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Emma: Jordan Howard Ran With Late Father In Spirit

By Chris Emma--

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Dripping wet on carpet below his locker stall, Bears running back Jordan Howard's custom cleats waited in the aftermath of victory.

They remained remarkably clean and blue after running 117 yards through the snow and mud of Soldier Field on Sunday. The name, Doc, was still visible in that clean green, which represents the disease that took him at just 52 years old.

Reginald "Doc" Howard would've been proud of his son.

"I definitely had him out there with me in spirit," Jordan said after the Bears' 26-6 win over the 49ers.

Emma: Facing football's abyss, Bears brought their best

Howard honored his father and raised awareness for pulmonary fibrosis by wearing custom cleats as part of the NFL's "My Cleats, My Cause" initiative in Week 13. For one day, the NFL lifted its ban on special cleats and allowed players to represent the charity of their choice. For Howard, the cause was clear.

Behind that powerful running is a 22-year-old never short on inspiration. Howard thinks about his father every day. He plays for him.

Howard rushed for three scores on Sunday, the difference in the Bears' third win this season. The third tally was his most impressive. Howard pushed a pile of 300-pound bodies three yards and past the goal line.

He refuses to be brought down.

"I just kept driving and moving my legs, and the pile just kept moving," Howard said.

Bid on Jordan Howard's custom cleats

This lost season for the Bears (3-9) has been highlighted by Howard's development and strong campaign. When Jeremy Langford went down in Week 3, Howard emerged as the Bears' new starter.

As it turns out, the Bears may have found their running back of the future in Howard, the fifth-round pick out of Indiana who's worthy of the Pro Bowl in his first season.

"He's killing it," receiver Cam Meredith said. "He's a rookie doing his thing. He broke out early in the season and he hasn't stopped.

"We're just running right behind him."

Howard's rise is certainly unique. Two years ago Saturday, his football future was left uncertain on the day UAB shut down its football program. He was absolutely crushed. To this day, he still wears a UAB bracelet and the Blazers' colors. That was his team, those were his brothers.

Even after impressing for a season at Indiana, running right by -- and, often, right through -- Big Ten competition, Howard still wasn't highly regarded headed into the draft.

Howard is going to make a lot of NFL executives regret passing on him before his career is over. He's the real deal.

After running right through the 49ers on Sunday, Howard unlaced those cleats and cherished the feeling of victory. They dripped dry on the locker room carpet as he shook hands with teammates.

"It meant a lot just honoring my father, the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation and a lot of other people who have the disease," he said.

Recently, Howard spoke with the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation in Chicago, sharing his father's story and his own and how he hopes to fight the disease alongside those who suffer from it.

Those cleats will be auctioned off to benefit the foundation and battle the disease which took his father far too soon. They represented a touching tribute Sunday.

Howard honors his father by living each day with an unbreakable will.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago's sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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