Last season, football fans across the nation watched each week as University of Texas running back Ricky Williams closed on Tony Dorsett's 22-year-old, major-college career rushing record--a mark some had considered unbreakable. Today, less than one year later, Wisconsin's Ron Dayne set a new benchmark.
With 4 1/2 minutes left in the first half of the Badgers' regular season finale against Iowa, the 5-foot-10, 252-pound Dayne took the ball in the backfield, bounced outside and rumbled 31 yards to become the most prolific rusher in NCAA Division I history. Dayne went on to total 216 yards to reach 6,397 for his career, 118 more than Williams.
Making the day even sweeter for the ninth-ranked Badgers, their 41-3 victory over Iowa, coupled with Penn State's 31-27 loss to Michigan, gave them their first outright Big Ten Conference championship since 1962 and, in all likelihood, a second consecutive berth in the Rose Bowl for the first time in school history.
After the game, Dayne showed rare emotion as a tarp fell and revealed his name and number painted onto the facade of Camp Randall Stadium's upper deck while fans held up towels bearing "33," his jersey number.
"I didn't know what to say," Dayne said of seeing his number on the building. "I was just so happy and grateful. I'm still kind of amazed and dazed. When I saw it, I was so shocked. I didn't know whether to cry or laugh or run off the field or jump."
As Dayne hit the hole in Iowa's defense on his record-breaking run, flashbulbs started going off around the stadium. After he broke the record, a crush of photographers rushed onto the field and had to be shooed off by the field judge and Madison police. But the celebration mimicked Dayne's entire run for the record: very little fanfare. Dayne slapped hands with several teammates and made sure the ball was off the field, and then play resumed.
"I tried to do everything normally, do everything I usually do before the game," Dayne said. "It seemed like a normal day."
The celebration lasted all of two minutes, in contrast to what occurred last season when Williams, needing 11 yards to break Dorsett's record, scored on a 60-yard run late in the first quarter of a victory over Texas A&M in Austin. The game was delayed while a small ceremony took place on the field with Dorsett.
Nevertheless, few seemed any less impressed by Dayne's achievements today, which also likely will enable him to become the Big Ten's first three-time rushing champion (he has 1,834 yards, 19 touchdowns) and win the Heisman Trophy, although he reiterated that he would give the award to Florida State wide receiver Peter Warrick.
"I would anticipate that [Dayne's] record will last a long time," Wisconsin Coach Barry Alvarez said. "If you look at college football today, the trend is going away from being running teams, and going toward spreading it out and throwing the ball more, like pro football. You have to be a four-year starter to break this record."
Dayne rushed for 53 yards in his first career game but ended his freshman season with 1,863 and 18 touchdowns. He totaled 626 yards and eight touchdowns in the last two games that season, against Illinois and Hawaii.
He had an enticing opportunity to enter the NFL draft after last season, but opted to return for his senior year. Coming into today's game, he needed 99 yards to eclipse Williams's record--not a sure thing, even against Iown's Big Ten-worst rushing defense. But Madison Mayor Sue Bauman declared today "Ron Dayne Day" and a news release describing the details of a postgame ceremony in Dayne's honor was distributed.
Coming into this season, expectations were enormous for Dayne and the defending Rose Bowl winners, but Wisconsin was upset by Cincinnati on Sept. 18 despite 231 yards from Dayne, and the following week, the Badgers lost to Michigan with Dayne being held to 88 yards. After 161 yards and four touchdowns in a huge victory at Ohio State that turned Wisconsin's season, Dayne had just 88 yards against Minnesota on Oct. 9.
Since then, though, Dayne and the Badgers have rolled. He rushed for 981 yards in the final five games, including 200-yard games against nationally-ranked Michigan State and Purdue.
HE'S NUMBER ONE
NCAA Division I-A Career Rushing Leaders:
Ron Dayne, Wisconsin
Ricky Williams, Texas
Tony Dorsett, Pittsburgh
Charles White, USC
Travis Prentice, Miami (Ohio)
Herschel Walker, Georgia