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Back when everybody in the Big Ten was kicking us around," recalls Uncle Ed Schmitz, a Madison merchant who attended the University of Wisconsin for over a month in 1911 and who is now the chief fund raiser for the football team, "what few people as came to the game at all would pack their lunch at home, get there in time for the game, and leave right after it. Now they come in the night before and they don't go home 'til Sunday. Now, when Wisconsin plays at home, I put on seven extra clerks Saturday morning. Seven of 'em. I love a good game, but I'm mercenary too."
Football at Wisconsin supports more than Uncle Ed's seven extra clerks. Football took in $517,447.96 of the $720,921 Wisconsin total athletic take last year. Basketball is the only other sport that pays for itself at Wisconsin; it is football that carries the 13-sport program. Football will pay for the new $1,500,000 field house, football uniforms, the 180-piece band and sends the Crew to California. With twelve straight sellouts in a row and more to come, with a team undefeated in four starts for the first time since 1927 (only look out for Ohio State this Saturday) everybody is happy at Wisconsin.
This success is based on a winning combination of two incongruous elements. One is the tall, agonizingly shy head coach, Ivan B. Williamson, a living contradiction to Dale Carnegie. The other is a likable kid, born Lino Dante Amici, who now receives mail addressed to The Horse, Wisconsin.
Al Ameche, as he is known to most people, is a 6-foot, 210-pound fullback, 21 years old. Red Sanders, the U.C.L.A. coach, says that Ameche is a stronger runner than Bronko Nagurski. Esco Sarkkinen, the Ohio State scout who has studied Ameche three games a year for four years, says: "Ameche is the greatest fullback on the North American continent today. He is powerful, he's shifty, and he's fast and he's all of them all of the time. He's big, too, but he doesn't need to be. Not with that heart."
Against Rice, a fortnight ago, Ameche was the real old-time line-smashing fullback. Against Purdue last Saturday, he showed his shiftiness and speed. The Badgers had a skinny one-point lead, with the ball deep in their own territory. Ameche got it on a pitch-out, and took out around end. Now shifting, now turning, knees flailing, he skirted the end and turned on the speed. He made 26 yards. And now Wisconsin sparkled and down the field the red team went. Ameche plunged five yards for the score. Purdue began throwing the ball around in desperation, and Billy Lowe intercepted and ran 98 yards for a touchdown. It was Wisconsin again, 20-6.
Off the field, slopping around the campus on his slew feet, Ameche is a big, amiable, intelligent, hard working young man of good character and surprising sensitivity. He is married to his childhood sweetheart, and they have two children. He is living in a fog these days, because the demands on the nation's No. 1 Football Hero are constant and harassing?"The only time we're together is when somebody's taking our picture," his wife, Yvonne, says.
THE UNWRITTEN CARD
Ameche tries hard to be a levelheaded normal citizen. On Yvonne's birthday, two days before the Purdue game, he got up early and gave the baby its bottle. He was going to write something sweet on a birthday card, too, only the phone rang. Yvonne found her card, together with Al's pen, in the bathroom after he had rushed off late to class. She cried a little bit because he had tried.
Ameche has been on top of the world for six years. He got more publicity as an all-state high school halfback than any other member of the Wisconsin varsity gets now. As a freshman he used to come in at night to find coeds sitting on his doorstep.