he was about to make history again.
Beating Johnny U
Toiling on the practice unit for a number of seasons, Van Galder began to impress the St. Louis coaching staff. His hard work paid off when the former Cyclone earned the starting QB job for the Cardinals as a 28-year-old rookie in 1972.
“You have to remember, I played not a bunch, but in some exhibition games, so I had a little experience,” Van Galder said.
The Cardinals would begin the 1972 campaign on Sept. 17th and their first opponent was going to be formidable. Van Galder would be going head-to-head against one of his childhood heroes in Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts at Memorial Stadium.
Van Galder would navigate the Cardinals to a 10-3 road upset win in the season-opener, completing 10-of-15 passes for 110 yards with zero interceptions.
The win over the Colts shocked the NFL. The Associated Press ran this story following the game.
Tim Van Galder has qualified for the National Football League’s pension plan for football players. It could mean a lot larger pension than the one he’d have gotten if he had remained in the Army.
The 28-year-old rookie- by NFL rules- directed the St. Louis Cardinals to a 10-3 upset of the Baltimore Colts Sunday as pro football began its 1972 season.
“Not only was this my first regular season start, it qualified me for the NFL pension,” explained Van Galder, who upstaged one of the game’s old pros, Johnny Unitas. He spent three years on St. Louis’ taxi squad and two years in the Army before getting into a regular season game. – Associated Press
Van Galder was the talk of pro football. He will always remember beating Johnny U.
“It was a little overwhelming because as a kid I watched a Colts game with Unitas the year they won the NFL title in 1958,” said Van Galder. “Now fast-forward 14 years later and I’m going to start against him. I couldn’t believe it. In the first quarter I’m standing next to one of my teammates and I said, ‘You know who’s playing out there? It’s number 19. It’s Johnny U.’ I was like a little kid. It was just so neat. As things turned out, we won the game and that was kind of my 15 minutes of fame.”
Van Galder started the first five games of the Cardinals’ 1972 season, becoming the first of only four players in Iowa State history to start a game at QB in the NFL – David Archer, Sage Rosenfels and Seneca Wallace joined the club later. The Cardinals’ coaching staff opted to hand over the reins to the offense in mid-season to Jim Hart, who remained the team’s starting QB for the next nine seasons.
Van Galder was let go at the end of the season.
“It was my own fault,” Van Galder admitted. “I didn’t say the right things. They were deciding to keep me as a back-up and I didn’t give them what they wanted to hear. I should have told them that I’ll be the best back-up quarterback in the league. I wasn’t smart enough. As it turned out he (Hart) ended up having a hell of a career. No question, one of the best quarterbacks in franchise history. I enjoyed my time with the Cardinals and I tricked them long enough to send me a pension check.”
When he was cut by the Cardinals, Van Galder had already begun positioning himself into another career in sports broadcasting. He stayed in St. Louis working with KMOX-TV as a sports anchor beginning in 1973.
However, NFL teams still needed quality QBs, and calls kept coming. The first came from the Cincinnati Bengals where an innovative offensive coordinator named Bill Walsh was starting to perfect his “West Coast” offense.
“I went there for a few weeks, but it didn’t work out,” Van Galder said. “He (Walsh) was a neat guy. He explained everything. When he put in a new play, you understood what he was trying to do. He was great. Anyhow, that didn’t work out so I came back to St. Louis and started doing TV full-time.”
The 1973 season was coming to a close and the New York Jets began to show interest. Joe Namath was out for the season with a separated shoulder and the Jets back-up, Al Woodall, also went down with a knee injury.
The Jets were frantically seeking a back-up for third-string QB Bill Demory until Woodall returned. Enter Tim Van Galder.
“I get a call from the Jets because their quarterbacks were out with a number of injuries,” Van Galder recalled. “Namath was out for the year and Woodall was banged up and going to be out at least three weeks. They needed somebody to backup Bill Demory. I went to my boss at the TV station and got it arranged for me to go to New York to finish off the season.”
Namath, or the aptly-named Broadway Joe for his off-the-field exploits, was one of the most polarizing figures in professional sports at the time. Soon, Van Galder would be thrust into his legendary world.
“The second day I was there, Joe comes up to me and says, ‘Tim, where are you staying?’” Van Galder said. “I was only going to be there three weeks and I told him I was staying at one of the assistant’s apartment. He said, ‘Well hell, you’re more than welcome to stay with me.’ I thought to myself, ‘Me, with Joe Namath?’”
One could only imagine the stories Van Galder has about his three-week stint as roommates with Namath. He offered this one up for us.
“My wife came out to visit me for a few days,” Van Galder said. “I got home one afternoon and we were all shooting the breeze in Joe’s apartment. I asked him where a good spot we could get a bite to eat. He said, ‘Oh, you got to go to this great place on Lexington.’ I said, ‘Great!’”
Not thinking that Namath needed company, Van Galder never imagined to ask him if he wanted to come along. The next moment stunned Van Galder.
“It was so cute and I wish I had a movie of it,” Van Galder remembered. “He was kind of moving his head back and forth and he says, ‘Do you think it would be okay if I came too, if I went to dinner with you two?’ I said, ‘Of course!’ He says, ‘Great, I’ll get a date.’ The next part was just like the movies. He pulls out this little black book and he starts paging through it. He picks up the phone and calls a girl, and I can only hear his end of the conversation, but I remember hearing him say, ‘Yeah, I know I haven’t talked to you in six months.’ We all went out on a double-date and had a great time.”
Van Galder will always cherish the brief bond he made with Namath.
“My God, he couldn’t have been a nicer gentleman,” Van Galder said. “He was the most down to earth, nicest fella you would ever want to meet.”
The NFL ON CBS
Van Galder officially hung up the cleats after the 1973 season and went back to work at KMOX-TV as the sports anchor. He stayed there until the mid-1980s.
As the NFL started to grow in popularity, so did its exposure on national television. NFL television contract revenue began to skyrocket and the demand for broadcasting games followed suit.
CBS owned the rights to NFC games and was seeking color analysts for its broadcasts. CBS zeroed in on Van Galder, who was a perfect choice. He was already working in the profession and he had knowledge of the game.
“I worked two games in 1975, one with Don Criqui and the other with Al Michaels,” Van Galder said.
Van Galder was slated for more games in 1976. His partner that season was a young up-and-coming broadcaster named Bob Costas.
The pair had already formed a friendship the year before. Costas’ first job after graduating from Syracuse was the play-by-play man for the American Basketball Association’s (ABA) St. Louis Spirits on KMOX radio.
KMOX housed both its television and radio departments in the same building.
“His (Costas) very first job out of college was with the Spirits on KMOX,” Van Galder said. “We were in the same building. They were just one floor above. I got to know him really well. My nickname around here was TVG. I nicknamed him, YBC, young Bob Costas. To this day, he’s listed as YBC in my phone.”
Van Galder enjoyed covering NFL games with Costas.
“He’s a great guy and so talented,” Van Galder said. “It was so easy to work with him. My deal was I wasn’t such a big name and I probably wasn’t that great at it either. But, all you are doing is telling folks what they just saw. It’s not science, but it was fun.”
Returning To Ames
Life has settled down for the 70-year-old Van Galder. He certainly has packed in a ton of excitement in his seven decades.
He recently moved back to the town that gave him so many memories in St. Louis. If you want to reach him, try driving by a golf course. That’s where he spends most of his days with his golfing buddies sharing memories of the past.
If he is on the course, don’t try calling him. The phone is left in the car when he’s playing.
Van Galder admits he has returned to Ames on just a few occasions since graduating from Iowa State in 1967.
He will be back for the Hall of Fame ceremony on the weekend of Oct. 16-17. He wouldn’t miss it for the world. In fact, he had already scheduled a trip to Ames that weekend prior to receiving his prestigious honor to reunite with some old friends.
“What is ironic, I was planning on coming back that weekend to hook up with a bunch of fraternity guys,” Van Galder said. “They (Iowa State) are also going to have a 50-year reunion for the 1965 team that same weekend. Wow, it’s going to be neat to see everybody again.”