Born in 1933 to Italian immigrants, Alan Ameche grew up in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and went on to break Big Ten rushing records for the Wisconsin Badgers, leading them to the 1953 Rose Bowl and winning the 1954 Heisman Trophy. He earned his nickname "The Horse" for his tremendous training ethic, power, and stamina. In a professional career with the Baltimore Colts that lasted just six seasons before injury ended it, he was the 1955 NFL Rookie of the Year and went to the Pro Bowl five times. The 1958 NFL championship game pitted Ameche's Colts against the New York Giants in what has often been called the "Greatest Game Ever Played." Ameche scored in overtime to give Baltimore its first NFL championship. This excerpt of Alan Ameche: The Story Of The Horse by Dan Manoyan reveals that his career with the Colts wasn't always so smooth.
Ordinarily, Gino Marchetti probably never would have remembered the first time he laid eyes on Alan Ameche. But fifty-six years after the fact, he still remembers the moment with crystal clarity because of the conversation that accompanied the sighting.
"It was really strange," said Marchetti, the Baltimore Colts Hall of Famer and arguably the greatest defensive end ever to play in the NFL. Marchetti was a World War II veteran who was a machine gunner at the Battle of the Bulge and would later in life be Ameche's business partner.
"I remember it was before camp opened, and I was walking with [Colts coach] Weeb Ewbank. We were coming from a meeting and heading to chow, and Alan was walking ahead of us.
"I remember it because Weeb made a really strange comment that stuck with me over the years. He sees Alan in front of us and he says, 'There is our big draft choice. He was babied in college. He was spoiled at Wisconsin. They didn't baby you in college, did they Gino?' Weeb asked me. I told him, ‘No, I wasn't babied.'"
It might have only been a first impression, but apparently for the inflexible Ewbank, it was his lasting impression of Ameche. Despite what Ameche would accomplish on the field for the Colts, and his feats were borderline Hall of Fame caliber, Ewbank would ride him mercilessly and, eventually, right out of the league. It's safe to say that the feelings between the two men were mutual, and that animosity ruined what should have been six of Ameche's happiest years on Earth.
"It was so strange because here Weeb hadn't even had a chance to know the guy and he'd already made up his mind about him," Marchetti said. "The really strange thing is that Weeb never changed his mind about Alan. He never, never liked Alan for some reason, and I never could figure it out.
"Alan worked hard, he played hard, he was a good blocker. He did everything that was asked of him, but Weeb would never give the guy a break.
"The only thing I can think of is one thing. Alan had a habit of always being barely late for everything ... meetings, practice, pregame meals. Things like that really bothered Weeb. Alan would come out to practice sometimes with his shoes untied and he'd have to bend over to tie them up on the field. All of those things bothered Weeb and put a strain on their relationship."
The Ameche-Ewbank feud was common knowledge among Colts insiders, and it really was an anomaly. To a man, the Colts will tell you that there was a genuine camaraderie on the squad. Like every team, the players came from all walks of life, but this was a group that genuinely practiced and believed in the team concept.
"I know that Weeb had an attitude toward Alan, and to this day I don't understand it," said another Ameche friend and Hall of Fame wide receiver, Raymond Berry. "I have my theories about it, but I honestly don't know for sure.
"There is no question that Weeb's attitude toward Alan was not good and not healthy for the team, and in the long run it proved costly to the Baltimore Colts and Weeb Ewbank.
"Alan came in here as Heisman Trophy winner and he had a personality that was very extroverted, and he had a tremendous sense of humor and laughed a lot. I think maybe Weeb took that as not caring or being too lackadaisical, but that just wasn't the case.
"Alan's personality gave the appearance of being very loose, but I think that is misleading. Weeb was blind to Alan's productivity as a player. That's all he needed to judge Alan, or any player for that matter, but Weeb took it way beyond that.
"I'm sure Alan got a good bonus for signing a contract, and Weeb probably didn't like that either. I think Weeb thought Alan was paid too much and he had too much hype and reputation.
"There was just something about Alan Ameche that Weeb did not like. Whatever it was, it was so counterproductive it was unbelievable."
Ewbank may have won the battle with Ameche. In 1960 Ewbank effectively drove Ameche off the squad by making it clear that he was not wanted back after rehabbing his Achilles tendon injury. But the bottom line was that Ewbank's unfounded dislike for Ameche cost him and the Colts more than it hurt Ameche.Full Story >>