Wisconsin Football Countdown: No. 35, Alan Ameche


As the countdown to the first Wisconsin football game of the season continues, Badger of Honor is taking a look at Badgers by the numbers, checking in on a different Badger or Badgers players who wore the number corresponding with the remaining days until the Badgers head to Texas to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide Saturday, Sept. 5.

Next up in our countdown, signifying 35 days until college football is back, is the legendary Alan Ameche.

One of the most celebrated players in Wisconsin football history, Ameche — known as “The Horse” or “The Iron Horse” —was a fullback for the Badgers from 1951-1954.

Wisconsin Badgers
Wisconsin Badgers /

Wisconsin Badgers

He led the team in rushing for four straight seasons after committing to the Badgers out of Bradford High School in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the same school that would produce a pair of top-15 NFL draft picks more than 50 years later when Melvin Gordon and Trae Waynes went No. 15 and No. 11 overall in the 2015 draft.

During the 1951 season, Ameche became the first Badger to rush for at least 200 yards in a single game, hitting the number on the dot against Minnesota. In 1952 he became the first Badgers player to rush for 1,000 yards, totaling 1,079 yards his sophomore season.

In 1953, Ameche finished sixth in Heisman voting. 1953 also saw Ameche seeing the field for nearly 55 minutes a game, as he played fullback on offense and linebacker on defense.

He followed up his strong 1953 season by taking home the Heisman Trophy in 1954, the first Badgers player to win the award. He also took home the Silver Football award in 1954, presented to the Big Ten MVP by the Chicago Tribune.

Ameche was a three-time All-American, and in 1954 was a unanimous selection. He was a first team All-Big Ten selection from 1952-1954.

He still sits 11th all time in the UW record books with 3,345 career rushing yards, which was an NCAA career record when he hung up his cleats at UW. He carried the ball 701 times in his Wisconsin career and totaled at least 100 yards in a single game 17 times over the course of his time as a Badger.

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In 1955 Ameche was the third overall selection in the NFL Draft by the Baltimore Colts. He and Joe Thomas (3rd overall in 2007) sit behind only Pat Harder (1944, second overall) as the highest drafted Badgers in school history.

Ameche earned an unprecedented $15,000 as a rookie in 1955, but earned every cent, taking the first carry of his NFL career 79 yards for a touchdown against the Chicago Bears. He was the NFL Rookie of the Year in 1955.

He played with the Colts until 1960, totaling 4,045 career rushing yards (4.2 yards per carry) and 40 rushing touchdowns. He added 733 receiving yards (7.3 per reception) and 4 receiving touchdowns.

Ameche’s professional career might be best remembered because of his role in “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” the 1958 NFL Championship Game, when his 1-yard touchdown run in overtime won the game for the Colts.

Ameche was a four-time Pro Bowler, a two-time NFL Champion, and a first-team All-Pro selection in 1955. He was later named to the NFL 1950s All-Decade team.

In 1969, Ameche was voted onto the Wisconsin All-Time Team in conjunction with the centennial celebration of college football. He was, at the same time, voted the All-Time Greatest Player at Wisconsin.

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  • In 1967 Ameche was voted into the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame and he was voted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1975. In 1991, Ameche and 34 other notable Badgers comprised the inaugural class of the UW Athletic Hall of Fame. For his performance in a 7-0 loss to UCLA in the 1953 Rose Bowl — Wisconsin’s first bowl game appearance — he was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame in 2004.

    In 2000 he became one of six Badgers to have his jersey retired.

    The Big Ten Running Back of the Year Award is now named the Ameche-Dayne Award, and since the award was renamed, Badgers have won it three out of four years (Montee Ball twice, Gordon once).

    Ameche died in 1988 following heart surgery. He was 55.

    Who wore No. 35 first?

    • Quarterback Earl Burbidge first wore No. 35 in 1928.

    Who wore No. 35 last?

    • After Ameche last wore No. 35 in the 1953 season, no other Badgers player wore the number, even though it wasn’t officially retired until 2000.

    Stay tuned to Badger of Honor as we continue our daily countdown in preparation of the season opener against Alabama.

    Next: Wisconsin Football Experience

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