NEW YORK — Mark Ingram dabbed his eyes, took a deep breath and tried to steady himself. All set, he accepted the Heisman that completes Alabama’s trophy case.
The tough-running tailback turned tearful after winning the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night in the closest vote in the award’s 75-year history. Next, he’ll try to lead the most storied program in the South to a national championship.
Ingram finished 28 points ahead of Stanford running back Toby Gerhart.
The sturdy, 212-pound Ingram took a moment to get composed before starting his speech. Dressed in a dark suit with blue pinstripes, his voice wavered throughout.
“I’m a little overwhelmed right now,” he said. “I’m just so excited to bring Alabama their first Heisman winner.”
Ingram received 227 first-place votes and 1,304 points. Gerhart got 222 first-place votes and 1,276 points, while Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, last season’s runner-up, received 203 and 1,145.
Ingram said later he was feeling relaxed — right up until the winner was announced.
“When he started reading that letter, my heart started beating and I could feel it beating real fast,” he said. “When he called my name I was excited, then I saw my mom crying, and it kind of made me break down, too.”
His father, a former Super Bowl star, was a few miles away. Incarcerated on bank fraud and money-laundering charges, he watched his son’s biggest moment on a prison television.
Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was fourth and Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, who won the Heisman two years ago, was fifth.
The previous closest vote in Heisman history came in 1985, when Auburn’s Bo Jackson beat Iowa quarterback Chuck Long by 45 points.
Ingram won four of the six regions. Gerhart took the far west and Suh won the southwest.
“I appreciate the way he plays,” said Gerhart, who ran for 1,736 yards and scored 26 touchdowns. “The passion for the game. I’m a physical guy, he’s a physical guy. I feel we’re similar in a lot of ways. I’m proud of him and honored to be included with him.”
Ingram has been the backbone of Alabama’s offense, rushing for a school-record 1,542 yards, gaining 6.2 yards per carry and scoring 18 touchdowns.
And in his final chance to make a case for the Heisman, facing Florida’s then-top-ranked defense, Ingram ran for 113 yards and scored three touchdowns to punctuate his season.
The win sent the top-ranked Crimson Tide to the BCS national title game against McCoy and No. 2 Texas on Jan. 7 at the Rose Bowl.
“This is a great, special moment for me but at the same time you’ve got to move forward,” Ingram said. “We still have a national championship game to play in.”
He is the third consecutive sophomore to win the Heisman since Tebow became the first in 2007 and he will be the sixth winner in the last seven years to go on to play in the BCS national championship game.
Few college football teams can match Alabama’s history of success. The Crimson Tide dominated the Southeastern Conference for decades. With six AP national championships, only Notre Dame and Oklahoma have won more. But at Alabama, it’s a coach who has towered over the program more than any player.
Bear Bryant led some of college football’s greatest players — from Joe Namath to John Hannah, Ken Stabler to Ozzie Newsome — but never had a player even finish in the top three of the Heisman voting over his more than three decades at Alabama.
“The legacy of Alabama football certainly had a void filled,” Tide coach Nick Saban said.
David Palmer, the shifty receiver and return man, was third in the Heisman voting in 1993, the best finish by a Crimson Tide player.
No major college program had won more games without a Heisman winner.
“Everybody that’s been in the Alabama family has been supporting me,” Ingram said before hoisting the bronze statue. “Walking to class, students flashed me the Heisman pose.”
Now he can take his place among Alabama’s greats and the Paul W. Bryant Museum has a new piece of a hardware to display.
“I’m sure it’ll be in the trophy cases with all those national championships and all the other awards people have won,” he said later.
The announcement that Ingram had won came minutes before the Alabama men’s basketball team was set to host No. 5 Purdue, prompting an immediate roar from the mostly full Coleman Coliseum.
Even though the presentation wasn’t shown on the videoboard, fans instantly found out the news. The public-address announcer congratulated Ingram early in the game, bringing another big ovation. One young fan sat at courtside sporting a 22 jersey — Ingram’s number — with “Heisman” across the top.
By midway through the first half, Heisman T-shirts were already on sale at the arena.
Ingram came to Tuscaloosa from Flint, Mich., the son of the former Michigan State and NFL receiver of the same name. Saban had been a coach at Michigan State when the elder Ingram was in college.
Mark Ingram Sr. starred for the New York Giants, but last year he was sentenced to almost eight years in prison. Then he did not show up at the federal prison in Kentucky to serve his sentence, which might cost him even more time.
He was found hiding out in a Michigan hotel the same day his son played Utah in the Sugar Bowl last season. He has been serving his time in a New York City holding facility, where he’s been able to watch his son play.
“My father has been a great influence on my life and I love him to death,” Ingram said on the podium.
The father has seen his son quickly blossom into a feature back. As a freshman last season, Ingram was Bama’s No. 2 back, with a nose for the goal line. He ran for 728 yards and a team-high 12. This season, he’s been the best weapon on an offense with a first-year starting quarterback and a rebuilt offensive line.
And he’s been at his best against most of Alabama’s best competition. He opened the season with 150 yards rushing and two TDs against Virginia Tech, had 172 yards rushing at Mississippi, and set a Bryant-Denny Stadium record with 246 yards versus South Carolina.
In what was billed as the year of the quarterback — with Tebow, McCoy and last year’s Heisman winner Sam Bradford — all returning to college, Ingram emerged as the Heisman front-runner at midseason.
His only poor game, a 30-yard rushing performance against Auburn on Nov. 27, came at the worst time and in front of a national television audience.
But with the Tide playing in the biggest game of the season, a No. 1 vs. No. 2 SEC championship against Florida, Ingram had one more chance to impress voters — and he delivered.
Crimson Tide fans like to say their team is about winning championships, not Heismans.
Thanks to Ingram, Alabama might get both this season.