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Firsts on the Field: Kenosha County Impact

Alan Ameche ’56 thrilled crowds at Camp Randall and became the UW’s first recipient of the Heisman Trophy.

Photo courtesy of the UW Madison Archives, 040502as112

A television audience of 45 million Americans was watching in 1958 when former UW–Madison fullback Alan Ameche ’56 fulfilled every football player’s dream, scoring the winning touchdown during sudden-death overtime.

Then with the Baltimore Colts, Ameche made the defining play during what was deemed “the greatest game ever played” to determine the season’s NFL champion. It was a compelling game — said to solidify the country’s intense interest in pro football — and he was the ideal player to ensure its outcome.

Born Lino Dante Ameche in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 1933, he possessed an athletic prowess that blossomed at the city’s Bradford High School. His football team posted an undefeated season in 1950, but he also earned letters in track and shot put.

Ameche’s accomplishments multiplied when he moved to UW–Madison. Scoring two touchdowns during his first game for the Wisconsin Badgers, he roared on for the next four years, becoming the first freshman to lead the Big Ten Conference in rushing, setting a record for rushing in the NCAA, and leading the team to its first-ever Rose Bowl game. Positioned as both linebacker and fullback, he typically spent nearly every minute of a game on the field.

Ameche, who went by Alan starting at age 16, was dubbed “The Horse” by his teammates, who noted his dedication and stamina during practice. The ultimate recognition came in 1955, when he was named the UW’s first recipient of the Heisman Trophy.

Fans named Ameche Wisconsin’s “all-time greatest player.”

Ameche was snapped up by the pros after college. He was a first-round draft pick for the Colts, who offered him the princely sum of $15,000 — the highest annual salary for a rookie to date. He was named rookie of the year in 1955 and accumulated All-Pro honors until an Achilles tendon injury ended his football career in 1960.

In 1969, fans named him Wisconsin’s “all-time greatest player.” He died of a heart attack in Houston, Texas, in 1988.

Thank you, Kenosha County, for Alan “the Horse” Ameche, whose remarkable dedication and stamina inspired fans on and off the field.

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