If running back Mark Ingram can dominate Florida's defense, Alabama can own famed trophy for first time
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - The Paul W. Bryant Museum on the campus of the University of Alabama has everything from a Waterford crystal houndstooth hat to 15,000 cans of 16-millimeter game film to the couch and desk from Bryant's old office.
Alabama's football history is so rich and treasured that the museum employs seven people full time, four part time and six to eight students each semester.
But amid this history, which includes claiming 12 national championships and more than 90 all-Americans, there is something missing:
No Alabama player has won a Heisman Trophy.
"I didn't know that," Florida coach Urban Meyer said. "Wow. That blows my mind."
Alabama running back Mark Ingram appeared poised to end that streak, but last week he was shut down by Auburn and gained 30 yards on 16 carries. He also sustained a hip pointer that kept him out of Alabama's winning drive.
With the Heisman race wide open and Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, the 2007 winner, coming off his best game of the season, a layer has been added to Saturday's long-awaited showdown in Atlanta between No. 1 Florida and No. 2 Alabama for the Southeastern Conference championship.
While Texas quarterback Colt McCoy is the Heisman leader heading into the final regular-season weekend, both Ingram and Tebow have the big-stage game to leave a final impression on voters. This is certainly a better fate than the fourth likely Heisman finalist, Toby Gerhart, who will be home on the couch at Stanford.
"If we lose, it'll be a lot more that we lose than the Heisman," Tebow said. "That's a great thing and the sad thing about games like this. This is a big game, it really is a semifinal game and two of the best teams in the country."
From Joe Namath to Bart Starr, there have been plenty of iconic Crimson Tide players. For most of the season, Ingram prepared to carve his niche in Alabama lore. He has averaged 119.1 yards a game, but he put up his best numbers in Alabama's biggest games. His Heisman buzz began with 246 yards against South Carolina on Oct. 17, and he also had 150 against Virginia Tech and 144 against Louisiana State.
But his clunker against Auburn came at the worst possible time.
"Rip off the rear-view mirror," Ingram said this weekend. "We're getting ready for Florida, that's all that matters."
A huge game against the nation's top defense in both points allowed and total defense could propel Ingram back into the race. A big game by Tebow could vault him past McCoy despite a statistically mediocre season.
Tebow is eighth in the SEC in passing yards per game, but leads the conference in passing efficiency and rushing touchdowns. He finished strong, completing 70 percent of his passes with no interceptions in the past five games.
That finishing kick coincided with Tebow's recovery from a concussion Sept. 26 against Kentucky. When Tebow returned two weeks later to play at LSU, he said Meyer told him they were going to stay conservative and protect him.
"Coach Meyer was saying that to me the whole game, 'We're going to manage, we're going to be conservative, we're going to win this game with great defense,' " Tebow said.
Tebow laughed when telling the story of how he got creamed early on in the LSU game by a corner blitz, and his backup, John Brantley, told him after the drive, "You could hear a pin drop on the headset."
Steve Addazio, the Florida offensive coordinator, Meyer and Tebow all said the Gators played conservatively and did not spread the field as much so they could protect Tebow. After the Gators flashed a cadre of five-wide sets against Florida State on Saturday, Addazio said, "It's just us going back to Florida."
Ingram and Tebow are expected to head to New York as finalists. If Ingram does run over Florida and pick up enough momentum to win the trophy, it will be Alabama's first Heisman, but the second one on its campus. The 1957 Heisman won by John David Crow under Bryant at Texas A&M sits to the right of the entrance to the Bryant museum. Crow's family donated the Heisman to the museum.
Since the museum itself is a timeline of Alabama football, the trophy does not really fit, said the museum director, Kenneth Gaddy. Too good to tuck in the archives, Crow's Heisman is left at the entrance. But if Ingram brought a Heisman to Tuscaloosa, Gaddy would find room for it.
"Certainly it would be a nice award, not only for Mark, but for his teammates," Gaddy said. "And the fans would certainly enjoy it and embrace that award."