KOHLER, Wis. — The NFL career of Ron Dayne didn’t go nearly as well as the Heisman Trophy winner’s record-setting days at the University of Wisconsin. Now, five years removed from his professional playing career, Dayne doesn’t have very fond memories of the NFL.
“Not being able to play as much as I wanted to,” Dayne told FOXSportsWisconsin.com when asked what he remembered most about his seven years in the league. “I didn’t get to play a lot. The times I did get to play, I felt I did pretty good. If I was a main starter I think I would’ve been able to play a little more and had a little more fun.”
As a freshman with the Badgers in 1996, Dayne rushed for 1,863 yards and 18 touchdowns. Though his numbers dropped off a bit as a sophomore and junior, Dayne responded in his senior season with 1,834 yards and 19 touchdowns. After finishing his college career as the NCAA’s new all-time rushing leader, Dayne beat out quarterbacks Michael Vick and Drew Brees, among others, to win the Heisman Trophy.
“That’s always going to be part of my name, so I can deal with it, I guess,” Dayne said. “It’s OK with me. As long as you don’t mess up and do like an O.J. (Simpson), then you’re all right.”
Dayne was soon drafted in the first round with the 11th overall pick by the New York Giants in 2000. Teaming with Tiki Barber in the Giants’ backfield to create the “Thunder and Lightning” duo, Dayne finished his rookie season with 770 yards and five touchdowns.
But over the next three seasons in New York, Dayne’s carries continued to decrease. In his fourth year with the Giants, Dayne had only 52 carries for 179 yards and one touchdown.
By 2005, the Giants had cut ties with their former top draft pick. Dayne resurfaced in Denver for one unspectacular season with the Broncos (53 carries, 270 yards) before finishing his career with two seasons as a member of the Houston Texans.
At age 28, Dayne’s NFL career was over.
“In college, we had a lot more fun,” Dayne said. “It was just fun. Once you get to the pros, it’s a business. I had way more fun when I was in college than I did in the pros, even though you get money for it, but you still have more fun.
“And the games mean more in college than they do in the pros. You lose a game (in the NFL) and you play the same team again two weeks later. It didn’t really make a difference and you still get paid, so it’s like, ‘Whatever.’
“In college you lose a game and it’s like, ‘We might not make a Bowl game.’ I think it’s tougher. And I think it’s more fun, college was.”
Given the urgency that he enjoyed of not being able to lose in college without the fear of missing a major bowl game, Dayne was not completely on board with the new four-team playoff system that will begin in 2014.
“I guess it might work out, but you’re still going to leave a couple teams out,” Dayne said. “I think that’s the toughest part about it.”
Dayne is now back living in Wisconsin with his family where he does some work with his alma mater, as well working on a couple side projects.
Just don’t expect to see him coaching on the sidelines any time soon, as Dayne said that doesn’t interest him at all. He is, however, interested in working with players if allowed to take on a training type of role, perhaps in the weight room.