John V. Ambrose '32 (Football, Basketball)

Inducted 1978

Like many Catholic University football players in the 1920s and ’30s, John Ambrose was talented enough to play in the NFL. The 6-foot, 185-pounder anchored the Cardinals’ offensive line as center for three years (1929-31) and was a captain in football and basketball.

Known as “Whitey” because of his blond locks, Ambrose’s blocking helped Tommy Whelan become the most celebrated running back in school history. And like most players in that era, he also played defense. Here’s how CUA’s student newspaper, The Tower, described him after his sophomore year:

“Ambrose was a center of the roving type, a lion on the defense, accurate at snapping the ball back and a hard tackler, while his speed made him effective at breaking up forward passing attacks.”

Ambrose came to the university from Worcester, Mass., and played under three of the greatest coaches in Cardinal history: Fred Rice (basketball), Eddie LaFond (freshman football and legendary boxing coach) and Dutch Bergman (football).

Ambrose was so highly respected by his gridiron teammates that they elected him captain as a junior, an almost unheard of honor in those days. He declined the position so a senior could take it.

During Ambrose’s final year (1931), the Cards bounced back from an opening loss to Boston College to finish 8-1. The victorious march included wins over N.C. State (12-7) and Duquesne (20-12), the latter coached by former Notre Dame coach and NFL commissioner Elmer Layden. In 1935, The Tower selected Ambrose first-team center on the all-time CUA football team.

The 1932 Cardinal yearbook said Ambrose’s “prowess on the athletic field eclipsed all other accomplishments during his four years with us. He has been the ‘Rock of Gibraltar’ of the Cardinals front line, a fact which is supported by sportswriters who picked him as the All-District center during his three years of varsity football.”

The Cardinal described his guard play on the basketball team thusly: “The actions of this platinum flash will linger long in the memories of C.U. basketball followers.”

Ambrose played six games on special teams in 1932 for the NFL’s Brooklyn Dodgers and was a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He coached football at Commerce High in Worcester and attended the 1986 ceremony dedicating the CUA Hall of Fame. He was 85 when he died in 1995.

Chris McManes
July 2012