Ron Dayne has climbed back into the Heisman Trophy race the way he does everything: quietly. He plays without talking. To the Badgers' chagrin, he doesn't say a word when hurting. In the day of the ubiquitous microphone, Dayne, a 5'10", 260-pound sophomore, would prefer to win a trophy without opening his mouth.
Dayne has all the tools to capture the public's attention. He has the statistics: 947 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns in six games. He has the distinctive style, running like a hybrid of an 18-wheeler and a Corvette. "He looks like he's moving a lot slower than he really is," says 6'2", 236-pound Wisconsin linebacker Dave Lysek, who secured a place in Badgers lore by stopping Dayne on a goal line stand in spring practice. "My chin strap got caught on my nose, which is why my helmet didn't come off." He has the nickname, too: the Great Dayne.
He has everything—except the desire to speak about himself. "There's no point in talking if you don't know what they're trying to get out of you," Dayne says. That stance isn't limited to the media. On the field Dayne follows the Miss Manners playbook. "He'll run you over and run back to the huddle," Illinois linebacker David James says. "That's the worst kind of opponent." Big Ten official Jim Augustyn adds that Dayne reminds him of another guy who got up after being tackled and simply handed him the ball with no histrionics: Barry Sanders.
Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez has discovered that Dayne can even be too quiet for his own good. After Dayne suffered a stinger in his right shoulder in August, he didn't tell the trainers how every hit brought more pain. Dayne wanted to play in the Kickoff Classic at Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands on Aug. 24 because nearly 100 people were coming from his hometown of Berlin, N.J., to watch him perform. Dayne bombed, rushing for 46 yards on 13 carries in a 34-0 loss to Syracuse.
The following Friday, before the Badgers were to play Boise State, Alvarez cornered Dayne. "If you're not 100 percent, you need to tell us," Alvarez said. Later that day Dayne admitted to running backs coach Brian White that he was hurting. Alvarez sat Dayne out, and Wisconsin beat the Broncos 28-24 on a touchdown in the last minute.
With his shoulder feeling better, Dayne returned to action the following week against San Jose State and ran 80 yards for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. He finished the game with 254 yards and has had two more 200-yard performances since, including his 207-yarder in a 31-7 victory over Illinois last Saturday.
This season has become one to call home about. Things are better now than last summer, when Dayne lived in an apartment in Madison with no telephone. "There was a pay phone in the lobby," Dayne says. "It didn't real bother me not having a phone."
You can say that again.