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Unique bond between Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara helps fuel New Orleans Saints

'I think just over time, the connection grew and man, it's just love'


This relationship shouldn't work or, at best, there's reason it shouldn't be much more than a professional-courtesy kind of respect.

For starters, one guy is married and a father, settled in as a seven-year veteran, the Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee for the New Orleans Saints, a player whose charitable work includes a Christmas shopping spree for children whose parents are incarcerated.

The other is a second-year phenom to whom the phrase "free spirit" would apply only if you raised it to the 41st power. His hair is in locks, he wears a bullring in his nose (including during the game), he'll sport a grill postgame, his red Christmas cleats look fashionable even though they don't remotely blend with his team's black and gold, and he's got enough swag – and influence – to have enticed Airheads to make a signature flavor for him.

Add in that their playing styles don't really match. The former guy runs with an anger that borders on menacing. True, he has enough speed to pop outside, get from zero to 60 and take it 70 yards and he often runs past defenders with ease. But he does real work inside the tackles better than most – he dragged a Tampa Bay defender to the end zone on a 17-yard touchdown run, as the defender clutched a handful of jersey and skidded on his back for the final five or six yards. And that has been key to his having 50 rushing touchdowns, a Saints franchise record.

The latter, glides. True, he'll get between the tackles and display a toughness that either people failed to recognize or acknowledge, and many of his single-season record, 14 rushing touchdowns came on dirt-under-the-fingernails runs. But in open space, against a single defender (or sometimes two), is where you see the magic: The deceleration and acceleration, the deceptive quicks, the ability to get the inside shoulder in front of a would-be tackler to eliminate the angle and gain an extra two, five, eight yards, the willingness to hurdle another human body with an ease that's breathtaking.

Third, and perhaps most significant, they play the same position and compete for touches. And if ever there was an issue that could lead to one player side-eyeing another, that registers high on the list.

This relationship shouldn't work.

But Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara love each other.

Sure, you'll hear the word "brotherhood" tossed about regarding the linking that occurs in a locker room, and "bonding" is another term of endearment. But Ingram and Kamara are different.

They conduct postgame interviews together. One can finish the other's sentence. When one succeeds, the other celebrates as if it's his accomplishment. When Ingram missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, no one greeted his return more gleefully than did Kamara.

It looks like it shouldn't work, but it does.

"I think it's just genuine," said Ingram, who not only is the franchise all-time leader in rushing touchdowns, but also has 55 career touchdowns, tied with Deuce McAllister for second on the Saints' all-time list, behind Marques Colston's 72. "Since he came in, we have kind of a connection, just because he had gone to Alabama (Kamara redshirted at Alabama in 2013 before going to transferring to a junior college and going to Tennessee) and we knew some of the same people.

"That kind of brought us together right there. And just the fact, there was never any animosity, and there could have been. Going back when it was me, him and Adrian (Peterson, at the beginning of 2017), there was never any animosity, never any jealousy or anything like that. I think everyone really helped each other out and just wanted to do what was best for the team. We didn't know how it was going to work out, but we just wanted to be prepared for it all and just put our best foot forward to help this team win games.

"We just became tight over the time. He sits next to me in film and we talk and help each other. I think just over time, the connection grew and man, it's just love. When you have someone that you're with all the time and you're working together all the time, but you're also competing for carries, it's like…we never had any issues.

"We've always shown love to one another, we've always been there for one another and I think that's just something, that brotherhood, that's going to last a lifetime. It goes deeper than this game. No matter what happens past this year or anything like that, I think that brotherhood will always be there just because it's genuine. It's hard to find genuine people that you just connect with on that level."

Kamara feels much the same way.

A significant portion of his team-leading 883 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns – tying Dalton Hilliard's single-season record, set in 1989 – were posted during Ingram's absence. But no one missed "Deuce-Deuce" more than his running partner, who doesn't at all mind sharing the load – and the connection – with Ingram.

"That's the way it happened," Kamara said. "I don't think it's a thing of where we're just teammates. It's like a brotherhood. We're close, as close when we leave here as we are when we're here. Like I've said since I've been here, that's helped me a lot since I've gotten in to the NFL. For him to be at the same position – different places in life, but definitely as close as anyone, anywhere.

"I think it's just genuine caring and support for each other. He wants me to do good and I want him to do good. I have thought it before, like, two running backs who are competing for the same position, the same touches. But we don't look at it like that. We just look at it like, as long as we're both doing what we need to do, the team will be successful."

The team has been just fine with a run game powered by Ingram and Kamara.

In the last two regular seasons, with the Saints winning consecutive NFC South Division titles (the first back-to-back division crowns in franchise history), the production of Ingram and Kamara has been a major factor for the success.

Together, they combined to rush for 1,852 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2017, and then posted 1,528 yards and 20 rushing touchdowns in '18. Separately, Ingram ran for 1,769 yards and 18 touchdowns over the two-year period, and Kamara ran for 1,611 yards and 22 touchdowns. In the two seasons, they also have combined to catch 241 passes for 2,121 yards and 10 touchdowns, with Kamara (162 catches, 1,535 yards, nine touchdowns) taking the lead.

In '17, they became the first Pro Bowl running backs from the same team since 1975.

They wouldn't have it any other way.

"I'm married and I have kids, and he's young and single, but I've been in his shoes before," Ingram said. "So anything he needs, he can reach out to me and I can help him through my experiences, through some of my successes and my failures. Just being a big brother, him being my little brother, us just being humans. If people care about each other – if people genuinely cared about one another – I think this world would be a better place.

"That's my dude, man. That's my guy. I don't know how we got that tight. It just happened over time and now we're tight. We're cool, and we're going to be like that forever."