What if I told you: that the starting RB for the New Orleans Saints, in the prime of his professional career at the age of 27 and who averaged 5.1 yards per carry last season; was not only one of the most disrespected players in the NFL, but also even one of the most disrespected players on the team that he plays for --- by the supporters from his OWN fan-base?
With apologies to the folks at ESPN who produce the made-for-TV "30 For 30" series, I'm using that "What if I told you" catch-phrase that they've recently made famous, to illustrate one of the most head-scratching and inexplicable cases of hatred for any professional athlete, in recent memory.
However -- it's one thing when supporters from the other 32 NFL teams demonstratively show their contempt for an opponent from another team, that in their eyes is that Sunday's "enemy" on Game Day.
But it's a whole other different thing entirely when nearly half of your own fans dislike you --- and for no apparent good reason other than to simply say that "he hasn't done enough".
Now grant it, perhaps 953 carries for 4,238 yards (a 4.4 yards per carry average) and 32 total TD's in 6 NFL seasons isn't what some Saints fans had hoped for when the Saints traded back into the 1st round of the 2011 NFL Draft (with the New England Patriots) to draft the Heisman Trophy winning running back out of Alabama.
To be fair, an argument can be made that Ingram hasn't lived up to his "full potential".
No one has confused him recently with some of the more productive RB's in the League, such as Pittsburgh Steelers RB La'Veon Bell or Tennessee Titans RB DeMarco Murray.
But it's also fair to say that Ingram for one reason or another since being drafted by New Orleans, hasn't ever been given a true opportunity to be "the guy" or the team's #1 RB in his entire time in the Saints offensive line-up.
Which is exactly why last year appeared to be a 'breakthrough' season for the former two-time All-American RB; as Ingram finally broke the mythical 1,000 yards rushing in a season barrier on a professional career high 205 carries (with 6 TD's), while averaging 5.1 yards per carry --- which included 3.53 per carry AFTER contact by a defender in 2016.
But, to no avail.
Ingram STILL can't get any respect from most fans of the other 32 teams in the NFL, who consider him to be an "average to below average" running back.
Even worse, he can't get any respect from a large portion of his own fans in New Orleans --- and the recent signing of Adrian Peterson in free agency and the selection of University of Tennessee RB Alvin Kamara in the 3rd Round of the recent 2017 NFL Draft (which the Saints gave up a #2 pick in next year's Draft to San Francisco to get), has only convoluted Ingram's current standing among fans from both sides even further.
With the recent additions of Peterson and Kamara, it's given fans outside of New Orleans (like Philadelphia Eagles fans, who want to see their team trade for Ingram to upgrade their team's current RB situation) the false narrative or prevailing notion that Ingram has been "demoted" or has become expendable, since they believe that the new additions will push Ingram down the depth chart of the Saints offense --- which actually ISN'T the case.
Meanwhile, for some fans in New Orleans or who are a part of the "Who Dat Nation" fan-base, the desire is to see Peterson -- a 4-time All-Pro and generally regarded as THE GREATEST RB of this current generation of NFL players -- be named the brand new starter / #1 RB in the team's offense by head coach Sean Payton.
However, just as with the likelihood of Ingram being traded to Philadelphia, the chance that Peterson replaces Ingram on the depth chart at least as of right now, is nearly as unlikely.
Why is that?
It's pretty simple, actually.
Though it did take him a while to "get going" for some impatient Saints fans after they traded up to take him 6 years ago, Ingram has shown that he is indeed capable of being an "every down" RB in the NFL.
It's not his fault that Sean Payton has for the most part limited Ingram's total amount of carries in what obviously is a very heavy pass-oriented Saints offensive scheme.
And yet Ingram is already the 3rd greatest RB in the Saints' 51-year team history, and needs only 29 more yards rushing against the Vikings in Week #1 of the upcoming season, to pass former 1980's Saints RB George Rogers for the 2nd most rushing yards ever in the team record books.
Some have suggested other reasons why a sizable portion of Saints fans dislike Ingram, which include things such as his past history with nagging injuries that have seen him miss a handful of games over the course of the past several seasons (something completely beyond his control), which has earned him the false label (fair or unfair) of lacking toughness and being prone to injury at times.
Then of course there's also the popular theory that the "hate" for Ingram comes from a huge portion of Saints fans who are from the state of Louisiana, and therefore they're probably also huge LSU fans --- and they don't like Ingram because he played (and won back-to-back National Championships) under Nick Saban at SEC arch-rival Alabama.
And if all of that wasn't bad enough, then there was the #Week 15 incident at Arizona last season where Ingram "went off" on head coach Sean Payton on the sidelines, late in an eventual win over the Cardinals.
Ingram had been taken out of the game when the Saints offense was about to punch it in for the go-ahead score near the goal line, but then back-up running back Tim Hightower was given the goal line carry instead and ended up scoring the TD.
That appeared to infuriate Ingram, which resulted in him having a small "meltdown" on the sidelines and even exchanging words with Payton --- while the national TV cameras were rolling the entire time to document all of it.
“I'm real competitive in everything I do, man,” Ingram told members of the assembled media afterwards.
“So I gotta be smarter, gotta control my emotions better. But we had a great win as a team, and that's our No. 1 goal, and that's what I'm happy for -- that we're bringing a win back to New Orleans.”
Eventually Ingram did calm down and everything was right again in the world, after most people began to realize it for just what it was: a player who visibly wears his emotions on his sleeve, and is one of the few players in an Era full of bad role models and "prima donnas", that passionately plays every snap of the ball like it's his last one.
No one -- not ANYBODY -- can question Ingram's desire to be the very best at what he does.
But the "Ingram haters" throughout the Who Dat Nation pounced on the incident, and used it as fodder to further perpetuate their disdain for the player they believe is hurting the Saints offense more than he is helping it.
Yet now here we are a few months later as the Saints are about to begin to enter into the heart of their off-season training process for the upcoming 2017 NFL season, and those very same fans are showing their disdain once again.
The latest situation involving Ingram was the report that the Saints were exploring the possibility of trading him to the Philadelphia Eagles for center Jason Kelce, after it was revealed that the Saints would be without the services of their starting center Max Unger for a period of time following foot surgery for a lingering lisfranc injury.
Those rumors have been proven false however, and it seems as if they were simply more about the "wishful thinking" of Eagles fans that originally started on a fan site, rather than them actually being a real consideration on the part of Saints management.
Nevertheless, Ingram's detractors were out in full force yet again; specifically those same segment of Saints fans who still are insistent that Ingram is a detriment to the team, rather than a vital contributor who has proven his value to the Saints time and time again.
However, their perception doesn't quite seem to match up with the reality of the situation.
And the reality is that Mark Ingram --- until Sean Payton says that he is not --- remains the starting #1 RB for the New Orleans Saints, and he will be for the forseeable future, barring any serious injuries.
Those portion of Who Dats who for no good reason continue to "throw shade" on Ingram, won't want to hear that, but it's a fact.
Just like it's a fact that Ingram will play a key role in whatever success the Saints might accomplish in the upcoming 2017 season, and hopefully beyond 2017.
The blatant disrespect for Ingram by fans across the NFL and perhaps even more importantly, the disrespect from those fans who are in his "own backyard", needs to stop.