Ron Dayne was one of the most decorated running backs in college football history.
The former Wisconsin star set the NCAA Division-One career rushing record, was a Heisman Trophy winner, two-time Rose Bowl champion and two-time Rose Bowl MVP. He was a consensus All-American, Big-Ten Player of the Year, Maxwell Award Winner, Doak Walker and Walter Camp Awards winner and AP Player of the Year, too. And he’s a member of the Wisconsin-Madison Athletic Hall of Fame and the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame and had his number 33 jersey retired by Wisconsin.
But now he’s a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, gaining his degree earlier this month — or over 18 years after he won the Heisman. So where does that rank among his accomplishments? We asked Dayne on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast.
“That’s probably one of my highest achievements,” Dayne said, “just because of the fact that I came back (to Wisconsin) when I was playing in the league … and I tried it a couple of times … and I thought: I don’t have to do this, so it don’t matter.
“But since getting it — even though I was older than some of my teachers and professors — that was cool, too. That was kind of neat. I’m like: ‘Hey, what’s up, Rick?’ (And my professor says), ‘Hey, Mr. Dayne.’ I’m like: ‘That sounds kind of different. ‘You’re the professor, and you’re calling me Mr. Dayne, and I’m calling you Rick.’ I kind of had to get used to that, being the oldest guy in class.
“But this was one of my top things. I had my wife, Courtney, there. She was the one that stayed on me the most because I would go to sleep at night, around 9 or 10, once the baby went to sleep, and she was like: ‘You know you’ve got a test. Let’s go’ Would wake me right up. ‘Let’s go buddy, you’ve got a test.’ (And I’d say), ‘Test?’ (And she would say), “Let’s go. You have a test right now. Let’s go ’til about 12 o’clock’ Yeah, my wife pushed me the hardest to finish off (the degree), without a doubt.”
Dayne was the first pick (and the 11th overall) of the New York Giants in the 2000 draft, and, together with teammate Tiki Barber, comprised the team’s “Thunder and Lightning” combination at running back — with Dayne providing the power and Barber the speed.
But Dayne never lived up to expectations, went to Denver for a year before winding up in Houston where, in his last season (2007), he had his best year, rushing for a career-high 773 yards, scoring six times and averaging 4.1 yards a carry.
But that was 11 years ago. So why get a degree now?
“My kids are in school,” Dayne said, “and I wanted to get it done before they got to go to college. But my daughter’s in college now. She’ll be a junior coming up this year, and then my son is going into college. He’ll be a freshman.
“I just wanted to get my degree before my kids got done … to show them that hard work pays off. School is a big deal now. Back then, it was a big deal … but it wasn’t anything like it is now.”
Nor was getting a degree then anything like it is now. Dayne received his in the mail, compliments of Federal Express.
“It was raining that day, right?” he said. “So we just got one piece of mail, and it was soaked in the rain. The FedEx package was just sitting in the rain. So I opened the door, and I opened it up … and it was a little wet, but not (really) wet. So when I cracked it open, and it’s my degree, I almost passed out right there.
“It wasn’t wet, but the paper around it was wet. So I pulled it out and first ran upstairs, and my wife was sitting there. And she was like: ‘What’s that?’ And I (said), ‘That’s my degree!’ It was the tears and everything. I was so excited. I was super hyped.”