Friday, February 01, 2013
Ted Ginn Jr., right, and his dad, Ted Ginn Sr., are sharing a special week in New Orleans. Ted Jr. is a kick returner for the 49ers who played for his dad at Glenville. Ted Sr. is fighting cancer, which kept him off the Glenville sidelines last fall.Roadell Hickman, The Plain Dealer
By Mary Kay Cabot, The Plain Dealer
February 1, 2013
NEW ORLEANS -- San Francisco 49ers safety and Cleveland native Donte Whitner, who will face the Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl on Sunday, pointed to a tattoo on his bulging forearm during a media session Thursday that read, "Thank God for Ginn."
The indelible mark on his arm -- and on his soul -- is a tribute to his former Glenville High School coach and father figure, Ted Ginn Sr., who has been battling pancreatic cancer since August and is in New Orleans to watch Whitner and his son, 49ers receiver Ted Ginn Jr., play in the biggest game of their lives.
"Teddy and I would not be here today at the Super Bowl without Ted Ginn Sr.," said Whitner, the 49ers' starting strong safety. "Ever since we were kids, Ted pushed us to get to where we are right now -- from Glenville to Ohio State to now. And to have him here with us after everything that he's been through this year makes it all the more special."
In late August, just before the start of the high school football season, Ginn Sr., who has transformed the lives of hundreds of inner-city kids at Glenville and Ginn Academy for underprivileged boys, was rushed to University Hospitals for emergency hernia surgery. During post-operative exams, his surgeon, Dr. Jeffrey Hardacre, discovered a tumor on Ginn's pancreas that was producing excess insulin.
Ginn, 57, quietly stepped away from the Glenville sideline to begin a journey of surgeries and recovery that has left him 55 pounds lighter and more grateful than ever to be alive. Hardacre removed the tumor in mid-October, but Ginn suffered a complication that required a follow-up surgery. Subsequently, he developed fluid in his lungs and had to undergo another procedure.
All told, he spent about 60 days in the hospital and was released just after Christmas.
"He's been to hell and back," Hardacre said. "It's a miracle how well he's recovered from a difficult post-operative course. But fortunately, he has a very good chance of being cured of his form of pancreatic cancer. If you're going to have one, it's the kind you want to have."
Ginn's voice is weak but his spirit is strong. He has spent the week in New Orleans, not far from where he was born and raised, relishing in the joy of Whitner and his son being in the Super Bowl.
"There's no question, I'm a walking miracle," he said. "I'm blessed to be here. The doctors called me their miracle man. If not for God's grace, I wouldn't be here. I have good days and bad days, but I wouldn't have missed this for the world."
For Ginn Jr., who mostly returns punts and kicks for the Niners, watching his dad enjoy the Super Bowl festivities has been the highlight of his week.
"I watched him [Tuesday at media day]," said Ginn Jr. "Just to watch him look around, he wanted to cry, but he couldn't. It's big. No matter what goes on, I'll be happy that I gave him this opportunity to experience this. It's a dream come true for him."
Ginn Jr. struggled to get through this season, knowing his dad was 2,200 miles away, fighting for his life.
"I was very, very afraid of losing him," Ginn Jr. said. "It was really tough knowing I couldn't get there, couldn't be there for him every day. That was the scary part."
At midseason, the 49ers gave him a couple of days off so he could fly home and be by his father's side after one of his surgeries.
"That kind of gave him the push to get back on his feet," Ginn Jr. said.
"Ted's visit was like a shot of medicine," Ginn Sr. said. "Certain people in your life are better for you than medicine, and that's what Ted is to me."
Ginn Jr. watched his dad, a father figure to so many and a rock in the community, fight hard in the hospital, even when he had no strength.
"He doesn't depend on anybody," Ginn Jr. said. "Everybody depends on him. He's so headstrong that, when they were telling [him] in [the hospital] he couldn't get up and walk, he was telling them he could. He showed us another side of himself. We had to watch him man up and toughen up. Him doing that, it made me be a better man."
Ginn Jr. knew how much it tortured his dad not being on the sidelines with his Tarblooders.
"I watched him miss his whole football season and my whole football season," he said. "I watched him miss football, period, from the high-school level to the pro level. He'll usually catch the Ohio State games, he'll usually catch my teams, so for us to be still standing -- and for him to be with us -- it's a blessing."
Ginn Jr. has watched his father endure so much this season that he wants him to quit coaching football.
"I want him to hang it up," Ginn Jr. said. "It's time. He's done everything he could possibly do. He's had 18 Division I scholarships, and he's had 22 kids go to Division 1 schools. He had at least two or three kids in the Big Ten at each school. He had at least seven, eight, nine kids in the NFL. He's done. There's nothing more for him to accomplish.
"I want him to go home and chill with my twins [2-year-olds Ted III and Kyrsten]. I want him to smell the roses, walk his dogs and kick rocks."
But for Ginn Sr,, whose Tarblooders are as much a ministry for saving lives as a football team, a return to the sidelines is one of the things that's been keeping him going.
"I just need to get a little stronger and get my endurance back," he said. "In a month or so, I'll be back at work."
Whitner, who was hit by a car at age 6 and was told he'd never walk again, will never forget how hard Ginn Sr. pushed him to get to this point.
"When I wanted to go right, he wanted me to go left," Whitner said. "He started me and Ted Ginn on the same program as young kids. We had personal trainers five days a week together, protein shakes, extra weight lifting. Ted would drive us to a hill . . . and make us run up and down. We wanted to go to the school dance, and he wouldn't allow it."
Ginn Sr. pushed them so hard that Whitner often told his mom, Deborah, that he wanted to quit.
"Then she'd call coach, and he'd come over and sit on my couch and tell me why I shouldn't quit and motivate me to go back to the gym and work out again. He's changed so many lives that you can't put a number on it. Every college coach in the country knows who Ted Ginn Sr. is and respects him."
Ginn Sr., who currently doesn't have to undergo chemotherapy or further treatment for his cancer, had a method to his madness for driving his son and Whitner.
"I kept them the whole day -- from 6 [o'clock] to 6," he said. "That was purposely done so they could play college football and have a chance to get to the NFL. This is the moment I expected for them and that they've trained for all of their lives."
But now, Ginn Sr. said, they have to close the deal and the win the game.
"If Ted and Donte win the Super Bowl, a lot of people in our community would benefit from it," he said. "It would mean everything. Think of how many more lives could be saved because so many kids look up to them. I want to make sure that the kids walking the streets of Cleveland are be inspired by Ted and Donte and know they can achieve their goals, too."
Someday, Ginn Jr. would like to return to Cleveland and coach football, although maybe not at Glenville, where the shoes to fill are enormous. He'd also like to carry on his dad's legacy and keep Ginn Academy going strong. But for now, Ginn Jr. and Whitner on are on a mission to win this game for Ginn Sr.
Ginn Jr. has vowed to play his heart out for his dad, and Whitner has dedicated the game to him.
"If we win this game," Ginn Jr. said, "I'll give my Super Bowl ring straight to him."