Alabama sophomore running back Mark Ingram capped off a whirlwind week Saturday which started with the seeming pinnacle of his young career and ended with college football’s most coveted prize.
In winning the 2009 Heisman Trophy, Ingram showed his passion and love for the game with the pursuit of gridiron excellence which served him well on the field and in his Christian walk.
“First and foremost I want to thank God,” Ingram said among tears of joy after winning the closest race in the award’s 75-year history. “Without him I would not be able to accomplish this.”
Ingram’s win was sparked by a day which will long linger in the minds of Crimson Tide fans, last Saturday’s three touchdown masterpiece against defending Southeastern Conference and nation champion Florida.
His victory speech and interview with ESPN analyst Kirk Herbsteit was punctuated by references to how much he admired his family and the faith background they nurtured him in.
Particularly poignant were references to his father of the same name. Mark Ingram, Sr., was only 11 miles way from Midtown Manhattan and the Nokia Theatre where his son received the award, but in reality in was an almost unfathomable gulf. His father, a former Super Bowl champion, is incarcerated in the borough of Queens on bank fraud charges. The elder Ingram’s straits were alluded to vaguely during the ceremony, but never directly.
The wellspring of emotion his son displayed no doubt had to do with his father’s situation, not to mention the tightness of the race. Ingram won with 227 points, winning the Midwest, East and Mid-Atlantic regions which did not have a candidate in their geographical areas. He was only five points ahead of Stanford’s bulldozing back Toby Gerhart, whose victory would have come as an even bigger shock considering the competition featuring Texas quarterback Colt McCoy and Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, both well-known for public pronouncements of faith and mission work.
Just a week earlier McCoy was running for his life and the Longhorns’ season hung in a precarious balance 1,600 miles away at the Big XII Championship Game in Dallas. Pursued primarily by another Heisman finalist, Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh leading the Cornhuskers defense, McCoy was able to barely throw the ball out of bounds in time to set up a last-second field goal. The kick by Hunter Lawrence – girded by biblical inspiration given by holder, wide receiver and McCoy’s roommate Jordan Shipley – allowed Texas to eke out a 13-12 win and earn a BCS National Championship berth against Alabama and its stellar Heisman finalist, sophomore running back Mark Ingram.
McCoy and Tebow will both get a chance to ply their trade next fall in the NFL, following in the footsteps of Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner and former Indianapolis Colts coach and current NBC commentator Tony Dungy as prominent men of faith in a profession often noted for its self-centered behavior.
That faith will hopefully provide needed sustenance with what lies ahead. McCoy still has a title to try and win. Tebow has a Sugar Bowl date to look forward on the heels of Florida’s shocking blowout loss to Ingram’s Crimson Tide last week. And Ingram, whenever he does decide to make the move to the NFL, has a deep well of God-given talent to tap in his quest to best McCoy, bolstered by his own family’s faith.
The professional ranks will certainly test and tempt all three young men. When they make those moves they will be grounded in something far deeper than their self-interests.
For the moment, though, the spotlight is affixed on Ingram as well it should be. As proud as the legion of Alabama fans is at its first-ever Heisman winner in its storied history, a family from Flint, Mich., with a father nearby – yet so far away – celebrates, too, the accomplishments of a blessed son.