Alan Ameche was nicknamed the “The Horse” or “The Iron Horse” for his physical running style. In four years at Wisconsin, he gained 3,212 yards (then an NCAA record), scored 25 touchdowns and averaged 4.8 yards per carry. Later, in the NFL, he was a four-time Pro Bowl fullback for the Baltimore Colts.
So it wasn’t very often that the 6-0, 218-pound Ameche got to gallop in the open field. He was more likely to pound defenses and wear them down gradually over time.
But that wasn’t the case on Oct. 2, 1954, when the No. 5 Badgers faced No. 13 Michigan State at Macklin Stadium in East Lansing, Mich.
Big-time players come up big in these types of matchups and, this week in Heisman history, Ameche carried the ball 17 times for 127 yards — an eye-popping average of 7.5 yards per carry — and scored the game’s only touchdown as Wisconsin blanked the Spartans, 6-0.
As can be ascertained by the score, the game was a defensive struggle, with Wisconsin holding Michigan State to just eight rushing yards. Sparty’s best chance to score came when end Jim Hinesly’s 60-yard reception advanced the ball to Wisconsin’s 16-yard line. But a fumble squandered that opportunity.
The Badgers responded with a pass from quarterback Jim Miller to Pat Lavenhagen that netted a first down at the Wisconsin 31-yard line. Miller then went back to pass again but got hemmed in the backfield before managing to scramble all the way to the Michigan State 28.
On the next play, the Spartans had just 10 men on the field and an expedited snap saw Ameche dive over right end for the 28-yard touchdown run. He appeared to be stopped at the 5 yard line by Spartan defenders, but “The Horse” would not be denied. That was all that Wisconsin needed that day.
It was Michigan State’s first home loss since 1949 and it catapulted the Badgers into a No. 3 ranking and the national spotlight. Wisconsin would go on to finish 7-2 and No. 9 in the AP poll.
Ameche, who was also a stellar linebacker, finished the season with 641 yards and nine touchdowns. He was awarded his school’s first Heisman on Nov. 30, 1954, beating out Kurt Burris of Oklahoma and Howard Cassady of Ohio State.