When you interview Mark Ingram, you fight for time against the other reporters because he is, after all, Mark Ingram. But you have to fight to hear him speak as well, because he's usually very soft spoken.
But you never have to have a hard time seeing his sincerity when he speaks from the heart.
You saw it in his Heisman acceptance and when he speaks of his family.
And now his newest family member is something he speaks of with pride and emotion as well, and that family member is the "Bama Nation" which he now leaves being a player for and now becomes a regular member, just like the rest of the fans.
After the Capital One Bowl Game, I saw Mark grab a big Alabama flag from a cheerleader and run it around the field in a final lap in his Alabama uniform.
I got a lump in my throat watching it, because knowing Mark, he wasn't doing that lap to attract attention to himself, but to show his love of Alabama and his need to show that love to the fans one last time in a crimson jersey.
I asked him about it later and told him I got a lump in my throat watching him do that. I said that anyone with a brain knew that was his goodbye wave to the fans and that I understood if he didn't want to acknowledge it to me at this time (Mark had still not announced to go pro at this time).
With a glassy look in his eye and after taking a deep breath, Mark said, "I've heard other athletes talk about this place or that place being a great place to play football but Alabama is a special place, not just to play football in, but to be a part of. I will never leave Alabama. It will always be with me."
Mark had struggles as a young man, yet leaving his mother and home was something that Mark wasn't sure about. But at Alabama, he quickly found friends, quickly earned another "family" and had the strong support mixed with a nurturing environment he had never known before.
He had teammates who became much more than that; they became brothers. In interviews over his years at Alabama, he often talked of feeling the love from his teammates and friends and also from the fans and the people of the state here.
"My mother wanted me to play for Coach Saban because she knew he'd take care of me and she wouldn't have to worry about me," Mark said of the decision to come here.
"I wasn't sure of the decision back then 100 percent. I wasn't sure if I would come at first, now I don't ever want to go, but I know that day will come when I live somewhere else, but I'll always have it with me. I will take part of everything here with me and I'll leave part of my heart here," he said in a very quiet voice.
And there was the emotion.
And maybe that's why Mark Ingram is so special. He plays with emotion, albeit a very different one. He loves his teammates unabashedly and he's not afraid to display that emotion when he speaks of things dear to his heart.
Seeing him that way, speaking of being part of the "Bama Nation," made he realize why it is indeed a special thing to belong to. It's filled with special people like Mark who think the Grandmother in seat H2142 is just as special as he is.
Now that is a family to be proud of.
Larry Burton (Syndicated Writer)