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Alan "The Horse" Ameche

by Chris Hartman

All-American Alan AmecheAlan Dante Ameche arrived at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to play football in 1951. Although the coaches realized he had potential, the 205-lb. freshman was not selected as a starter his first JV game. But by the time he left four years later, "The Horse" required special shoulder pads for his 212-lb. frame and had accumulated nearly every award and honor available to a college football player, up to and including the Heisman Trophy.

Widely acknowledged as the best fullback Wisconsin ever produced, Ameche was one ingredient in a major turnaround in the school's football program. What seemed like an interminable losing streak had frustrated fans and the administration alike, but hope seemed to have arrived in the form of Coach Ivy Williamson, hired in 1949. His first two years had been successful, and the addition of Ameche would propel the team to even greater heights.

Ameche with tackling dummy

Kenosha, WI

Alan Ameche was born Lino Dante Amici in Italy in 1933. After immigrating to the United States, August and Elizabeth Ameche moved their family back to Italy in the late 1930s. All sources are quick to point out that little Lino had no choice but to don Mussolini's proscribed Fascist youth uniform. After a year, the family returned to the United States and settled down in Kenosha, WI where August worked in a factory.

Ameche on the bench

At the age of sixteen, Lino decided his name was not tough enough. The newly-christened Alan began his football career at Kenosha's Bradford High School, where he was an all-state fullback for one of the best high school teams Wisconsin can claim. In 1950 they went undefeated, racking up more touchdowns than their opponents scored points. Ameche alone scored 108 points that season.

His talent was not limited to the gridiron; he placed at state finals and set city records for running track (the 100 and relays) and throwing shot put. All told, Ameche earned six letters between the two sports.

Ameche's strength was legendary, at least in the southeast corner of Wisconsin. In 1949, he entered a light heavyweight Golden Gloves novice championship. When his potential opponents heard that he had entered, they all withdrew, and he won the title by default.

UW Career

Ameche publicity shot Although Ameche didn't start that first JV game against Iowa on September 28, 1951, he did play—roaring onto the football scene with two touchdowns. At that time, freshmen were eligible for varsity play without restriction, and the next day Ameche dressed for the varsity game against Marquette. By week four he had proven himself, gaining 148 yards against Purdue, and he started nearly every game for the next four years.

UW Digital Collections

View more images of Alan "The Horse" Ameche in the
University of Wisconsin Collection.