Into the sunset
Heisman winner Dayne leaves in style with Rose Bowl win
Posted: Sunday January 02, 2000 03:31 PM
Ron Dayne: "I left home for my freshman year and came to Wisconsin, and now it feels like I'm leaving a second home for someplace else." AP
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) -- Minutes after the Wisconsin Badgers made history, Barry Alvarez stood on the victory platform and spotted Ron Dayne making his way through the crowd.
"Get up here!" Alvarez shouted, grinning in the dimming twilight of the Rose Bowl.
Bracing himself with his cane, Alvarez gave his hand to Dayne and hoisted him up on the podium. Coach and player then embraced for the final time after a Wisconsin victory, wrapping each other in a warm bear hug.
The two men most responsible for Wisconsin's rise as a national football power had earned the right to savor that moment. Four years of hard work culminated Saturday in the Badgers' 17-9 win over Stanford.
Wisconsin became the first Big Ten Conference team to win consecutive Rose Bowls because of Dayne's perseverance and Alvarez's ability to adjust. Dayne rushed for 154 of his 200 yards in the second half, while Alvarez and his staff tinkered with their defensive game plan until they found one that worked.
With their landmark win over the Cardinal, the Badgers moved another step closer to their ultimate goal: joining the upper echelon of the Big Ten.
Sustained excellence is Alvarez's fondest desire. In Dayne, he had a player who exemplified it.
"I don't think you could ever expect a player to become what Ron became," Alvarez said. "Our program is where it is today because of him. If we have a shot to become a program on the caliber of Michigan or Penn State or Ohio State, it's because of what he's done and what a lot of great seniors have done."
Alvarez speaks of the Big Ten's "Big Three" with reverence. He knows a mere decade of constant improvement can't make up for years of mediocrity at Wisconsin, even though the Badgers have two straight Big Ten titles.
"When you go from the outhouse to the penthouse, that's good," Alvarez said. "And then to stay there, that's good. People ask if it's harder to get there or stay there. I think it's harder to get there, but we've been able to sustain it, and that's hard, too."
Dayne closed his senior season on a tear. He gained 1,181 yards in his final six games, setting the major-college career rushing record and becoming the first tailback to rush for more than 7,000 yards in his career when bowl game statistics are included.
Dayne's Rose Bowl MVP award was his second straight, making him the first player to win two-straight outright awards. The Heisman Trophy winner was chosen the best player in three of the four bowl games he played during his career, becoming the first player to rush for 200 yards or more in three bowls.
Even more significantly, Dayne became the icon of Wisconsin's football renaissance. He leaves behind a program sprinkled with recruits that came to Wisconsin because of Dayne and what Badgers football now represents.
Though he'll leave for a lucrative NFL career, Dayne said he will always feel a personal stake in Wisconsin's fortunes. He came to Madison a shy boy who could barely speak when spoken to, but he leaves extremely confident.
"It feels like I'm leaving home," Dayne said. "I left home for my freshman year and came to Wisconsin, and now it feels like I'm leaving a second home for someplace else."
But before Dayne and Alvarez could have their final hug, there was a game to be won. Alvarez made his first adjustment Saturday when he saw Stanford's No. 5 in the lineup.
On Tuesday, Stanford claimed All-American receiver Troy Walters wouldn't play after dislocating his right wrist. But there he was, catching two passes from Todd Husak as the Cardinal moved the ball easily in the first quarter.
So Alvarez and his coaches scrapped their zone pass defense and went to man-to-man, putting star cornerback Jamar Fletcher on Walters. The Biletnikoff Award winner didn't catch a pass in the game's final 40 minutes, and Husak's throws became erratic.
"We were able to shut them down because we could read them and know a little about what they were doing," linebacker Chris Ghidorzi said.
Wisconsin's defensive vise tightened even further in the second half, when the Badgers held Stanford to 116 yards and no points. In addition, Wisconsin set a Rose Bowl record by limiting the Cardinal to minus-5 rushing yards.
"Our inability to run the football was probably what prevented us from winning the game," Stanford coach Tyrone Willingham said. "It didn't allow us the luxury ... of being very difficult to pin down in terms of what we were doing. That gave them a clear advantage."
On offense, Dayne again carried the Badgers. After his offensive line was shoved around by Stanford's "Trench Dogs" defensive front in the first half, Dayne burst for a 64-yard gain on the second play of the second half.
The run set up Wisconsin's first touchdown, a 4-yard run by Dayne that made him the Rose Bowl's leading career scorer and also turned out to be the game-winning score. He carried the ball 14 times for 66 yards in the fourth quarter, finally wearing down the Stanford defense.
"We've come to expect Ron Dayne to play well in games like these, so his performance is not a surprise," Alvarez said. "It will be tough to lose him. He's special."
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