Alan Ameche is immortalized in NFL lore for scoring the winning touchdown in what has often been called the "Greatest Game Ever Played." The 1958 NFL championship game was the first to go to sudden-death overtime, and Ameche's plunge from the 1-yard line at Yankee Stadium gave Baltimore its first championship with a 23-17 win against the Giants.
Less is known about Ameche's college exploits for the Wisconsin Badgers, despite some remarkable accomplishments.
Wisconsin had never been to the Rose Bowl until Ameche's sophomore season in 1952. The Badgers lost the game to USC 7-0, but Ameche rushed for 133 yards in 28 carries.
Then in 1954, Ameche became the first Badger to win the Heisman Trophy. Making school history was just part of his legacy associated with the Heisman.
At the time, there was just one physical trophy that was given to the winner. Ameche wanted to donate his trophy to Wisconsin so the school could display it. Leon Hart of Notre Dame had done the same in 1949.
"Back then all the player got was a trophy," Ameche's wife, Yvonne, said in Alan Ameche: The Story Of The Horse. "Leon Hart had given his to Notre Dame and Alan wanted to donate his to Wisconsin, so they went before the Heisman committee and asked that two trophies be given each year -- one to the player and one to the school."
The lobbying effort paid off better than expected. The Heisman committee decided to go with two trophies each year retroactively to the beginning of the award in 1935. And the request from Ameche and Hart also led to a new tradition.
"Plus, a Heisman ring was created, too," said Rudy Riska, director emeritus of the Heisman, in Ameche's biography. "You can't carry the trophy around, that's for sure, but they thought the players should have something to show off."
Ameche was hardly the show-off type. He was known for being modest and humble, which earned the praise of Milwaukee Sentinel sports editor Lloyd Larsen, as cited in Ameche's biography:
"In my mind, that's more important than all his thrilling runs, his blocks and tackles, his breath-taking exhibitions of lowering the boom, as they say in football when a man drives into an opponent with all the power he can muster in fighting for those precious extra yards.
"So here's to Alan Ameche, the type of All-American the world needs!"
For good measure, Ameche won a fan vote in 1969 naming him the greatest Wisconsin player of all time, and his No. 35 was retired by the university in 2000.