On Saturday, Dayne was back in front of an audience to accept another honor, as a Rose Bowl Hall of Fame inductee, and the emotions he felt all those years ago were rekindled.
"Me getting this award is almost like winning the Heisman," Dayne said during his induction speech. "I'm up here nervous. I'm shaking. I'm sweating. And then I lost my speech."
Dayne never was long on words, but his play on the field made him stand out all the same. On Saturday, he was inducted at the Pasadena Civic Center along with NBC sportscaster Dick Enberg and former Washington running back George Fleming.
During his four years at Wisconsin, Dayne put together one of the all-time great careers in college football history. He finished at Wisconsin with 6,397 rushing yards — excluding his four bowl games — a mark that stands as the all-time FBS record.
"I'm happy I still have it," Dayne said of the record. "I brag to my kids about it. My boys said they're going to break it. When they hear people talk about it, that's what they say, too. 'I'm going to break his records.' "
Two of Dayne's most impressive performances came in Wisconsin's back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances in 1999 and 2000. He rushed for 246 and 200 yards in those games, winning two straight MVP awards to become the third player in Rose Bowl history to earn that distinction.
Dayne's presenter on Saturday was his former coach, Barry Alvarez, who serves as Wisconsin's athletic director.
Alvarez recalled that when he recruited Dayne in the late 1990s, he told Dayne he would play the 245-pounder at running back. Other programs were recruiting Dayne as a fullback or a linebacker.
"He said, 'Coach, I like to carry the ball,' " Alvarez said. "He didn't know what he was getting into. Because I liked to give him the ball. As I always say, I like to get Ronnie lathered up."
Dayne became the team's starting running back six games into his freshman season, and he averaged 36 carries per game the rest of the year.
Even today, Dayne credits Alvarez for becoming more than a head coach to him.
"The first time I met Coach, we came out on a big hug," Dayne said. "My last game was a big hug. Every time I see coach now is a big hug. He treats me like a son. I look up to him like a father. Just a great guy, and it's great to have him here and him being able to do that for me."
Dayne, 33, lives in Madison, where he owns a training facility called Champion Style Athletics. The No. 11 overall pick in the 2000 NFL draft by the New York Giants, Dayne played seven NFL seasons for three teams but never ran for more than 773 yards in a year. Having retired after the 2007 season, he has been training for the Olympic trials in the discus. The 2012 summer Olympics takes place in London.
Dayne won the New Jersey state shot put and discus titles during his junior and senior years of high school. He set the New Jersey state discus record, won the Penn Relays shot put title in 1996 and provisionally qualified for the Olympic trials.
"I never stopped training," Dayne said before his induction speech. "I don't think it will be hard. I think I have a shot to do it."
Dayne is the fifth person affiliated with Wisconsin to be inducted in the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame since it was established in 1989. Alvarez was inducted in 2009, Alan Ameche in 2004, Pat Richter in 1994 and Ron Vander Kelen in 1991.
Dayne, who arrived in the Los Angeles area on Friday, said he briefly addressed this year's Wisconsin players, who take on Oregon in the Rose Bowl on Monday.
"I just gave the guys, not a pep talk, but just let them know that it's rare to make it here," Dayne said. "It's a rare thing, so take advantage it."
Few would know better than Dayne.
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