NEW YORK -- They used to call guys like him a hoss.
The tag suggested a reliable, tireless bearer of a burden. The guy who pulled aircraft with his teeth. The circus strong man who raised livestock above his head.
Put the game on his back and a hoss will win it for you. It's a two-fisted, shot-and-a-beer, all-you-need-to-know four-letter word in football.
In a modern game awash in trickery, Mark Ingram is that hoss. And it's about time. The 75th anniversary Heisman winner had to throw some stiff arms to get The Stiff Arm.
"That's his mindset," teammate Javier Arenas said, "make the other guy quit. Make the other guy not want to play against him anymore." There was a theme at the Nokia Theater in Times Square. The hosses stampeded. For the first time since 1994, running backs finished 1-2 in the Heisman voting. In the closest vote in Heisman history, Ingram barely got the ball across the goal line. Only 28 points separated Alabama's sophomore and Stanford's Toby Gerhart.
A lot of voters apparently valued what happened this season. A slow, inexorable sway from trickeration to back to basics. As defenses adjusted to the spread, some things remained the same. You can still win with a pounding running game.
"In some of the spread offenses it's a little bit more difficult to be a dominant runner," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "In old-fashioned ball, running backs were held in high esteem."
|Heisman Trophy voting|
|Mark Ingram, Alabama||227||236||151||1,304|
|Toby Gerhart, Stanford||222||225||160||1,276|
|Colt McCoy, Texas||203||188||160||1,145|
|Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska||161||105||122||815|
|Tim Tebow, Florida||43||70||121||390|
|C.J. Spiller, Clemson||26||31||83||223|
|Kellen Moore, Boise State||10||20||30||100|
|Case Keenum, Houston||2||9||13||37|
|Mardy Gilyard, Cincinnati||2||2||13||23|
|Golden Tate, Notre Dame||2||3||9||21|
They were again in New York, on national television and in the minds of voters who made the statement. Stanford got to a bowl for the first time in eight years, using Gerhart's 1,736 yards and 26 touchdowns. That was 194 more yards and 11 more touchdowns than Ingram in one less game.
Ingram's school-record 1,542 yards were enough to convince those voters that Alabama deserved its first Heisman Trophy.
"This is as good as it gets, anywhere," said Mal Moore, the athletic director who is attempting to be part of an eighth national championship as a player, coach and administrator.
A Colt can be a hoss too. Texas' McCoy, the 'Horns' best runner as a quarterback, finished third a year after being the Heisman runner-up. Even line wrecker Ndamukong Suh qualifies as a hoss. Nebraska's All-American defensive tackle finished fourth after a prime-time, nationally televised performance against Texas thrust him into voters' minds.
"She didn't want me getting hurt," Suh said explaining how he convinced his mother he wanted to play football as a child. "I told her basically I was going to be the one hurting people."
The Heisman O.G., Tim Tebow, finished a very distant fifth in his third consecutive trip to New York as a finalist. The Chosen One seemed to be relegated to the role of Heisman mentor after getting only 7.3 percent of the vote.
When Tebow noticed that Ingram was nervous. He asked the back who helped Alabama whip Florida a week ago if he wanted to pray. Why not?
|More Heisman links|
|Ingram wins closest vote for Heisman Previous winners|
Thread: Mark Ingram wins the Heisman
Thread: Ingram cries like Tebow!
Thread: Does he deserve it?
Thread: All the finalists are great guys
Thread: What's the point of the Heisman?
"I was pretty sure I wasn't going to win it," Tebow said. "I'm a realist."
They prayed for peace, calm and maybe for the souls of all the defensive backs they have laid out. In the end, Heisman voters favored Ingram, his game and his story.
"The legacy of Alabama football certainly had a void filled," Saban said. Three months ago it wasn't certain he was going to be the go-to back at the beginning of the season. Leading rusher Glen Coffee had left for the pros. Blue-chip freshman Trent Richardson was in the mix. Roy Upchurch was a senior who had ability, when he was healthy.
"That's what I was concerned about tonight," Saban said. "Maybe by playing all those guys we didn't help Mark in terms of getting what he may very well have deserved, because he shared the burden."
A good hoss doesn't flinch. After opening with 150 yards against Virginia Tech, Ingram went three games with less than 100 yards. There were two "Heisman moments." Midway through the season he ran for a Bryant-Denny Stadium-record 246 yards against South Carolina. In the SEC title game he bounced back from a season-low 30 yards against Auburn to get 113 yards and three touchdowns against Florida. The biggest play of the game was a screen pass that Ingram turned into a 69-yard gain.
There were two stats that maybe were the difference. More than half of his 1,864 total yards came after contact. And in 427 career touches, Ingram has fumbled twice, losing one.
|'The legacy of Alabama football certainly had a void filled,' Nick Saban says after Mark Ingram wins the Heisman. (Getty Images)|
Ingram's game is as solid as his character. The overarching story to his candidacy has been the incarceration of his father, Mark Sr. Just a few miles from where he played as a professional with the Giants and where his son accepted the trophy, Mark Ingram Sr. is serving 92 months in a nearby prison for money laundering and bank fraud.
Authorities found him on Jan. 2 in a Michigan hotel set to watch his son play on TV in the Sugar Bowl. He originally didn't report to federal prison a year ago so he could watch Mark Jr. in the SEC title on TV.
You had to wonder what emotions are roiling inside the son. A father's love so great that he would evade authorities to see him play.
"I can believe that he did it," Shonda Ingram said of her husband. "He would do anything for his son. ... He did it but I understand why he did it."
Shortly after the ceremony, Mark Sr. was able to get a call through to Shonda, only to be told Mark Jr. was busy meeting the media. Some of their questions, obviously, had to do with that father-son relationship. "Ever since I was a little boy, I remember playing basketball," Mark Jr. said. "He'd knock me down, block my shot wouldn't let me win. We'd race and I'd catch up to him and he'd take off. ... Everything he's done to me has helped me develop into the man I am today." The only reason Ingram is at Alabama is because Saban had coached his father as an assistant at Michigan State. As a rare Yankee on the 'Bama roster (from Flint, Mich.), Ingram not only had to play but fit in.
"My feelings were hurt because I left my child 800 miles away," Shonda said. "But they embraced him, all the coaches, all the players."
As it usually does, the Heisman applied a soothing closing touch to a season of turmoil. There was the annual yapping over the BCS, LeGarrette Blount's punch in Boise, officiating blunders, Mark Mangino's alleged mistreatment of his players.
Saturday, Mark Ingram was a running back. He will wake up as an icon, a permanent piece of agate in record books, a name that now will be literally etched in stone. His vote total barely broke the plane of the goal line but at least this hoss won.
"You'll never forget the night you won the Heisman," Tebow said. "He'll always be known as the 75th Heisman trophy winner. When you get introduced, no matter where you get introduced people always seem to throw that in there, 'Oh yeah, he won the Heisman.'"