Here is a great story about runningback Mark Ingram and his dad.
By Kelly Whiteside, USA TODAY
Alabama sophomore running back Mark Ingram had carried or caught the ball 321 times in his college career without giving up a fumble, so when he lost the ball in the fourth quarter of a tight game against Tennessee, he took the turnover particularly hard.
His father, also named Mark, had watched the Crimson Tide's last game from the Queens Correctional Center in New York and called, as always, to discuss the game. Talking through it with his father helped immensely.
"I was kinda beating myself up about it," the son says, "and he just said, 'They just made a great play.' I'm over it now. You have to live and learn."
The son uses the same phrase to describe how difficult it has been with his father, a former NFL wide receiver and 1987 first-round draft pick of the New York Giants, facing perhaps close to 10 years in prison.
"You have to live with it," Ingram says. "Nothing we can do about it now, just make the best out of the situation that you can. Live and learn from situations. He's made some mistakes, and he's a better man because of it. He just wants to help me and my sisters be the best when we grow up, and he wants us to learn from his mistakes and not make them ourselves."
The story of a father, who is awaiting sentencing for failing to report to a federal prison last December after he was convicted on money laundering and bank fraud charges, should not be the story of the son, the nation's leading Heisman Trophy contender. But, even behind bars, the father is an important part of his son's life, just as he always has been.
The two talk two to three times a week, and Ingram Sr. has been able to watch every one of his son's games in prison, according to his wife, Shonda. Their bond during this trying time "says a lot about Mark," says Alabama coach Nick Saban, who is close to both. "Mark Sr. is a good person who cares about his kids."
Through his lawyer, Ingram Sr. declined to be interviewed at a prison just across the Hudson River from where he had his greatest moments as a pro, where he is best remembered for his tackle-breaking run in the 1991 Super Bowl.
"He doesn't want his problems to affect his son," attorney Jim Neville says. "He wants to stay out of it. He's had enough time in the limelight, in good ways years ago when he was playing football and in bad ways. He doesn't want to have this distract his son in any way or have any of that come on to his son."
The Alabama football team was off this past weekend, so Ingram was home in Flint, Mich., eating his mom's cube steak, rice and gravy, helping his three younger sisters get ready for Halloween and watching football. It was a much-needed break during a pressure-filled season.
No. 3 Alabama (8-0, 5-0 Southeastern Conference) hosts No. 9 LSU (7-1, 4-1) on Saturday, the only remaining ranked team on the Crimson Tide's schedule. Alabama can clinch the SEC West title with a win and would then meet No. 1 Florida on Dec. 5 in the SEC title game.
The biggest factor in the Crimson Tide's offensive success has been the 5-10, 215-pound Ingram, who ranks first in the SEC and fifth nationally with 125.5 rushing yards a game. He leads the Crimson Tide with 11 touchdowns (eight rushing, three receiving). His most astounding statistic: Of his 1,190 yards this season (1,004 rushing, 186 receiving), Ingram has gained 645 yards after contact, 54% of his total yards.
After Ingram ran for a career-high 246 yards Oct. 17 against South Carolina, he vaulted to the top of many Heisman lists. Despite its storied football tradition, Alabama never has had a Heisman winner. Heart and passion define Ingram's play, Saban says. His yards after contact are a result of speed, quickness, change of direction and power.
"He has the ability to make you miss, but he also has the strength to run through tackles, and when you can do both those things sometimes the tackles aren't the best tackles because you're avoiding them," Saban says. "Then, you still have the strength and the power to break those tackles even though they're not getting great hits on you."
Ingram's father taught him to explode through every tackle and instilled a competitive drive, even in preschool.
"When Little Mark was 4, they would play basketball, and his dad never let him win," Shonda says. "He would cry and cry because my husband would beat him pretty bad in basketball and I would get mad, but he was teaching him to compete. They used to go at it with everything in a competitive nature, and that prepared him for later. They always did everything together — run, play basketball, golf, throw the football, hit some baseballs. His dad spent a lot of time teaching him how to compete, and that's why he's like that."
Ask Little Mark what he learned from his dad about football, and his answer is simple: "Everything. From A to Z. How to hold the ball, how to tackle, how to make a juke move. Everything. How to read a defense, how to run a route, how to throw the ball, all the fundamental stuff he taught me. I learned everything about the game about him.
"When I was little, I used to watch his college tapes. He was really good. I recorded over one of them once; he was really mad about that. I catch some pro clips every now and then around Super Bowl time."
Shonda, a social worker in Flint, jokes that her family should get some credit for her son's athleticism. She was a high school track athlete and her father, Art Johnson, played football for Michigan State.
Shonda and Mark Sr. both attended Michigan State in the mid-1980s when Saban was a Spartans assistant. One of Saban's jobs at the time was to keep tabs on his wide receiver. The best way to do that was to call his girlfriend.
"He would call me and make sure Mark got to class, make sure he was where he was supposed to be," Shonda says.
"I didn't know if I should bring that up or not during recruiting," Saban says, laughing.
When Mark decided on Alabama, the Ingrams knew their son would be in good hands.
"When he came to visit, we trusted him, felt like I had a relationship with him," Shonda says.
In the midst of his standout freshman season, when he led the Crimson Tide with 12 rushing touchdowns and set the Alabama freshman record, his father was sentenced to 92 months in prison. At sentencing, Ingram Sr. asked the judge to postpone the start of the prison term until February 2009 so he could watch his son play his freshman season. Instead, the judge ordered him to report to federal prison in December. When Ingram Sr. failed to report, he was arrested by U.S. marshals Jan. 2, the same day his son was playing in the Sugar Bowl against Utah. As a result, Ingram Sr., whose criminal record included two prior stints in prison, could have two years added to the original sentence, according to his lawyer.
"I knew it was hard on Mark. It affected him a little bit, but he showed a lot of maturity in how he handled it and how he persevered," Saban says.
The extended family in Flint has leaned on one another through the heartache and is focused on love, forgiveness and moving on.
"As long as he's able to talk his dad," Shonda says. "His father has always been there for him, it's never stopped. He's been able to watch all the games. He's still coaching him. This year a little different with him not being here. But with Mark being away from home, it's like just his dad is gone (as opposed to being in prison). We're a real close family. We'll pull though no matter what, that's what my husband would want us to do. Everything will still run like it always has, even though he's not here, we'll keep going."
Once his father is sentenced, which is scheduled for this month, he will be sent to federal prison, where he might not be able to see his son play.
"Of course, I'm looking forward to the day he can see me play in person," Ingram says. "But we're just really focused on taking one day at a time and not worrying about too far down the road."
Through it all, Saban has told Ingram to just focus on making his parents proud.
"My big message to him was what will make your parents, your dad, everyone feel proud is if you're doing well in school and as a person and on the field," Saban says. "Regardless of the issues and what the problems are, that's going to make them proud. That's one way you can do something positive for everyone involved here."
It's worked. "I'm really proud," Shonda says. "I feel like I'm in a dream. Really proud. His father used to always say that he was special."
And would probably say the same today.