LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles Rams players and coaches are sorting through all kinds of emotions following their Super Bowl 56 win over the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday night.
For Atlanta’s Grant Haley, his emotions are tied to remembering his hero and best friend who couldn’t watch the biggest game of his life.
Haley lost his father, Dr. Leon Haley, Jr., in a tragic accident days before NFL training camps began. After Sunday night’s win, Haley remembered his dad with a simple tweet: “Daddy we did it!”
Dr. Haley was the CEO for the University of Florida health system in Jacksonville. He was the first Black CEO, dean for the university’s college of medicine and beloved by many in the Florida community.
On July 24, 2021, Haley died in a jet ski accident near West Palm Beach. He was only 56 years old.
Haley told Channel 2 sports director Zach Klein before the big game that everything he does is in honor of his late father.
“He’s the reason I’m here today. I’m in this situation, in this position, because of the lessons and values my father taught me,” Haley said.
Haley’s journey to the Super Bowl started here in Atlanta. It was 2013 when the cornerback led the Lovett Lions to their first state championship in 43 years.
“Some of my fondest memories go to playing on the riverbank in high school in Atlanta. Winning a state championship with those guys, who are still some of my dearest friends cheering me on to this day. It doesn’t feel that long ago,” Haley told Klein.
His head coach Mike Muschamp calls Haley the best athlete the school has ever seen.
“The thing I like most about him, other than his demeanor and calmness, is hungry and humble. He never talked about himself hardly at all. He was probably the best athlete ever here but he was also arguably the hardest worker we had as well,” Muschamp told Klein.
Haley earned a scholarship to Penn State. However he would go undrafted after graduating. But he never gave up on his dream on playing in the NFL.
“It’s been an ultimate up-and-down journey. One of perseverance, one of battling through adversity. Maybe being undrafted, overcoming the odds to get on the roster and get the opportunity to play. Ultimately you get up to what you dream about: playing in the Super Bowl.”
After the Saints waived him in August, Haley spent weeks at home. The Rams came calling in October and signed him to their practice squad. In January, the Rams activated Haley on the main roster.
The journey culminated in the ultimate prize: a Super Bowl ring and honoring his father.
“Every single opportunity or moment that comes by, it’s another opportunity to remember how he helped me get to the position I’m in. I just want to make him proud.”
Grant did just that Sunday night.
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