Honor the Heroes of the Game, Preserve Its History, Promote its Values & Celebrate Excellence Everywhere
Jon Kendle is Director of Archives and Football Information at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His biweekly columns tell unique and interesting stories starting from the league’s founding in downtown Canton in 1920 to the present day.
The NFL’s Kickoff Weekend is upon us and that means that players have worked tirelessly in the offseason to put themselves in the best possible situations to succeed in Week 1. Each year, the results vary but in the end, the hope for every team is a breakout game to start a breakthrough season for a future NFL star.
One memorable opening game came in 1955 when the Baltimore Colts hosted the Chicago Bears at Memorial Stadium. Baltimore’s fullback Alan Ameche, the third overall selection in that year’s NFL draft, recorded a spectacular pro debut. Ameche, or “The Horse” as he was affectionately known, carried the Colts to an upset victory over the favored Bears 23-17 on Sept. 25, 1955.
Ameche, an All-American and Heisman Trophy winner out of Wisconsin, wasted no time in making his mark in the NFL. On his first pro carry, he broke through Chicago’s defensive line, cut to the sideline and raced 79 yards for a touchdown. “The Horse” displayed his excellent speed, power and agility and finished the game with 194 yards rushing on 21 attempts for a 9.2 yards-per-carry average and one TD.
He and the Colts continued their stellar play the following week in another upset win over the Detroit Lions 28-13. Ameche ran like a seasoned veteran as he gained 153 yards on 21 carries and scored two rushing touchdowns (2, 57 yards). The quick start to his rookie season paved the way for Ameche to become the first player in Colts’ history to win the NFL rushing title and the first rookie to do so since the New York Giants’ Bill Paschal in 1944.
In all, Ameche amassed 961 rushing yards on 213 carries and scored nine touchdowns in his first season. His three-game total of 410 rushing yards to begin a career was an NFL mark that stood for 50 years until Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams broke it in 2005. Williams registered three consecutive 100-yard performances to amass 434 yards to begin his career.
Last season, Kareem Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs took the league by storm in his first year out of the University of Toledo. Through the first three games of the season, Hunt rushed for 401 yards. He missed Williams mark by just 33 yards on his way to becoming only the 17th rookie in 98 seasons to win the NFL rushing title.
So, while football fans have eagerly awaited the kickoff of the NFL’s 99th season, there are rookies on every team who are fulfilling a life-long dream. The commitment, determination and sacrifice each exemplifies to his team is a true testament to their character. I know I’ll be watching to see which ones stake their claim as the next NFL superstar.