At A University Built On Team, Mark Ingram Wins Alabama's First Heisman

Larry BurtonSenior Writer IDecember 13, 2009

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL - DECEMBER 10: (L to R) Heisman Trophy finalists Toby Gerhart of Stanford, Tim Tebow of Florida, Mark Ingram of Alabama, Colt McCoy and Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska pose after the Home Depot ESPNU College Football Awards at the Disney Boardwalk on December 10, 2009 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
Doug Benc/Getty Images

I am on vacation this week in Puerto Rico getting ready to board a cruise ship for a week, and I missed Mark Ingram's acceptance. I got a lot of email about it however, and I'm sure I can see it all later. The news makes me sad and glad.

I am glad to see such a worthy young man win this esteemed award. Mark Ingram and his mother made the decision to send Mark all the way from Flint, Michigan all the way down to Alabama because as I was told, Mark's mother had faith that Nick Saban would both protect and nurture her son, and Mark could start fresh in a new area with new friends and escape the bad things around him at that time.

I could never imagine Mark as a young man who needed any kind of a fresh start from the various times I've met and interviewed him. He is as polite and well spoken, humble and honest a young man as I would want my own son to be.

Mark Ingram is a fine young man and I think willl be an even better adult. He has developed character, or perhaps just had his own nurtured as his mother hoped would happen.

The story of Mark's father, a former NFL standout going from riches and fame to drugs and jail is an old story. There were many reasons Mark Ingram could have fallen through the cracks and been a nothing.

But there were more reasons for him to become successful and a man of great character.

He had a mother who loved him and instilled in him her faith that he could do anything. He had coaches in High School and College who believed in him and helped him mature both physically and emotionally. And he was surrounded by team mates who not only loved him, but both helped him, and allow Mark to help them.

To see Mark succeed in such a profound and nationally recognized way delights me. To hear that he prayed with Tim Tebow before the ceremony, and to see the words he spoke in accepting made me even prouder to know that this was not the only riches he has grown into.

What makes me sad however, is that Alabama has a Heisman winner. Not that we didn't have others who could have won it, but that's not what Alabama is all about or built on.

Alabama is built on the accomplishments and toils of a team, not on individuals.

There was even a time when Coach Bryant didn't want names on the jerseys. He once growled, "It enough you're wearing that Crimson Jersey, THAT'S who you are!"

To think that for at least tonight, the world was focused on just one Alabama player, it made me a little sad.

But Mark Ingram is no different from any other Alabama "star". I've interviewed most of them following the games, and to a man, each gives credit first to the other players before even acknowledging even their slightest individual accomplishment.

After one productive game I asked Mark about his game and his first words were, "With the blocking I was getting, I would have looked silly not gaining those yards."

Never mind that he had more yards after contact than yards before.

And then he said, "Greg and those receivers did such a good job tonight it helped open up the running game."

Once again, it was everybody else first and not him.

If someone had to be a Heisman winner from Alabama, I'm glad it was someone like this. But then, most of the ones I've interviewed in Crimson WERE just like that.

When I think of this team, and who makes it work, I don't narrow it down to a name or two or even three. This is a TEAM. It is a well oiled machine and Mark is just an important part in it.

Should Mark go down, Trent Richardson could step right in as he has done all season, and Roy Upchurch is right behind him.

This is a team with an undersized center who plays like a bulldozer, a nickle back who plays like a first round NFL pick, a  defensive corner that hardly anybody wanted but we took because he we needed a punt returner and became a team captain and a nose tackle with a flavor for cheeseburgers and a flair for being one of the best run stuffers in college football.

This is a team that has new leaders step up each week. There are games we won because of a skinny kicker that got boo'd off the field his first year, there are others that were won because of a quarterback that didn't get the chance to go to school at his first choice and was even our second choice, but he'll wind up beating both quarterbacks who were chosen above him.

They say that the Heisman goes to the best college football player in America, but I'm not even sure that he's really the most important man on his own team. There are so many that have stepped up there and won games, saved games and done just as much.

But going back to an earlier point, I'm glad Mark Ingram won, and I think he would agree with everything you've just read.

And that makes him a great man to win it.


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