The Beckett Blog

Does the Heisman Trophy make Mark Ingram the greatest player in Alabama football history? by Chris Olds

Alabama sophomore running back Mark Ingram became the first player in the storied history of Crimson Tide football to win the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night in New York City.

One now has to ask … does that make him Alabama’s greatest player ever?

It’s an easy question to answer as the Crimson Tide’s list of past legends is lengthy. It includes 20 members of the College Football Hall of Fame and seven members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Yet none of those other Alabama Crimson Tide players ever won the Heisman.

While most football fans who live south of the Mason-Dixon Line in Southeastern Conference territory know precisely who the legends produced by Alabama are, let’s quickly recap them … and see if we can answer that question.

The Pro Football Hall of Famers include Green Bay Packers legend Don Hutson (inducted in 1963), who finished his NFL career in 1945 with 99 touchdown catches. It was an NFL record that stood 44 years — and he held 17 other career marks.

Another Packers great, Bart Starr (1977 inductee), got his start with the Crimson Tide. But it was what Starr did after being a 17th-round draft pick of the Packers that made him a legend. He led Green Bay to the first two Super Bowl titles (and was the MVP of both games), six division titles and five NFL titles.

If it wasn’t for Joe Namath (1985 inductee), the Super Bowl might not be what it is today. His guarantee of victory over the heavily favored Baltimore Colts before Super Bowl III raised the ire of many — but his New York Jets’ victory raised the legitimacy of the American Football League when they delivered. In some ways, it’s hard to believe that “Broadway Joe” — one of sports’ first rebellious icons — got his start playing for Paul “Bear” Bryant, but anyone who knows their Alabama football history knows that Joe Willie Namath was a challenge in Tuscaloosa, Ala., as well. Namath is in many ways football’s Mickey Mantle, an icon of a generation.

Many experts called John Hannah (1990 inductee) the greatest offensive lineman of all time (his 1981 Sports Illustrated cover appearance did as well) and he also starred for the Crimson Tide well before becoming one of the NFL’s greats. He was a 10-time All-Pro for the New England Patriots and was named to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary Team.

For all of the players Bear Bryant ever coached, it was center Dwight Stephenson (1998 inductee) who the legend tabbed as the best. Stephenson also was considered the best center in the NFL during his career — which spanned just seven seasons for the Miami Dolphins.

Want another player who redefined his position in the NFL? Cleveland Browns tight end Ozzie Newsome (1999 inductee) is it. When he retired in 1990, he was the all-time leader among TEs in receptions, yards and touchdowns. His 662 receptions ranked fourth among all players. And he’s yet another Crimson Tide product.

The Crimson Tide’s final member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame is Derrick Thomas (2009), whose career was cut short by a fatal automobile accident in 1999. Before he was setting NFL sack records with the Kansas City Chiefs, he set a Crimson Tide record with 27 sacks in 1988 and finished his career with 52 — records that still stand.

While that list certainly dwarfs Ingram’s accomplishments, consider the Crimson Tide’s members of the college hall who aren’t in the pro hall. You might have heard of a few of them …

Paul “Bear” Bryant, a standout player for the Crimson Tide and a member of its fourth national championship-winning team in 1934, became the most successful coach in NCAA history with a record 323 victories, which included six of Alabama’s 12 national championships. To say he’s an icon in Alabama is an understatement. Countless books have been written about the man. While his win total has since been passed, here are more stats: He lost just 85 games in 37 years of coaching, compiled a 72-2-0 record in the stadium that bears his name, won 14 Southeastern Conference championships and led his teams to 29 bowl games (24 in a row at Alabama).

Cornelius Bennett, a star linebacker for the Buffalo Bills during the franchise’s run to four consecutive Super Bowls, also played for Alabama. Oh, and he played in a fifth with the Atlanta Falcons. Not too shabby, regardless of the results. But for all of his NFL success, one play at UA just might be his most memorable. After all, it’s been forever captured in a painting by accomplished artist Daniel Moore (art at end of video) and it’s one of a handful of moments known by a simple two-word phrase on campus, “The Sack.”

Lee Roy Jordan, a linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys’ Doomsday Defense and a member of the Cowboys’ Ring of Honor, starred for the Crimson Tide under Bryant as well. It’s not Canton, but it’s perhaps a bit more exclusive.

Johnny Mack Brown, a star of Alabama’s 1926 national championship team, went on to become a star of more than 120 westerns in Hollywood. It might be tough to find a Tide star besides perhaps Namath who could rival him off the football field. (After all, the man had his own comic books … )

The rest of the college Hall of Famers? Johnny Cain, Harry Gilmer, Frank Howard, Dixie Howell, Pooley Hubert, Vaughn Mancha, Johnny Musso, Billy Neighbors, Fred Sington, Riley Smith, coach Frank Thomas, coach Wallace Wade and Don Whitmire.

Now, granted, many of those stars are from long, long ago when the game was different, but that doesn’t mean that those are the only top players Ingram has to compare to in Crimson Tide history. In fact, more than 250 have gone on to play in the NFL.

Among the Tide’s other notable stars — some being guys who are pretty well known — are future Hall of Famer Shaun Alexander, DeMeco Ryans, Bobby Humphrey, Ken Stabler, David Palmer, Chris Samuels, George Teague, Barry Krauss (Remember “The Goal-line Stand”?), Marty Lyons, Bob Baumhower, John Copeland, Eric Curry, Brodie Croyle, Howard Cross, Cornelius Griffin, Wilbur Jackson, Antonio Langham, Sam Shade, Woodrow Lowe, Keith McCants, Mark McMillian, Don McNeal, Chris Mohr, Tony Nathan, Dwayne Rudd, Jeff Rutledge, Richard Todd, Kevin Turner, E.J. Junior, Jon Hand, Glen Coffee and countless others.

And that’s a list of players that doesn’t include the likes of Jay Barker and others who were stars in their own right at Alabama but didn’t make it far after college football.

So, does Ingram have a place in the history books at Alabama? Certainly — and he’s not done yet as just a sophomore.

He already set the Alabama single-season rushing record passing Bobby Humphrey, who obviously set it in fewer games, and can add to his 1,542 yards in the Rose Bowl as the undefeated Crimson Tide takes on Texas for the BCS title in January — its first national championship game appearance since the 1993 Sugar Bowl.

And we all remember the outcome of that game — and one play in particular, right? It’s another of those plays remembered with a simple phrase … “The Strip.”

Of course, Ingram can add to his legacy at Alabama in future seasons (at least one more for sure) before the next level of football will call. It will be interesting to see how that all plays out as there’s no questioning who the No. 1 player in Tuscaloosa is right now. Have you seen how the few Ingram items out there are selling on eBay? (And having seen the reaction to Shaun Alexander by fans on campus and at events like A-Day first-hand during his senior season, it will be very, very crazy for Ingram in the future.)

But for now, Ingram’s place in Alabama football lore is secure — whether he does a thing in the future or not. While he’s not (yet?) the best player in Crimson Tide history, he’s the latest in a long line of notable players for one of college football’s most-storied programs.

And he’s the only one that has a Heisman Trophy.

Chris Olds is the editor of Beckett Baseball and Beckett Graded Card Investor. Have a comment, question or idea? Send an e-mail to him at

2 Comments so far
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Hardly. He won it for being the BEST in 2009. Though he may be the first in Alabama history, there has been others that deserved it too. There has been some who made their fame in the NFL like Bart Starr, Joe Nasmath, Ken Stabler to name a few. Ingrams is good, but not the best by far.

Comment by del

The greatest player in Alabama football history is former QB Jay Barker. 35–2–1 as a starter, won a national championship, won the unitas golden arm award in ’94. he was also 5th in the voting for the Heisman that year

Comment by President Obama

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