The rise and fall and rise again of Ted Ginn Jr.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Two catches ... 1 yard ... 13 games. That was the entirety of Ted Ginn Jr.'s contribution to the San Francisco 49ers' offense in 2012, when his once-promising career bottomed out.

Back then, the wide receiver was hearing concerns from everyone: his wife, friends and total strangers. Many of them came from back home in Cleveland. Locals wanted to know why Ginn -- football's version of LeBron James in the area, the city's highest offensive draft pick since Desmond Howard -- wasn't catching more passes.

Ginn's mind was elsewhere. His father's pancreatic cancer had worsened, and in December 2012, Ginn received a call from his family suggesting he get home quickly. "This might be it," he remembered. Dad had been in a coma for a few days. Ginn flew home and arrived at Cleveland Clinic around 6 a.m., a convenient time, considering no one was awake to ask him about football. In the previous months, Ginn had bemoaned to his father the helplessness he felt on the field. Ted Ginn Sr. didn't have the strength to talk much, with tubes in his nose and a family member holding the phone, and he was left to hear the crying without a father's guidance in return. Now, Ginn was preparing to say goodbye.

When Ginn entered the hospital room, Dad perked up. "Do y'all know who that is?" Ted Ginn Sr., an accomplished high school coach in the area, asked the nurses while sporting an ear-to-ear smile. "That's my boy."

Dad beat the odds. He has been in recovery for about three years.

"Haven't seen him drop since then," the younger Ginn said.

Son is rewarding that health with the best play of his football career. Sure, Ginn's career resurgence in Carolina -- with 10 receiving touchdowns this year, more than his previous seven seasons combined -- assuages the burden of being a former No. 9 overall pick with underwhelming career numbers.

But it does more than that. Ginn is also fulfilling the promise the people of Cleveland saw in him long ago, with a collective dab for those who doubted him during the down times.

"This is about the happiest I've seen the kid in a long, long time," Ginn Sr. said.

BEFORE GINN JR.'S rise and fall and rise again, he was just a scrawny kid who stole candy from his dad's beverage shop. This was East Cleveland, where crime remains rampant in parts. Ginn said he lost friends to drive-by shootings, with young and misguided males trying to take over the area.

But Ginn and his buddies had the East side glinting with pride in the mid-2000s. Ginn, Browns safety Donte Whitner and Troy Smith played for Glenville High School, coached by Ginn Sr., a former factory worker and shop owner who worked his way through the local coaching scene. At the time, Cleveland's main attractions were watching LeBron James hoop at St. Vincent-St. Mary High in nearby Akron, then catching the "Glenville boys" run track and play football. Ginn was a top-shelf sprinter and hurdler out of high school and was actually a top defensive recruit too. Between dad and son, the Ginns were a Cleveland franchise.

"Everywhere you go in Cleveland, you know who the Ginns are," said Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, a Cleveland native who recruited Ginn to Ohio State while on Jim Tressel's staff. "Ted is a big, big deal there. He has always known what it takes. That's why you can't ever count him out."

Some did. Ginn was productive, with 790 yards, in his second season in Miami, which drafted him over Brady Quinn in 2007, despite an obvious quarterback need. But after three seasons, the team traded Ginn to San Francisco for a draft pick, which reduced him to special teams work for much of the next five years.

In 2013, Ginn found a landing strip in Carolina and enjoyed mild success (556 receiving yards). He eventually landed a three-year, $9.75 million deal with the Cardinals, who cut him after one season and limited receiver reps. Ginn admitted to Carolina reporters that he chased a payday in Arizona.

"Everywhere you go in Cleveland, you know who the Ginns are. Ted is a big, big deal there. He has always known what it takes. That's why you can't ever count him out." Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, who recruited Ginn to Ohio State

For years, the otherworldly expectations from back home worked together with his decreased NFL production to rip Ginn at his core. Nevermind that Ginn's primary quarterbacks in Miami were Cleo Lemon, Chad Pennington and Chad Henne. Ginn got the label of the NFL's fastest draft bust, a sprinter doing a poor impersonation of a wide receiver. Drops were a common problem.

"It was a lot," Ginn said. "People trying to figure out situations where it might not be looking right with [me], and you feel some blame. You get a lot of feedback from people. They think you're doing something that you're not doing. In the back of your mind, you're just going to work, and there's nothing different with you. They feel you should be doing this or that."

Ginn kept working the route tree until the Panthers again offered him a branch this offseason. It was the first time in a while, Ginn said, that he felt a team genuinely believed in his all-around game. With seven career kickoff/punt return touchdowns, Ginn always added value on special teams. Now he wanted more.

That was no guarantee when Carolina re-signed him. Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen were the primary receiving options. Ginn provided depth. But Benjamin's tearing his ACL in the preseason left Carolina needing a receiver to stretch the field -- Ginn's specialty.

Ginn's resurgence is an amalgam of good fortune, opportunity, eagerness and speedy playmaking holding up at age 30. The way Ginn sees it, he has been waiting patiently for liftoff. He didn't want to see Benjamin leave, but he admits the injury emboldened him.

"Any time Ted Ginn plays and you really let him play, something good goes on with your team," he said. "[Carolina] knew who I was as a person and a player. They were able to put me in situations where I excel. They had my back, and I had theirs. I've always been a receiver. I just think in other people's eyes, they can say I'm a receiver now."

GINN'S LOCKER IS a few spots from Cam Newton's, so when explaining his team-leading 16.8 yards per catch, he subtly nods his head in the direction of his quarterback. "Get open," he said, "and he'll do the rest."

Make no mistake: The receiver deserves credit for evolving too. After playing with Ginn at Ohio State, Panthers safety Kurt Coleman knew Ginn's explosion would never be the issue. But lately, he has noticed a more refined player.

"He has perfected his route-running," Coleman said. "He's a widely used weapon now."

The drops haven't completely gone away. Ginn bungled 7.4 percent of his targets this season, tied for seventh-worst in the league, but this time around, his big-play ability is offsetting those mistakes.

More importantly to Ginn Sr., his son is playing with the freedom of a game-changer. Ginn got labeled a passive receiver when he was "just trying not to cause a ripple" and being a good teammate, Ginn Sr. said. When Ginn ran routes as fast as he could, Ginn Sr. said, the perception was he didn't know what he was doing out there. Really, he was trying to be explosive and was maybe a bit overeager.

It's different in Carolina.

"He has blossomed in that atmosphere. He thrives off relationships," Ginn Sr. said. "All he wants to do is serve teammates and coaches. [Carolina] recognizes who he is as a player and a person."

According to the Ginn family, East Cleveland is buzzing over the Panthers' Super Bowl appearance like it's a Cavs playoff game. Dad is healthy enough to fly to Santa Clara for the game. He gets biannual checkups and feels occasional pain, but he is still coaching football at Glenville.

After Ginn got the game ball from Panthers coach Ron Rivera in the NFC Championship Game -- he caught two passes for 52 yards and scored a rushing touchdown -- Tucker texted Ginn Sr. that Ginn's hands were just fine. They had both heard the criticisms for years.

Now? Ginn is one signature performance away from silencing the doubters for good.

Win or lose, Ginn will return to Cleveland, where he is still viewed by many as the embodiment of the NFL dream. It's a role he savors.

"I'm still an example for the people there," Ginn said. "That feels good. If I can get on TV and show young players how it's done, then I'm going to do that."