Commentary

Great Dayne

Set NCAA record for career rushing yards en route to Wisconsin legacy, Heisman, NFL

Updated: October 29, 2011, 5:08 PM ET
By Kieran Darcy | ESPNNewYork.com

New York-area colleges have not produced many Heisman Trophy winners. But a former New York Giants player won the 1999 Heisman, the icing on the cake of one of the greatest careers in college football history.

[+] EnlargeRon Dayne
AP Photo/Suzanne Plunkett"It was a great time in my life," said Ron Dayne of receiving the Heisman Trophy after a career at Wisconsin that saw him run for a record 6,397 yards,
a mark that still stands.
Ron Dayne was born in Virginia and grew up in New Jersey. After a standout career at Overbrook High School in Pine Hill, Dayne elected to attend the University of Wisconsin, after then-coach Barry Alvarez promised Dayne he would give him a shot to play tailback. Many other coaches thought the 270-pounder was better suited for the fullback position.

Dayne rewarded Alvarez by setting the NCAA's Football Bowl Subdivision all-time rushing record over his four years in Madison, amassing a total of 6,397 rushing yards -- a mark that stands to this day.

The 5-foot-10 battering ram accumulated more than 1,300 rushing yards in each of his four collegiate seasons en route to winning numerous awards, including MVPs in the 1999 and 2000 Rose Bowls, during which Dayne eclipsed 200 yards rushing in each outing.

The crowning achievement was the Heisman he collected as a senior. Dayne received 586 first-place votes that year. The runner-up was Georgia Tech quarterback Joe Hamilton, with 96.

When contacted by phone this week, Dayne recalled his senior season at Wisconsin fondly -- particularly the final game of the regular season against Iowa, in which he set the NCAA career rushing record.

"Seeing all those fans waving those white towels for me, it was just an amazing feeling," Dayne said. "I can't put it into words."

As for receiving the Heisman, Dayne said it was a goal not just for him but for the entire team that year, established at the beginning of the season.

"I just remember meeting tons of people, shaking tons of hands. It didn't really hit me until the next day," said Dayne, recalling the night he received the trophy. "It was a great time in my life."

Because of his Virginia roots, Dayne grew up a Washington Redskins fan. But when the rival Giants made him their first-round draft pick in 2000, No. 11 overall, he certainly wasn't complaining.

"I was just happy to be drafted," Dayne said.

[+] EnlargeRon Dayne
Henny Ray Abrams/Getty ImagesIn 2000, Dayne was the north-south power complement to Tiki Barber's outside speed in the Giants' "Thunder and Lightning" backfield that yielded more than 1,700 rushing yards and helped lead New York to the Super Bowl.
Things started out pretty well with Big Blue. In his rookie year, Dayne and fellow running back Tiki Barber shared the Giants' rushing load and together were given the nickname "Thunder and Lightning." Dayne pounded the ball inside with his strength, and Barber often bounced to the outside to utilize his speed. Barber rushed for 1,006 yards and Dayne logged 770 in helping lead the Giants Super Bowl XXXV, which they lost to the Baltimore Ravens.

But that 2000 season turned out to be the highlight of Dayne's NFL career. While Barber continued to blossom into a premier back, Dayne struggled, particularly in the short-yardage situations for which many thought he was perfectly suited. He gained 690 yards in 2001 and 428 yards in 2002, and in 2003 coach Jim Fassel kept him inactive for all 16 games.

When Tom Coughlin replaced Fassel in 2004, Dayne was hoping for a fresh start in the final year of his contract, and Coughlin expressed big plans for him. Dayne shed 38 pounds in the offseason, but he continued to be ineffective when given opportunities. Barber, meanwhile, exploded for a career-high 1,518 yards. That spelled the end of Dayne's career in New York, rushing for just 179 yards on 52 carries in his final season with the Giants.

Dayne saw limited action in 2005 with the Denver Broncos. He spent 2006 and 2007 with the Houston Texans, where things got better; he appeared in 24 games, with 14 starts, posting rushing totals of 612 and 773 yards.

But the Texans didn't bring him back for 2008 and no other NFL team picked him up, so Dayne's playing career was over at age 30.

Dayne's career NFL rushing yards totaled 3,772, or nearly 3,000 less than his college output.

"I really can't say too much about it," Dayne said in summing up his NFL career and the teams for which he played. "I was upset that I couldn't play as much as I wanted to. I tried the best I could.

"In the end, it was all right. I got to play eight years in the pros. I wish it had been a little longer."

Dayne is now living back in Wisconsin, where his activities include working with the Miller Brewing Co. and the University of Wisconsin, where he remains a legend.

He watches some pro football but more college ball -- particularly Wisconsin. And he especially enjoys watching his two sons play football -- Javian, 11, plays on the offensive and defensive lines, and Jayallen, 7, plays flag football.

Does Dayne miss playing football?

"No, not really," he said. "I just missing being around the guys on the team."

As for Dayne's Heisman Trophy, you won't find it in his house.

It is on display at a Buffalo Wild Wings on University Avenue in Madison.

Kieran Darcy is an ESPNNewYork.com staff writer. He joined ESPN in August 2000 after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, where he played four years of JV basketball.
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