He wasn't the flashiest or the feistiest player in college football this year, but Wisconsin running back Ron Dayne proved to be the sturdiest when he won the Heisman Trophy by nearly a 2-to-1 margin at the Downtown Athletic Club tonight.
The soft-spoken Dayne, who broke 1998 Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams's Division I-A rushing record this season, had a few middling performances early but ran faster and farther as the season wore on while several of his competitors stumbled. Florida State wideout Peter Warrick, Dayne's main rival and the player who many considered the best player on the field, was arrested on theft charges in October, forcing him to miss two games. In the meantime, Dayne rushed for more than 200 yards in three of his final four games.
He was a heavy favorite going into to tonight's ceremony, although his eyes still grew watery when his name was announced.
"I didn't know what to do--shake the finalists' hands or go hug my coach or carry him around or go grab my uncle and carry him on my shoulders," said Dayne, whose landslide win included 586 first-place votes. Georgia Tech's Joe Hamilton finished second with 96 first-place votes.
"I wish I could say I was calm as could be--I was shaking. I tried to move away from [Marshall's Chad Pennington] because I didn't want him to see how hard my leg was shaking."
Warrick finished sixth in the balloting, and leaving four quarterbacks as Dayne's competition. Hamilton, Pennington, Purdue's Drew Brees and Virginia Tech's Michael Vick were all present, with Vick being the first freshman invited to a televised Heisman ceremony. Vick finished third in the voting with 25 first-place votes, tying Herschel Walker (1980) and Clint Castleberry (1942) for the best finish by a freshman. No freshman or sophomore has ever won the Heisman, which has been presented since 1935.
Throughout the ceremony, Vick seemed thrilled just to be considered for the award and to be in New York with the other finalists. At 19 years old, he is too young to have ever seen Walker play, but he realized what great company he is in.
"This is another dream come true for me," said Vick, who has had a fantasy season leading the No. 2 Hokies to an undefeated record and a Jan. 4 Sugar Bowl berth. "I never imagined that I would be here this year. Hopefully, if we can continue to be successful, I can continue to come back."
Vick said he was surprised that Warrick did not finish among the top vote-getters, noting that he would have given up his place to him if necessary. Although, like all the other candidates, had the most words of praise for the 5-foot-10, 254-pound Dayne.
Dayne has accomplished much both on and off the field, including helping to raise his 2-year-old daughter, Jada, who was here tonight. His own childhood in nearby New Jersey was shattered when his parents divorced amid problems of drug abuse and domestic violence and forced him and his sister to move in with his aunt and uncle when he was 15 years old. Tonight Dayne dedicated his new trophy to his uncle, Rob Reid, who was here tonight along with his aunt, his mother and girlfriend Alia Lester.
Still, his biggest supporter seemed to be Jada, who pointed to her father several times throughout the ceremony. Her presence seemed to push Dayne to show more emotions than he expected and deliver a longer speech than he had planned.
"She liked the trophy a lot because it sticks its hands out, she liked the picture on the wall because they won the trophy too," Dayne said, laughing. "She means everything to me, if I'm having a bad day, a bad practice or something, I can come home and se her and forget all about it."
Dayne led the Badgers (9-2) to a Big Ten Conference title and a second straight Rose Bowl berth, breaking Williams's record--which Williams set last year by breaking Tony Dorsett's 22-year-old record--by 118 yards with a 216-yard day in a 41-3 win over Iowa. Over his college career, he has made 1,115 carries for 6,397 yards and 63 touchdowns and collected an armful of awards, winning the AP College Player of the Year, the Walter Camp, Maxwell and Doak Walker awards in the last two weeks.
Rare Territory for Vick
Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Vick's third-place finish in last night's Heisman Trophy voting tied him for the highest finish by a freshman. The top freshman finishes:
Player Pos. Year Finish
Michael Vick, Virginia Tech QB 1999 3rd
Herschel Walker, Georgia RB 1980 3rd
Clint Castleberry, Georgia Tech RB 1942 3rd
Buddy Young, Illinois RB 1944 5th
Marshall Faulk, San Diego St. RB 1991 9th
Emmitt Smith, Florida RB 1987 9th
Thomas McWillliams, Miss. State RB 1944 10th
SOURCE: CBS SPORTSLINE