Ameche takes his publicity in stride. He has spent hours on the weights, developing those big shoulders, hours running in soft sand to add power to those speedy legs, hours on the practice field, working on blocking, on defense. "After all that I should get a swelled head and kill my own self off?" he asked. "You think I'm nuts?"
The Wisconsin players do not resent Ameche's stardom. "Al is the most popular man on the team," Captain Gary Messner says. "He makes our own jobs easier. You can block a man a lot better when he's looking at somebody else."
Ameche came to Wisconsin in 1951, when freshmen were eligible in the Big Ten. He played in a junior varsity game against Iowa, on a Friday afternoon, hammered the line as usual, and broke away for a couple of nice long runs. He was pulled out of the game and sent immediately to the varsity. Next day he played against Marquette. That season, an eighteen-year-old freshman, he set a new record for the Big Ten, carrying the ball 147 times for 774 yards, an average of 5.3. Next year, as a sophomore, he was All-Conference. Wisconsin lost to Southern California in the Rose Bowl, but Ameche was outstanding. He carried the ball 28 times and made 133 yards.
Al grew up in a house in Kenosha surrounded by a freight yard, a junk yard and a coal yard, but it was always spotless and Al was always clean and neat. He was the younger of two boys, the baby of the family. Al's mother is named Mrs. August Ameche, his father is named Mr. Augusto Amici. "The old man is pretty hard-headed, he won't change his name," Al says. Ameche isn't absolutely sure about his own name. He knows that his first name is Alan, because he and his brother went to the federal building in Kenosha together and, for 50? apiece, turned Lindo into Lynn and Lino into Alan. (Lynn thought up both names.) Whether his name is officially Amici or Ameche is something that Al never thought about before; he intends to ask Lynn about it.
Lynn is five years older than Al, and his hero. Lynn started Al out in football, talked his parents into letting him play. Lynn also introduced him to music, nursing him along with Tschaikowsky's piano concerto and Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody until he could feel his own way into Beethoven and Franck.
And this was why Al went to Wisconsin. He could have gone anywhere, but the choice settled down between Notre Dame and the State U. All that was involved at both schools was a free education?nobody has ever offered him a convertible. Frank Leahy visited his home and won his mother over. Leahy also got Don Ameche, the actor, to call Al long distance from Hollywood. It was the first time the well-known voice of his second cousin had been directed to Al personally, but he wasn't impressed. Yvonne wanted him to go to Notre Dame, too. There were no coeds there. Notre Dame finally agreed to take Al and two of his high school teammates. Wisconsin agreed to take seven, and Al went to Madison.
"But that isn't the real reason he went," Yvonne says. "When we were sophomores in high school Lino spent a weekend in Madison, visiting his brother. He came straight to my house as soon as he got back to Kenosha. He had on a white shirt and a red tie and he looked awful cute. He told me that the Wisconsin campus was the most beautiful place he had ever seen and that the Wisconsin song was the most beautiful he had ever heard. He sang it for me, from beginning to end. But what really got him was the music room. He said they had every phonograph record in the world there, and you could play them as loud as you wanted to. Lino was sold on Wisconsin from that day on."
THE 11 PHONE CALLS
Yvonne visited Madison one weekend, late in his first season after Al had become The Horse. Waiting for him in the dormitory parlor she heard the phone ring eleven different times, and eleven different coeds wanted to speak to Al-an. Ameche never had a chance after that. Yvonne and Lino were married in his sophomore year, when both were nineteen. They had been going steady since the ninth grade.
They live in a nice little house in a diaper village outside of Madison. Al drives a 1951 Ford bought second-hand. He has no money in the bank. He pays no income tax. He now owns three albums, but he still doesn't have a phonograph to play them on.