Ron Dayne, His Coach, and My Grandma

Based on the success that the Denver Broncos' running game is having this season, columnist Jason Looney writes that the "Mastermind" moniker should be resurrected for coach Mike Shanahan.

Is Ron Dayne my long lost brother? Were we twins separated at birth? Is there any other explanation for the eerie similarities between the two of us?

Look at the facts. Ron Dayne has never had a 1,000 yard rushing season in the NFL. Neither have I.

In 2003 Ron Dayne didn't play football for any NFL team. Same here.

Then yesterday, Ron Dayne drove a dagger through the hearts the Dallas Cowboys. Me? I've driven through the heart of Dallas many, many times.

My point is this: Mike Shanahan could stick me in the lineup as the backup running back and still win football games. I bet my grandma could even play third string.

When Shanahan had the best team in football during the 1996-1998 seasons he was often referred to as "The Mastermind." In recent years, however, this term has been used more as a weapon of derision, describing a man who has been unable to win a playoff game without John Elway.

After yesterday's game in Dallas, I think it's time to resurrect the "Mastermind" moniker for Coach Shanahan, permanently. What he has done with the running game during his career at Denver is nothing short of amazing, and other teams in the league are taking notice.

(Side note: I realize I'm calling a man a "mastermind" who completely mis-handled the clock in the fourth quarter yesterday. In Mike's defense, Bill Parcells turned around and mangled it even worse, so let's chalk this up to the tryptophan and move on.)

After winning the Heisman Trophy, Ron Dayne was the 11th overall pick in the NFL draft in 2000. He has been a big, large, overweight disappointment since. His best year was his rookie year, when he finished third among rookies with 770 rushing yards, well behind Denver's Mike Anderson and Baltimore's Jamal Lewis. His career rushing average is but 3.5 yards per carry.

But yesterday in Dallas he averaged 14 yards per carry and was the hero of overtime. This is the magic of Shanahan. Everyone runs well in his system, whether they're named Dayne, Anderson, Bell, Portis, Droughns, Davis, Gary, or Grandma Birdie. And by running the ball Shanahan tires defenses, eats up the clock, and amasses winning records with sometimes less-than-average teams.

The two-headed attack is a somewhat recent addition to the coach's repertoire and, while he maintains it's simply a reaction to the personnel he has on hand, don't look for it to disappear any time soon. Dayne's rumble in OT yesterday is the perfect example of what fresh legs can do against a tired defense. Several other teams in the NFL are also having success with this fantasy league-killing strategy, including Atlanta (home of Alex Gibbs, T.J. Duckett, and Warrick Dunn), Pittsburgh (Bettis, Staley, and Parker), and Kansas City (Johnson and, oh wait, Holmes is out for the season and Vermeil is crying again -- never mind).

When Shanahan traded away Clinton Portis two years ago, many fans, including myself, were furious. Clinton's open field moves, combined with Shanahan's unparalleled ability to run the ball on opposing defenses, seemed like a match made in heaven. If coach and player could have worked out their differences, it seemed like 2,000 yard seasons would become routine.

But Shanahan decided not to let one player, no matter how talented, be treated more importantly than the rest of the team. While many questioned whether his running game could be nearly as good without Portis, time has shown him correct. The two-headed attack is proving to be as successful on the field as it is on the payroll.

And just how powerful can this type of attack be? Remember, the 1972 Dolphins team that went 17-0 had two 1,000 yard rushers, a third one with over 500 yards, and a quarterback named Griese.

We may have had bad luck with our Griese, but the rest of that sounds pretty darn good to me.

E-mail Broncos Update Columnist Jason Looney at

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