Camp Randall 100: Alan Ameche

Camp Randall 100: Alan Ameche
Camp Randall 100: Alan Ameche

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

Alan Ameche with the 1954 Heisman Trophy
Alan Ameche with the 1954 Heisman Trophy

Possessing the strength of a shot-putter (state champion) and speed of a sprinter (100-yard dash finalist), Alan Ameche came out of Kenosha Bradford High School with lofty expectations and lived up to them as a consensus All-American fullback, the 1954 Heisman Trophy winner (the first at the University of Wisconsin) and a College Football Hall of Famer. As a freshman, he set Big Ten records with 157 carries for 824 yards, including 200 against Minnesota. Ameche was more productive as a sophomore, rushing for a career-high 1,079 yards, highlighted by his 28 carries for 133 yards against USC in the Rose Bowl.

Before his junior year (1953), the NCAA reinstated one-platoon football. Starting at fullback and linebacker, he prided himself on being a two-way player. Ameche, who left UW as the NCAA’s career rushing leader (3,345), was the third selection overall in the 1955 NFL Draft and went on to play six seasons for the Baltimore Colts. Not only did he score on a 79-yard run against the Chicago Bears on his first pro carry, but Ameche will forever be remembered for his touchdown plunge in sudden overtime of “The Greatest Game Ever Played” “” the 1955 NFL championship game against the New York Giants.

Rarely has a tie inspired such a celebration, a delayed one, at that, for Alan Ameche and his teammates. But 48 hours after a turnover marred a 21-21 draw between Minnesota and Wisconsin in the 1952 regular-season finale at Camp Randall Stadium, the Big Ten’s athletic directors picked the Badgers over Purdue by a 7-3 vote to represent the conference in Pasadena to play in the Rose Bowl. Both were 4-1-1 in league play.

Since the teams didn’t face each other, Wisconsin got the nod on the strength of a better overall record (6-2-1) than the Boilermakers (4-3-2). As news got out over the Monday noon hour, students began gathering in front of the Memorial Union and parading revelers brought traffic to a standstill on State Street as they marched to the steps of the state capitol and chanted, “We want Kohler! We want Kohler!”

Hearing the commotion, Gov. Walter Kohler left a budget meeting and greeted the crowd from a first-floor balcony with a “V” for victory salute and these words: “The election of this team to go to the Rose Bowl is richly deserved by a Badger team that fought hard and fought cleanly and won.”

Tied, not won “” a tie with the Gophers that prevented Wisconsin from capturing the outright Big Ten crown. But a tie that nonetheless turned out to be just as rewarding since it earned the Badgers a slice of the title with the Boilermakers and threw the Rose Bowl choice in the lap of the ADs.

“We all have great reason to be proud,” Kohler said to cheers.

The Badgers, after all, were going to their first bowl ever, the Rose Bowl, no less.

And while Minnesota and Wisconsin combined for 14 turnovers, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Charles Johnson wrote, One of the most sensational football games of all time was played here. Seldom in the history of this grand old college sport have two ancient rivals put on a gridiron drama that equaled this remarkable exhibition of fight, courage, spectacular plays and heart throbs.

The game’s leading rusher, Ameche (25 carries for 125 yards), might have had heartthrob good looks, but he was off the market. On Thanksgiving Day, Ameche married his childhood sweetheart, Yvonne Molinaro, in Kenosha. The ultimate wedding gift was a trip to Pasadena where Ameche exposed national pundits to his prowess as a power back in a 7-0 loss to Southern Cal.

His teammates already knew how good he was.

“The fans who watched him become one of America’s great fullbacks will never forget the four years when the Horse helped Wisconsin plow its way into becoming one of the nation’s great teams.”
– John Dutton, Wisconsin State Journal

“Playing with Alan was exciting because the kid had no fear,” said defensive end Jim Temp. “He was as hard as a rock from the top of his head to his toes. When you hit him “” with your head or your shoulders or whatever part of your anatomy “” you got hit by him and you felt it.”

Ameche’s most satisfying Camp Randall experience came the following season. In mid-November, unbeaten Illinois came to Madison as the class of the Big Ten. After a 21-21 tie with Nebraska in the 1953 opener, the Illini won six in a row, including a 41-20 upset of third-ranked Ohio State in Columbus, and featured the one-two punch of Mr. Outside (J.C. Carolina) and Mr. Inside (Mickey Bates).

After No. 3 Illinois scored on its first possession, the Badgers reeled off 34 unanswered points behind their own dynamic duo of Ameche (17 carries for 145 yards) and Harland Carl (7 for 103).

The 6-foot, 205-pound Ameche was now on everybody’s radar.

Wrote Oliver Kuechle in the Milwaukee Journal: Ameche was nothing less than spectacular as he bulled and stormed and time after time carried two or three or even four men on his back before sheer weight forced him to the ground.

Wrote Dick Hackenberg in the Chicago Sun-Times: A “˜Horse’-drawn vehicle got in the way of Illinois’ touchdown express and the wreckage was awful to behold.

Wrote Red Smith, a Green Bay native and a Pulitzer Prize winner, in the New York Herald Tribune: Illinois stopped at the sign of the Flying Red Horse.

Smith was referring to a popular slogan in the ’50s “” linking Ameche to Pegasus, the mythological winged horse and the corporate logo of the Magnolia Petroleum Company (later Mobil Oil Corporation) in Dallas. A large oil derrick, erected on the city’s first skyscraper, supported two enormous red neon signs that formed the image of the Flying Red Horse.

Ameche really was a Horse “” a workhorse. And his nickname obviously had legs. Some say UW assistant George Lanphear tagged him with the moniker because he worked like a horse in practice. Some say he ran and pranced like a horse. Some say he threw off tacklers like an ill-tempered rodeo bronc. Some say Horse was short for “Iron Horse” “” out of respect to his durability and work ethic.

For the record, the public record, Lino Dante Amici legally changed his name to Alan Dante Ameche when he was 16 because he wanted to Americanize.

By any name, he was a difference-maker.

Wrote John Dutton in the Wisconsin State Journal: The fans who watched him become one of America’s great fullbacks will never forget the four years when the Horse helped Wisconsin plow its way into becoming one of the nation’s great teams.

The Badgers were 26-8-3 overall, 18-5-3 in the Big Ten and 16-2-2 at Camp Randall Stadium over those four years. Ameche shared the success with his classmates: Temp, Gary Messner, Clarence Bratt, Bobby Gingrass, Norm Amundsen, Ronnie Locklin, Clarence Stensby, Don Ursin and Glen Wilson.

Alan Ameche is carried off the field by his teammates following his final home game.
Alan Ameche is carried off the field by his teammates following his final home game.

On Nov. 20, 1954, they celebrated Senior Day by blanking Minnesota, 27-0.

Ameche was limited because of an ankle injury and finished with just 13 rushes for 26 yards, but he scored twice before reinjuring his ankle in the second half. Bratt, meanwhile, set a Big Ten record with four interceptions. As a defense, the Badgers had seven picks, another conference record. Messner, Gingrass and Jim Miller had one each (Miller was also Wisconsin’s starting quarterback).

Wrote Henry J. McCormick in the State Journal: They were determined to close out their college careers with a victory and they made it obvious from the start of the game until the finish when the other nine (seniors) hoisted Ameche on their shoulders and carried him off the field.

That picture spoke volumes.

So does the No. 35 on the west façade of Camp Randall Stadium.