Quiet Thunder


Ron Dayne can be defined by what he is not, almost more than by what he is and has accomplished.

Wisconsin’s Heisman Trophy-winning running back isn’t one to take the easy way out. He earns his yardage in bruising fashion, running over people and fighting through tackles. His punishing style helped him rack up 246 yards in 27 carries and tie a modern Rose Bowl record with four rushing touchdowns in Wisconsin’s 38-31 victory over UCLA last January, even though he was hampered by a torn shoulder muscle and a stomach so queasy he threw up after his first touchdown.

“Ron has a unique blend of power and speed. He’s got tremendous vision and balance, and he’s got the ability to run through contact,” Wisconsin offensive coordinator Brian White said. “Over 50% of his yards came after contact, and that’s what great running backs have.”


Dayne will be hard-pressed to duplicate his Rose Bowl MVP performance when the two-time Big Ten champion Badgers face Stanford Saturday, but a repeat or improvement is not impossible. The 5-foot-10, 252-pound senior from Berlin, N.J., didn’t outrush the Badgers’ opponents by himself 28 times in 42 career starts--including eight times this season--by backing down from challenges.

“I really think he epitomized our program,” Coach Barry Alvarez said after Dayne won the Heisman with 2,042 votes--including 586 first-place designations from the 921 voters--and easily outdistanced Georgia Tech quarterback Joe Hamilton’s 994 votes and 96 first-place picks.

“Hard work, not cutting any corners and just going about your business. I think that’s Ron Dayne.”

Dayne, the first three-time Big Ten rushing champion and only the fourth player in college history to gain 1,000 yards in four seasons, was second in the nation in rushing in 1999 with 1,834 yards in 303 carries, an average of 6.1 per carry. He scored 19 touchdowns this season, 70 in his career including bowl games, and lost a fumble only nine times in 1,186 carries.

In three of his last four games he had at least 200 rushing yards. His 216-yard performance in Wisconsin’s regular-season finale against Iowa included a 31-yard second quarter run that made Dayne the all-time rushing leader in NCAA Division I-A history. His 6,397 yards surpassed Ricky Williams’ year-old record of 6,279.

“He’s a very patient runner that has great explosiveness,” Stanford Coach Tyrone Willingham said. “As you’re watching, he seems to be very methodical, very easy in receiving the ball and looking and finding the right lane. But when he finds it, then it’s amazing how well he moves that body of his.”


Dayne also isn’t a man of many words. After breaking Williams’ record he made a speech of 16 words--about as many as he uttered Sunday after the Badgers’ first practice at the Coliseum.

No, he feels no relief to have the Heisman suspense behind him and be able to concentrate on football. “It’s always been fun,” he said. “Nothing’s really changed.”

Sunday’s session, he said, was lively. “Guys really got into it,” he said. “We had a nice rhythm.”

His reticence around reporters is unlike his manner around his teammates, according to Pat Richter, Wisconsin’s athletic director.

“I was sitting near him on one of our trips back, after the Purdue game,” Richter said, “and with the guys, he’s just one of the guys. With the public, he’s very humble . . . He’s done things for the community, for the Dane County Humane Society. He’s been a very good representative of our school and he’s well thought-of in the community.”

Dayne also is not driven by ego, and he didn’t victimize easy opponents in breaking Williams’ record.


He sat out the second half of the Badgers’ season-opening 49-10 rout of Murray State after gaining 135 yards in 20 attempts in the first half and sat most of the second half the next week in a 50-10 romp over Ball State. He played only one half against Indiana, a 59-0 Badger victory, and carried 17 times for 167 yards. With 1,020 rushing yards and four games to break Williams’ record, he was declared one of the top 10 disappointments of the college football season by Sports Illustrated.

Doubts about his Heisman worthiness vanished Oct. 23, after he gained 214 yards against a Michigan State defense that was then giving up a nation-leading 39.9 yards per game. He also had 161 yards against Ohio State, then ranked 12th, and 222 yards against Purdue, then ranked 17th.

“You don’t want to cheapen a record. He got it the right way,” Richter said. “Some people questioned and doubted him, but the coaches stuck with their plan . . . If you’re up, 27-0, there’s good reason to say, ‘It doesn’t make any sense to keep you in. You may get a ton of yards against this team, but that may be taken as a negative.’ There’s also injury. What happens if he comes up with a sprain?”

Maybe there shouldn’t have been doubts: Dayne averaged 153 yards a game against nationally ranked opponents this season and 114.9 yards a game in his career.

“I’ve been guilty of saying that I don’t believe anyone has really stopped Ron Dayne,” Willingham said. “The question is, how slow is slow? How slow can you slow him down? And I don’t know if anyone has had a plan for that either, to stop or slow him down.”

Which emphasizes the theory that Dayne is not merely the product of public-relations illusions.


Following directions from Alvarez, Wisconsin’s athletic department didn’t try to sway Heisman voters with glossy brochures touting Dayne’s talents. The only information offered by the sports information department was a weekly update on his chase for Williams’ record, a strategy designed to emphasize team goals and avoid a repeat of his sophomore year, when the Badgers staged a high-powered Heisman campaign that wasn’t supported by his statistics. Slowed by injuries to his neck, shoulder and knee, Dayne had 1,421 yards and 15 touchdowns in the regular season and added 36 yards in 14 carries in Wisconsin’s 33-6 loss to Georgia in the Outback Bowl.

“Those guys really 1/8pushed 3/8 him for the Heisman, and when that did not happen, I think he felt he let the school down and everybody that was involved,” Dayne’s uncle and guardian, Rob Reid, told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “That was a big disappointment for him.”

Winning the Heisman gave Dayne a chance to prove he’s also not likely to forget his debts.

In an emotional acceptance speech, Dayne thanked his teammates and singled out Alvarez “for always being there for me.” His most moving tribute was to Reid, “the real Heisman winner, to me,” the man who took him in when he was 15 and his mother, trapped by depression and drug addiction, had split up with his abusive father.

Two months earlier, in a letter read to the parishioners of Reid’s Pentecostal church in south Jersey, Dayne recalled how his Uncle Rob and Aunt Deb treated him like their own three children, decreeing no child would get new clothes until Dayne had as many outfits as the others and sending Rob to accompany Ron on college visits. They loved him, listened to him, and, when needed, disciplined him, as their own. “For that, Uncle Rob, you win the Heisman,” Dayne said.

Among the audience at the Heisman ceremony was Dayne’s 2-year-old daughter, Jada, the prime reason he returned to Wisconsin for his senior season instead of entering the NFL draft. Although he’s not married to Jada’s mother, Alia Lester, Dayne is a key figure in his daughter’s life. He visits her each morning to dress her and play with her, and again at night to put her to sleep.

“If I’m having a bad day at practice or I’m having a bad day at school, I can look at her and forget all about it,” said Dayne, who had her name tattooed on his arm and and writes it on his wristbands before every game. “I want to thank Jada for being the biggest inspiration in my life.”


His life has changed a bit since he won the Heisman--”I can’t go out,” he said--but his goals haven’t changed for the Rose Bowl.

“We’re not worrying about 1/8winning twice in a row 3/8. We’re just coming out here to play hard and have some fun,” he said. “We just want to come out and play a good game.”

And that, after all, is better than talking a good one.



Stanford would be wise not to overlook Wisconsin defensive back Jamar Fletcher, who is in the habit of making big plays. Page 12


Dayne by the Numbers

6,397: Career rushing yards, NCAA record

11: Games with 200 or more yards rushing, tying NCAA record

148.8: Average rushing yards per game, fifth-best all-time

72: Touchdowns, tied for second behind Travis Prentice of Miami of Ohio


Impressive Run

Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne rushed for 6,925 yards during his four years at Wisconsin. A closer look:



Year Att. Yards Avg. TD 1996 30 246 8.2 3 1997 14 36 2.6 0 1998 27 246 9.1 4 Career 71 528 7.4 7




Year Att. Yards Avg. TD 1996 295 1,863 6.3 18 1997 249 1,421 5.7 15 1998 268 1,279 4.8 11 1999 303 1,834 6.1 19 Career 1,115 6,397 5.7 63



NCAA Career Leaders


Ron Dayne, Wisconsin: 6,397

Ricky Williams, Texas: 6,279

Tony Dorsett, Pittsburgh: 6,082

Charles White, USC: 5,598

Travis Prentice, Miami of Ohio: 5,433


Ed Marinaro, Cornell: 174.6

O.J. Simpson, USC: 164.4

Herschel Walker, Georgia: 159.4

LeShon Johnson, N. Illinois: 150.6

Ron Dayne, Wisconsin: 148.8


Steve Bartalo, Colorado State: 1,215

Ron Dayne, Wisconsin: 1,115


Travis Prentice, Miami of Ohio: 73

Ricky Williams, Texas: 72

Anthony Thompson, Indiana: 64

Ron Dayne, Wisconsin: 63


Ron Dayne, Wisconsin: 11

Ricky Williams, Texas: 11

Marcus Allen, USC: 11

NCAA records do not include bowl games