Back home in Martinez, Joyce Wright noticed a spark in her son when he came back to finish the game.
“I saw a hunger in the way he played and I said, ‘My son wants to go to the Super Bowl,’” Wright said. “His thing is, ‘I may not play another year and if I do it’s great, but if I don’t I’d like to go out with a bang.’ He’s been a kid that’s always wanted to succeed. The only thing he doesn’t have is the championship and he’s said that’s something he’d like to have if he has to retire.”
In his 12th NFL season, Grant is trying to become the third Josey High School player to play for a Super Bowl winner. Tight end Jimmie Johnson was with the champion Redskins in 1991 during his 10-year pro career. Linebacker Arnold Harrison was with the Steelers organization when they collected two rings in 2005 and ’08.
But only Grant also won a Class AAA state championship in 1995 with the Eagles and a BCS title in 1998 with Tennessee. He has the rare chance to complete his collection tonight.
“That would be tremendous,” said Raleigh Roundtree, another former Josey star who played offensive line for seven years in the NFL. “At every level to win one is hard and it gets harder at every level you go to. People don’t get but a couple of opportunities. College and high school you only get four years. For him to get a chance at the trifecta I think is awesome.”
Grant admits that he wants to win tonight’s Super Bowl XLVI something fierce. The prevailing story line is the New England Patriots trying to exact revenge on the Giants for spoiling their perfect season in 2008. But Grant has got plenty of the revenge motive going for himself in Indianapolis where the Giants will meet Tom Brady, Deion Branch and the Patriots.
It was Brady, Branch and the Pats who snuffed Grant’s first chance with a last-minute field-goal drive to beat the Carolina Panthers 32-29 in Super Bowl XXXVIII eight years ago.
“Big time excited,” said Grant of this championship matchup. “It didn’t matter who we played, but I got a couple of different issues that I have to handle this time. One because they beat us the last time. Second, one of my close friends, Deion Branch, plays for that team and we’ve been going against each other since high school.”
Grant’s senior season at Josey in 1996, the Eagles eliminated Branch’s Monroe team, from Albany, 19-14 in the second round of the playoffs.
“Ever since I’ve been in the league he’s been paying me back,” Grant said. “He beat me in New England for the championship game. When I was in Jacksonville, he put me out in the playoffs. It’s time for me to get bragging rights again. State championship was great, but he’s got that big ring and it’s time for me to get one. It couldn’t come against a better team than the one he’s playing with.”
Most people remember the Super Bowl in 2004 for the infamous “wardrobe malfunction” at halftime. But the game was a thriller that many experts referred to then as the greatest Super Bowl in history.
After going scoreless for nearly 27 minutes, both offenses erupted late in each half. The Panthers trailed 21-10 in fourth quarter but rallied for two touchdowns to go up 22-21. Brady put the Patriots back on top after a drive sustained by a controversial defensive hold, but the Panthers rallied again to tie it 29-29 with 1:08 remaining to set up perhaps the first overtime in Super Bowl history.
But former Georgia kicker John Kasay kicked off out of bounds to set Brady up at the 40. Then on third down at the Panthers 40 with 19 seconds left, Brady hit Branch for a 17-yarder to set up Adam Vinatieri’s game-winning field goal the next play.
Branch had 10 receptions for 143 yards and a touchdown that game.
“It’s definitely been something that’s stuck with me and will stick with me until I win one and get that taste out of my mouth,” said Grant.
That it’s Brady again who Grant will try to stop from his safety spot is exactly what he hoped for.
“Being from where I’m from in the heart of Augusta where we were facing talent week in and week out, there’s just something in me that I just want to face the best,” he said. “You can’t call yourself an ‘A’ player unless you go against the best and really show what kind of skills you have. So that’s why I really look forward to playing against Brady.”
Grant says this experience is completely different than 2004. That Panthers team was new to the spotlight, just two years removed from a 1-15 campaign. Many of these Giants have been there before and already beaten the Patriots in the Super Bowl three years ago and once earlier this season.
“In 2004, I was still young and still really trying to feel my way around the game,” Grant said. “I appreciated it, but I didn’t appreciate it. I really just was enjoying it more than anything.
“The older I’ve got and the absence of getting back to the Super Bowl over the years definitely made me appreciate it a lot more. With the experience of all the guys who’ve played in the Super Bowl and the coaching staff, they just prepare you a lot better for a situation like this.”
While Grant tries to cap his career in Indy, his family in Augusta is just enjoying the ride.
“I am very proud,” said his mother. “Had he not went pro it wouldn’t have made a difference. As long as he kept himself from the sins of the world, it would have made me just as proud as if he were playing football.”
Wright, however, appreciates what Grant has achieved and the hunger that has driven him to the game’s peak.
“It’s a great honor,” she said. “You have to have the skills and ability and will to want to do it. But what are the chances of children from the inner city going to the pros, period? So just to know that he has done what he did to get to the level he’s at and have that opportunity is a great honor. We are truly, truly blessed to be a family that can say, ‘My son is going to the Super Bowl.’”