ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Eric Ebron wanted to pay tribute to “The Greatest.” Ebron also wanted to have yet another way to remember his own grandfather.
So after Ali passed away in June following a long battle with Parkinson’s syndrome, Ebron reached out to his cleat designer, DeJesus Customs, to find a way to honor the man who had done so much for so many both in the sports world and outside of it.
It’s how he helped come up with the custom cleat design he was wearing Saturday: gray Nikes with red boxing gloves designed on the front of both shoes. He had his number, 85, on the back heel of the cleats and had one of Ali’s quotes -- “Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee" -- written on the gold swoosh.
Ebron felt he had to pay tribute.
“He kind of reminds me of the attitude you should have through sports, you know,” Ebron said. “It’s to believe in yourself, no matter what no one says. No matter what no one does, you’re always just believing in yourself. Muhammad Ali said he was ‘The Greatest’ before he was.
“That’s how you should look upon anything that you’re gonna do. You should be great at it, even before you are great at it. Because then you’re just talking it into existence.”
Ebron said he has incorporated that mindset into how he played in college and with the Detroit Lions, as he enters his third NFL season. The 23-year-old tight end made progress from his rookie year to his second season, almost doubling his receptions and more than doubling his receiving yardage. He’s hoping for a breakout year in season No. 3.
But honoring Ali on his cleats was personal, as well. Ebron’s grandfather, whom he credits as one of the reasons he plays football, died when Ebron was 10 years old. Like Ali, his grandfather suffered from Parkinson’s. And creating the cleats was one way to both honor someone he considers a legend and also to help bring more awareness to the disease.
“That is kind of like dear to my heart, man,” Ebron said. “And so I pay tribute to really both of them, to do something that I can relate to my profession with.”
Last season, Ebron and Lance Moore wore Christmas-themed cleats on Monday Night Football against the New Orleans Saints. Both players were fined for wearing the cleats, but Ebron auctioned the cleats off for charity to help with Parkinson’s research. He also has previously helped raise money for The Michael J. Fox Foundation.