BIRMINGHAM _ It was a "Who's Who" collection of Alabama sports dignitaries, including those being honored and others enjoying just attending. Even a couple of inductees into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame were on hand Sunday evening, standing in the vicinity of their induction plaques, yet all eyes were on the man in the light green suit and white shoes.
Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram commands that type of presence now, although his body language and attitude remain like before winning college football's most prestigious award in December. While everything around him may have changed no would know it by talking with the 20-year-old.
"This is a special award," Ingram said before being named the Alabama Sports Writer Association's 2009 Amateur Athlete of the Year. "Anytime you get an award you should be grateful and thankful. There's several athletes that were probably deserving of this award. It's just an honor to be here tonight."
Ingram really didn't have to. He could have let someone else accept the award for him, avoided the unnecessary attention and certainly didn't need to meet again with reporters - especially on the night the investigative story regarding a fishing trip by he and teammate Julio Jones was named the state's sports story of the year.
Yet there he was, posing for pictures with the high school softball player for the year, showing off one of his national championship rings (the big silver BCS one) and even signed a handful of autographs. All three have become regular fixtures in his life.
"It feels like millions, but I'm sure it hasn't been that many," he said of the signatures and pictures alone, never mind the requests for his time.
What an amazing few months it's been for the running back, who gave a heart-felt speech after being named the Crimson Tide's first Heisman and then enjoyed cradling the crystal football in the Rose Bowl. There was also a visit to the White House with teammates and the proposed renaming of a Michigan highway in his honor (although it doesn't run through SEC territory). Even a simple visit home was anything but normal with Flint holding a massive celebration last month.
"We've had Jackie Robinson, Jessie Owens, Jack Dempsey, presidents of the United States. This is right up there, and this, in fact, might be number one," Judge Duncan Beagle, chairman of the Atwood Stadium Authority, was quoted as saying before the new scoreboards were unveiled and included: "Home of Mark Ingram II, 2009 Heisman Trophy Winner."
"It was just to get home and relax, to be with family and friends," Ingram said. "The city showed me a lot of love, the state did too. The celebration was just crazy."
Of course, it also included his Heisman, which has otherwise been on display in a very fitting place for the low-key running back, on his mother's kitchen table.
"It goes from the kitchen table to the floor. Sometimes we play spades so it has to get out of the way," Ingram admitted. "I think my mom said she found a nice stand that she saw when she shopping so it'll have a permanent home soon."
Who knows where the other awards may end up, all accepted with the kind of graciousness and humility that has unfortunately become rare, and helped Ingram become the ideal representative for much more than the university. Even Sunday there was no attempt to attract attention, self-glorification or talk of what his eventual Hall of Fame display case might include.
Just a simple "Thank you."
... along with a little football talk, of course. Ingram disclosed that he doesn't like wearing his Sugar Bowl ring because the Crimson Tide lost, dodged a question about whether this will be his last season like he would a tackler ("That's what I do best") and said that things are beginning to calm down with summer workouts already underway on the Capstone.
"I think this is the most important part in our team building chemistry, us getting shape so we can play championship-level football," Ingram said. "We're all focused in."