Over the years, many college stars have come and gone. Andre Ware, Gino Toretta, Robert Gallery. So many of these stars have experienced success on the amateur level only to enter the draft with sky-high expectations and turn into colossal busts.
There may not be a loftier set of expectations than those faced by Ron Dayne.
“The Great Dayne” made his name playing for the Wisconsin Badgers from 1996-99 but almost never got a chance. Weighing 270lbs coming out of high school (and standing just 5’10″), Dayne was highly recruited but was projected to be a fullback or linebacker. But after meeting with Barry Alvarez, telling him “coach, I like to carry the ball”, he ended up at Wisconsin as a running back.
Workman-like in nature (he would carry the ball an astounding 1,220 times during his Wisconsin career), Dayne ended up being a four-year starter for the Badgers. He would be a consistent force on the ground, racking up 1,863 yards as a freshman, 1,421 yards as a sophomore, 1,325 yards as a junior, and 1,834 yards as a senior. He would eventually surpass former Texas back Ricky Williams as the NCAA-Division 1-A (now FBS) rushing leader with 6,397 career rushing yards.
He also managed to set Rose Bowl history. With performances of 246 and 200 yards in the 1999 and 2000 Rose Bowls, he became the first Big Ten player (and third ever) to win back-to-back Rose Bowl MVP awards. His cumulative rushing totals topped out at 7,125 yards, a total that may never be broken.
With all of those accomplishments, his greatest accomplishment in the college game came when he was awarded the 1999 Heisman Trophy. Along with his 1,834 yards, he added 19 touchdowns on the ground to beat out a few familiar names: along with Georgia Tech quarterback Joe Hamilton, Dayne bested Purde quarterback Drew Brees, Marshall quarterback Chad Pennington, and Virginia Tech freshman quarterback Michael Vick.
A three-time All-American, Dayne would finish his collegiate career tied for the NCAA record for most 200-yard rushing games with Williams and USC’s Marcus Allen with twelve. He would also finish as one of eight players in NCAA history to rush for over a thousand yards in each of his four seasons (Tony Dorsett, Amos Lawrence, Denvis Manns, Cedric Benson, DonTrell Moore, Tyrell Fenroy, and Damion Fletcher being the others).
From there, he would be selected with the eleventh pick in the 2000 NFL Draft, headlined by mega-bust Courntey Brown, to the New York Giants. As a rookie, he would team with veteran Tiki Barber to form “Thunder and Lightning”, emphasizing Dayne’s power and Barber’s speed.
He would rush for a respectable 770 yards and 5 touchdowns as the Giants made it all the way to Super Bowl XXXV, losing to the Baltimore Ravens.
Things began to sour for Dayne, though. Head Coach Jim Fassel began decreasing his carries due to a lack of commitment to losing weight (Dayne was between 250 and 260 lbs) and eventually tried to make him a goal line back.
Even when Fassel was fired and replaced by Tom Coughlin, Dayne’s carries continued to decrease, hitting a career-low 52 in 2004. He wouldn’t be brought back by the Giants, moving on to Denver. Though it looked like he might be turning things around after winning the All-Iron Award on Thanksgiving Day against the Cowboys (98 yards and a touchdown), he would only get 53 carries in his only season in Denver.
Following a pair of moderately successful season in Houston filling in for the injured Ahman Green, Dayne decided to call it a career at age 29.
Since retiring from football, Dayne has moved back to Madison, WI where he owns and runs a gym — Champion Style Athletics. He also makes promotional appearances for the University of Wisconsin as well as Miller Brewing Co. He was recently inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame for his performances in the 1999 and 2000 Rose Bowl games.
Dayne took the college football world by storm, using his massive size and road-grading style to bulldoze his way to a Heisman Trophy and the Division 1-A rushing record.
What led to his failure in the NFL is obvious: lack of carries. Just why he wasn’t given the ball more will probably come down to personal opinion more than anything else.
Regardless, the name “Ron Dayne” will no doubt live on. Whether that be in infamy or college football lore is up to you.
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