NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — As good as it is, his story should be better. As nice as it may be, his moment should be sweeter.
Even for Mark Ingram, a guy on the verge of conquering college football, the celebration should be more complete.
Those wasted moments that Ingram will never know may add up to the biggest loss of this year's BCS Championship Game. No matter how good Ingram is on Thursday night, no matter how many yards he gains, the night will never be as good as it could have been if only his father had used better sense along the way.
The story as it should have been has been stripped away from Ingram, this year's Heisman Trophy winner. In an alternate reality, this would have been one of those ultimate father-and-son moments, where the dad slaps his son on the shoulder and tells him how good he was when he played in a Super Bowl, and where the son shakes his head and tells him how much better a player he is going to be.
Instead, they are separated by distance, by circumstance and most of all, by a prison wall.
Instead, Mark Ingram Sr. will jockey for position with the rest of the inmates of the Queens (N.Y.) Private Correctional Facility for Thursday's game.
"He's a good guy," the younger Ingram said Tuesday, his voice one notch above a whisper. "People think he's a bad guy because some of the mistakes he's made, but he's really a great guy. I don't think anyone who knows him would tell you any differently."
Along the way, there may be a judge or two who disagrees. Ingram, who played receiver, is awaiting sentencing for bank fraud, for money laundering, for failure to report for his prison date. Ingram, who won a Super Bowl in Tampa when the Giants beat the Bills when his son was 2, is a long way from the cheering.
His son is not.
Ingram the younger sits on a podium in the corner of a crowded ballroom Tuesday morning, the camera lights in his eyes, a smile on his face. He speaks in the same manner he runs, straightforward and quick, darting here and there. It is only when a question is asked about his father that you see something different. You see him flinch.
"It isn't that I mind talking about it," Ingram said. "It's just that some questions are worse than others. I don't think some questions are necessary to be asked.
"When I'm running the ball, he's in my heart and he's in my spirit. Whatever joy I bring to him is important. Since I was little, everything I know about football I've learned from him. How to hold it. How to catch it. How to throw it. How to cut on my outside foot, because if you cut on your inside foot, you'll slip. Stuff like that."
Sadly, there have been other lessons, too. In 2001, the elder Ingram was caught with $3,200 of counterfeit bills. In 2004, he spent a year in jail after stealing a credit card. In 2008, he was sentenced to 92 months after bank fraud and money laundering charges. He didn't show up for his reporting date because, he has said, his son's team was playing in the Sugar Bowl the next day.
If the elder Ingram is guilty of anything, however, it is the moments that were stolen from his son this week. These should be the best moments for them both. Instead, it is the son who is left to explain his father's behavior.
Despite it all, Ingram refers to his father as his best friend. He talks glowingly about their bond. Several times a week, he gets a collect call from him. As often as he is asked, he talks about his father without judging him.
And, at some point in the interview, you realize the story is not about the father's failings. It is about how a son continues to care in spite of them.
Despite the comparisons to Emmitt Smith, despite the comparisons to Adrian Peterson, despite the big trophy in the middle of his mom's kitchen table, this is the thing most special about Ingram. Perhaps this is where he learned that uncanny balance. Perhaps this is where he learned to absorb a hit and keep running (after all, more than half of his yardage has come after first contact). Perhaps this is where he learned about perseverance.
There are those who will tell you that, talent for talent, receiver Julio Jones is a better football player than Ingram. Maybe linebacker Rolando McClain, too. Maybe even tackle Terrence Cody.
In the big moments, however, Ingram was the difference-maker for the Tide. He was unstoppable against Florida. Against South Carolina, he took the game onto his shoulders made sure the Tide wouldn't lose.
Thursday night, he tries one more time when he takes on the Longhorns, the Heisman Jinx and a chance at the national title. For the son, there is still a lot to gain.
Yeah, it would be a nicer moment if his father were here. Sometime during the game, perhaps he will realize how much he has lost.