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Dayne's world

Wisconsin senior runs away with Heisman Trophy

Click here for more on this story

Posted: Sunday December 12, 1999 01:54 AM

  Ron Dayne Fellow Heisman finalist Chad Pennington (left) applauds as Ron Dayne is announced as the 1999 Heisman Trophy winner. AP

NEW YORK (CNN/SI) -- On Sept. 25, when he had just committed a costly fumble in a loss to Cincinnati and been shut out in the second half against Michigan, Ron Dayne was on hardly anyone's Heisman ballot.

When the award was handed out 11 weeks later, there was hardly a one he wasn't on.

Dayne, who averaged 203.5 yards over the final four games of 1999 and finished with 1,834 yards and 19 TDs, was awarded the 65th Heisman Trophy as college football's most outstanding player in Saturday's ceremony at New York's Downtown Athletic Club.

Dayne garnered 2,042 points and 586 first-place votes among 922 Heisman ballots. Georgia Tech QB Joe Hamilton was second with 994 points and Virginia Tech freshman QB Michael Vick third with 319. Vick's finish was the highest by a freshman since Georgia's Herschel Walker in 1980.

Purdue QB Drew Brees was fourth, Marshall's Chad Pennington fifth and troubled Florida State receiver Peter Warrick came in sixth.

Wearing a blue pinstriped suit, Dayne was styling at the Downtown Athletic Club, home of the Heisman. When his name was called, he broke into a smile, hugged his coach, Barry Alvarez, and shook hands with the other finalists.

Most of his family was at the ceremony, including his girlfriend, Alia Lester, and their 2-year-old daughter, Jada. Also in the crowd were Dayne's legal guardians Debbie and Rob Reid and Dayne's birth mother, Brenda Dayne.

"I'd like to thank my daughter, Jada, for being the biggest inspiration in my life," he said. "I'd like to thank the real Heisman winner, for me, Uncle Rob, who is always there for me and is always someone to talk to and tell jokes with."

"I didn't know what to do, shake the finalists' hands, hug my coach, carry him around, or carry my uncle around and put him on my shoulders," Wisconsin's record-setting tailback said.

"It's really hard for me to cry. I cried once this year -- when we lost to Cincinnati -- because I thought it was my fault. I still think it was my fault even though I had over 200 yards."

The runaway voting result was hardly a surprise, unless you consider how surprisingly quick Dayne took his candidacy from finished to complete. The new NCAA career rushing leader led Wisconsin to a 9-2 record, including seven straight wins to end the season, as the Badgers earned their second straight Big Ten title and Rose Bowl appearance.

Heisman Voting
The top 10 vote getters for the 1999 Heisman Trophy, among 922 voters
Player 1st 2nd 3rd Points
1. Ron Dayne, Wisconsin
2. Joe Hamilton, Georgia Tech
3. Michael Vick, Virginia Tech
4. Drew Brees, Purdue
5. Chad Pennington, Marshall
6. Peter Warrick, Florida St
7. Shaun Alexander, Alabama
8. Thomas Jones, Virginia
9. LaVar Arrington, Penn St
10. Tim Rattay, Louisiana Tech
586
96
25
3
21
14
11
10
3
1
121
285
72
89
45
50
43
32
14
5
42
136
100
121
94
61
52
46
17
16
2,042
994
319
308
247
203
171
140
54
29
 

Proponents of some of Dayne's Heisman competitors insinuated beforehand that Dayne was being rewarded for his career, not his season. Dayne, after all, had a better season three years ago, rushing for 1,863 yards as a freshman.

But Dayne's senior performance is made that much more impressive by the fact coach Alvarez sat him out of the second half in three Wisconsin blowouts.

The southern New Jersey native who surprised many by coming back for his final year will take one more stab at college achievement against Stanford Jan. 1 in the Rose Bowl. Dayne amassed a whopping 246 yards and four touchdowns there last year against UCLA.

Dayne's road to the Heisman was rocky. He was born in Blacksburg, Va., and after his parents divorced, his mother succumbed to depression and drugs. He and younger sister Onya went to live with separate relatives. Ron Dayne moved to South Jersey and lived with the Reids in Berlin, N.J.

"Just to see him achieve it has been like a family reward," Reid, whom Dayne still regards as a father, said recently. "It's a dream come true for him, and for it to happen to this kid has been tremendous."
Ron Dayne Ron Dayne poses with the latest addition to his trophy collection, the 1999 Heisman Trophy. AP  

After Dayne ran for 161 yards and four TDs in a win over Ohio State on Oct. 2, Dayne sent a letter to Reid titled, "The Heisman."

It ended this way:

"Uncle Rob, for never making me feel like a nephew, but always making me feel like a SON, for that Uncle Rob, you win the Heisman. Love, Ron Dayne Jr. 33."

Dayne's run to the Heisman had its own unusual twists.

Entering the season needing 1,717 yards to break Williams' record, Dayne already knew Alvarez wasn't about to keep him in one-sided games. So he ended up sitting out the second halves of routs against Murray State, Ball State and Indiana. And, he was held to zero yards in the second half of a loss to Michigan.

His Heisman stock plummeted, after the Michigan loss, while Warrick's soared.

The Seminoles receiver was scoring touchdowns on highlight-film type runs and receptions and appeared a cinch to win the trophy. But his chances ended after his arrest at midseason on charges of felony grand theft for his part in a shopping mall scam. He was suspended for two games while his legal problems were being resolved, resigned to the fact his Heisman bid was finished.
Regional Breakdown
NORTHEAST
1, Ron Dayne, 345. 2, Joe Hamilton, 134. 3, Michael Vick, 77. 4, Chad Pennington, 49. 5, Drew Brees, 46. MID-ATLANTIC
1, Dayne, 296. 2, Hamilton, 198. 3, Pennington, 75. 4, Vick, 60, 6, Brees, 33.
SOUTH
1, Dayne, 310. 2, Hamilton, 193. 5, Vick, 36. 6, Brees, 33. 7, Pennington, 25.
SOUTHWEST
1, Dayne, 363. 2, Hamilton, 166. 3, Vick, 67. 4, Brees, 53. 6, Pennington, 25.
MIDWEST
1, Dayne, 393. 2, Hamilton, 149. 3, Brees, 79. 4, Vick, 53. 5, Pennington, 42.
FAR WEST
1, Dayne, 335. 2, Hamilton, 154. 3, Brees, 64. 5, Pennington, 31. 6, Vick, 26.
 

Meanwhile, Dayne was bulldozing his way toward the record, gaining 214 yards against Michigan State's top-ranked rushing defense and finishing three of his last four games with 200-yard plus performances.

Fittingly, he set the record at home in his last game at Camp Randall Stadium, a 41-3 rout of Iowa. His girlfriend, sister and daughter, along with the Reids were there to celebrate.

Dayne broke the record on a 31-yard run and finished the day with 216 yards. After the game, there was a surprise waiting.

As the 79,000 fans held up souvenir towels with Dayne's No. 33 inscribed on them, turning the stadium into a red and white crater, Dayne was asked to look to the upper deck at the west side of Camp Randall. When he did, a gray cover was pulled away to reveal DAYNE 33 etched into the facade.

"When I saw it I was so shocked," Dayne said. "I didn't know whether to cry or laugh."

Dayne, the fourth player to run for 1,000 or more yards in each of his four seasons, briefly considered leaving school early for the NFL. But he decided to stay to spend another year with his daughter.

"My daughter is the most important thing in my life," Dayne said. "She gave me a new perspective on life. There's nothing I wouldn't do to protect her."

Bernie Wyatt, the Wisconsin assistant who recruited Dayne, calls the tailback 'a rare kind of athlete.'

"He plays like a 180-pound tailback and does it at 260 pounds. He can either knock you over or make you miss. Jimmy Brown could do that, too," Wyatt said.

Dayne is Wisconsin's second Heisman winner. Alan Ameche won in 1954.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

 
Related information
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Dayne-Williams Comparison
Dayne wins Maxwell, Doak Walker awards
Statitudes: Heisman Trophy By the Numbers
Past Heisman Trophy winners
CNNSI.com's Heisman Trophy coverage
Multimedia
Ron Dayne says his focus was on his team, not on the Heisman. (119 K)
Dayne expresses his gratitude over winning the Heisman. (35 K)
CNNSI's Bob Fiscella asks Dayne when he started to think about winning the Heisman. (151 K)
Dayne says he wasn't bothered by the lack of attention this season. (179 K)
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