From prop bet to Super Bowl champion? Ted Ginn Jr.'s opportunity

Charles Robinson
·NFL columnist

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Among Super Bowl prop bets, it's the elephant sitting at the crossroads of reality and ridicule.

"Ted Ginn. Dropped passes."

You can gamble on a lot of things in the Super Bowl, but few are so taunting and opinionated as those wagering on the hands of the Carolina Panthers wideout, which were statistically among the worst in the NFL this season. When Bovada released it's oddball prop bets leading into Super Bowl 50, Ginn's was simple: Would he drop a pass? The odds offered made it clear the wagering site believed it was more probable than not. This is what happens when you drop nine passes against only 44 receptions – including a few wide-open touchdowns. The biggest stage of your career becomes a gambling sneer. Or your name gets plugged into a search engine and returns a minefield of clickable results like "Good Ted Ginn, bad Ted Ginn" and "Ted Ginn's a ball-dropper, but he makes plays, too."

This is the wave of Ted Ginn's NFL life. One wipeout after another has brought him to this Sunday – a fragile career opportunity to wipe away years of sour memories. As long as he can keep his hands wrapped around it.

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"Ted Ginn can play football," Ginn said this week, responding to a question about what the Panthers have discovered in him this season. "He can catch. He can run. He can do route-running. He can do everything that they say he can't. … I've been fighting since I stepped in this thing. Nine years in, I've been trying to make a team and stay on a team. That's just what it is. I never forget my talent or who I am. I just wait until I can showcase it. And this is the year I did it."

Ted Ginn Jr. had 44 catches and 10 touchdowns this season. (Getty Images)
Ted Ginn Jr. had 44 catches and 10 touchdowns this season. (Getty Images)

It's been a frustrating road for Ginn, arriving to the NFL as the Miami Dolphins' first round pick in the 2007 draft (ninth overall) and then spending the majority his career as a middling journeyman. It included wince-inducing stops with the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals, as well as two seasons in Carolina (2013 and this year). Inside of that twisting path, Ginn realized nearly $26 million in career earnings, despite being characterized as a soft, drop-prone wideout whose Olympic-class speed earned him second and third chances.

None of that is news to Ginn, of course. He heard it all. Right up to the 2015 training camp, when Panthers No. 1 wideout Kelvin Benjamin went down with a knee injury and the sky began to fall in Charlotte. While Carolina's march to a 17-1 record might have obscured some of that summer panic, it failed to erase Ginn's ability to recall a general malaise that developed whenever someone began to talk about the Panthers wide receiver position.

"We understood that we were a whole bunch of misfits and different things like that," Ginn said. "The 'We don't have a receiving corps' [talk] – yeah, we heard it. But we knew what we had in the room. And collectively we came together as a group to make it work. That's all you can do."

It's on this point that Ginn likes to put his foot in the ground. He has long fashioned himself as a fighter of sorts when it comes to certain aspects of his life and football career. He talks openly about his early childhood, when he struggled to read and comprehend lessons in school – until his parents and teachers embraced an Individualized Education Program that would pave a scholastic path to college. He talks emotionally about his father's pancreatic cancer diagnosis in 2012, which delivered a one-year survival rate of 20 percent while robbing Ted Ginn Sr. of portions of various vital organs.

When Ginn recalls that period, he'll give you some statistics that matter. Digits like 65 (the number of days his father spent in the hospital) or six (the number of surgeries that took place in that timespan). Those kinds of things tend to put dropped football totals or lackluster receiving yards in check.

"I watched my father [fall] down from 2005 to 2011," Ginn said. "I didn't know if he was going to come up out of it. I was getting phone calls and different things where it might be his last [moments]. You just didn't know. The doctors didn't know what to do. It got real. … He got extra time.

Ginn is under contract with the Panthers through next season. (Getty Images)
Ginn is under contract with the Panthers through next season. (Getty Images)

"Everything sharpens you in life," Ginn said. "…You just go out man, and you just fight. That's all you can do. Everything happens for a reason. There's always going to be a setback somewhere."

For Ginn on a football field, there were many. And they were widely publicized over the years. He never appeared fully developed with the Dolphins, and the fan base turned on him quickly. He was rarely used in San Francisco. He had a solid season in 2013 with Carolina, but allegedly reached for too much financially when it came time to go back to the negotiating table. That led to one little-used year in Arizona, before Ginn made his return to the Panthers, where he has reunited with Cam Newton – the only quarterback who has thrown him a touchdown pass in the past five years.

Now he's coming off arguably his best season as a professional, with 739 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns, and a special teams acumen that has placed him as a top priority for the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50.

"He's a big focal point for us," Broncos special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said. "We have to control him. We know he's given them some short fields throughout the year and especially during the playoffs. It's going to be important to control him. … You're going to have to make sure that you take some balls away from him. If we punt it six times, he can't touch it all six times."

Of course, that says nothing of Ginn's receiving contributions. He's expected to draw Broncos No. 1 cornerback Aqib Talib, who may be the only Denver player with the speed to keep up with Ginn on the deep routes that have opened up so much of Carolina's offense this season. At one point this week, Talib said it was Ginn – and not tight end Greg Olsen – who gave Newton the ability to shift the entire momentum of a game. Such respect was hard to come by for much of the season for both Ginn and the rest of his positional peers. And Newton admitted as much when the week kicked off.

"Those guys have been playing lights out since Day One, to say the least," Newton said. "From Ted Ginn, who was a bust for so many people. I heard Jerricho Cotchery was washed up 10 years ago. Philly Brown had no hands. Devin Funchess was too high of a pick for the Carolina Panthers. Brenton Bersin – who knows who he is? … We didn't let anyone else dictate to us what we knew we were capable of. It's a very close-knit group and guys selling out for each other."

But if one is selling out more than the rest, it's Ginn. He's under contract through next season – a year in which Benjamin is expected to return and take back the No. 1 receiver role that Ginn now resides in. Turning 31 this offseason, there's no telling what comes after 2016. And Ginn knows that better than anyone.

"I can't even worry about that now," he said. "It's still football season. I'm still the frontrunner. I hate to say it like that, but that's what it is. Until that time comes, I'm going to go in and do what I need to do and help my team.

"I'm not here for a storyline. I want to win a championship."

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