TAMPA - The Rose Bowl, the Heisman Trophy and, now, the Super Bowl. All in a matter of 13 months.
“It's been a blessing,” said New York Giants running back Ron Dayne. “It's been a good year.”
But still not the year that was expected.
Dayne was drafted in the first round out of the University of Wisconsin to be the Giants' feature back. Instead, Tiki Barber responded with the best season of his career - a franchise-record 2,089 all-purpose yards, 1,006 of it rushing - and pretty much relegated Dayne to short-yardage situations.
Dayne finished the regular season with 770 yards, far from shabby considering he finished third among rookies behind Denver's Mike Anderson (1,500 yards) and Baltimore's Jamal Lewis (1,364). But he saw his carries diminish late in the season.
“I didn't really hit a wall, I just split time with Tiki,” Dayne said. “You always want the ball more, but I just did what I needed to do to help. It was frustrating not getting the ball at first, but I see where they need me.
“Coming out of college, I was the man. I've had to adjust. But it doesn't really matter who gets the ball more as long as I keep getting here (Super Bowl). We win with this style and now we're in the Super Bowl, so we might as well keep it up.”
Barber said Dayne “knows what it takes to win. He's a team player. The team knows that when his number is called he'll be ready. And I think the thing for Ron to know is that on any given play he can be in there.”
Barber, who will again don a lightweight, graphite cast he has worn the past several weeks over a broken bone in his left forearm, understands that Sunday's game against Baltimore's vaunted defense will be a major challenge.
The Ravens surrender, on average, 60.6 rushing yards per game and under 2.7 yards per carry. Baltimore has gone 36 straight games without allowing a 100-yard rusher.
“Their defense has been so good against the run,” Barber said. “But that's what we have made our staple. Last week (41-0 NFC championship win over Minnesota on Jan. 14) it was the passing game that sparked us, but I think the cornerstone of this offense is running the ball. We're going to try to find ways to run the ball. We can't go in saying, `We can't run,' because it would belittle our chances.”
Barber may return to his role as the Giants' primary playmaker this Sunday because it's doubtful they will try to stretch the field as they did with nearly 400 passing yards against Minnesota. Such boldness might backfire against a Ravens team that led the NFL with 49 takeaways.
Dayne summoned a full dose of rookie bravado when discussing the prospect of facing Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis, the NFL's defensive player of the year.
“I'm going to go for him,” the 5-10, 253-pound Dayne said. “I won't shy away from him. I know he's a good player, but I'm going to bring my best.”
LAP OF LUXURY: One of the hottest news items this week in Tampa is a relatively new city ordinance that mandates a cushion of six feet between exotic dancers and customers, thus making lap dancing illegal.
Baltimore defensive tackle Tony Siragusa, who is 6-3 and listed conservatively at 340 pounds, was asked for his reaction.
“It (ticks) me off,” he said. “I was looking to make a few extra dollars this week and I can't believe they shut me down like that.”
When the assembled media stopped laughing, a female reporter asked Siragusa how many customers could fit on his lap.
“Come on up here,” he said. “I'll play Santa Claus and you can tell me what you want for Christmas.”