Fans in Miami once booed when Ted Ginn Jr. was drafted by the Dolphins in 2007—if they had it their way, general manager Randy Mueller would have drafted quarterback Brady Quinn. The wide receiver and return specialist spent two seasons with the Dolphins, before finding a home in San Francisco for the next three seasons.
During his 49ers tenure, Ginn served as the teams primary return man on punts and kickoffs—during the 2011 season opener against the Seahawks, he fielded a 102-yard kickoff return, and a 55-yard punt return, both for touchdowns. His skills were undervalued while in San Francisco, and Ginn soon found himself looking for a new home.
Ultimately landing in Arizona, he was discarded during the first year of a three-year contract with the Cardinals. Ginn made sure he left a lasting impression during the NFC Championship Game on the team which gave up on him.
During said game, he cemented his No. 1 status in the Panthers’ 49-15 victory over the Cardinals, where Ginn’s single rush of 22 yards scored a touchdown; he tacked on another two receptions for 52 yards, with a long of 39 yards. He nearly recorded a second touchdown on a punt return, but was stopped just short of the score. In his opinion, the Cardinals received his email, loud and clear.
“I felt like deep down inside that (the Cardinals) thought I couldn’t do it,” said Ginn. “They sent me back out to the wolves. But then (Panthers coach Ron) Rivera, (general manager Dave) Gettleman, (owner Jerry) Richardson, even (quarterback) Cam (Newton), they stood on the table and said, hey, we want this guy back. All I can do is go out and play as hard as I can.”
Leading up to the NFC Championship, Ginn appeared in 15 games this season for the Panthers, and has quickly become one of quarterback Cam Newton’s favorite targets—his 96 targets are second to Greg Olsen, and he has caught 44 of those passes for 739 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Ginn’s averaged 16.8 yards per reception and had 250 yards after the catch this year.
The man charged with returning Ginn to the top-10 draft status he once carried, Ron Rivera, has Bay Area connections of his own: he played college football at Cal, and Rivera’s hometown of Marina is just 35 miles up the road from Levi’s Stadium. His Golden Bear loyalty still exists, when asked if the Panthers would be practicing at rival Stanford Stadium, he promptly responded, “no, thank goodness.”
The Denver Broncos, whose general manager’s alma matter is Stanford, will practice on The Farm, Carolina will man the facilities at San Jose State.
Rivera was honored with the Professional Football Writers of America’s Coach of the Year award for the second time in his career this year, and is making his second trip to the big game as a coach—in 2006, he was a member of then-Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith’s staff, where the Bears fell to the Peyton Manning-led Indianapolis Colts. He won the Super Bowl as a linebacker with the 1985 Chicago Bears—and his methods are similar to those of Mike Ditka, whom coached those aforementioned ’85 Bears: “It’s hard to get to where we are right now. So he wanted us to enjoy the moment,” Rivera said to the Charlotte Observer. “I think the biggest thing too is do what you’ve done. Don’t change.”
Less than three months ago, Broncos tight end Vernon Davis housed a locker in the rooms of Levi’s Stadium. Football observers would by no means broadcast Davis as being a catalyst of the Broncos Super Bowl run—he hasn’t caught a single pass in either of Denver’s postseason wins, and just 20 catches for 201 yards in the final nine games of the regular season— but head coach Gary Kubiak sung his praises regardless.
“I think he only played somewhere between 12 and 15 plays yesterday, but just the fact that we’ve been able to get back to some two [tight end formations] and those types of things which kind of left us for a period of time through injury has helped us out,” Kubiak told reporters on Monday.
Kubiak shares the same connection to the Bay Area as Davis—he served as the 49ers quarterbacks coach when they won their last title in 1994.
David Barclay is an NFL Insider for byteclay.com. E-mail: email@example.com Twitter: @DJamesIII