Darnell Mooney was heading into his junior year of high school when his father passed away due to leukemia in July 2014 at the age of 42.
Larry Mooney never got a chance to see his son play football in college or the NFL. But the Bears receiver always keeps his father close to his heart. In every game during his first two pro seasons in 2020-21, Mooney wore a necklace with a pendant filled with his father's ashes. The pendant broke, so this year he brought it with him to every game and left it in his locker.
"I feel like he's with me at all times," Mooney said. "I have my prayers and then at the end of every prayer I just say, 'what's up, pops,' and I tell him to enjoy the show."
Unfortunately, Mooney sustained a season-ending ankle injury last Sunday against the Jets. But he will still honor his father during this week's "My Cause My Cleats" initiative, a league-wide campaign that enables players to showcase causes that are important to them with custom-made cleats.
Mooney's cleats will support the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Players will have the opportunity to raise money for their causes by auctioning their cleats off at NFL Auction; 100 percent of money raised will be donated to the player's charities. Fans may bid on game-issued player cleats to help players raise funds for their chosen causes.
Larry Mooney grew up in Chicago, graduating from Foreman High School and ITT Technical Institute, where he earned a degree in Information Security. Darnell fondly recalls sitting in the backseat of his father's truck with his twin brother Denzel, playing video games.
"We would get Home Run Inn Pizza," said the Bears receiver. "He had these TVs in the back of his truck and we would hook up our video games and we would drive through the city. He'd be doing chores and we'd be in the back just chilling and playing our game. He'd be listening to his music, Jay-Z or Lil Wayne or something like that."
Mooney could hardly believe it when he was selected by the Bears in the fifth round of the 2020 draft out of Tulane.
"When I got drafted here, it was crazy how it all came full circle, going back to my dad's hometown," he said.
Larry Mooney left this world at far too young an age. But he had a major impact on the type of man his son grew up to be.
"He was very inspirational," Darnell said, "working hard each and every day just to provide for us and give us the best life we wanted and just understanding [the importance of] working as hard as you can to get what you want."
Mooney is among about 30 Bears players and coaches who are participating in the "My Cause My Cleats" initiative. The group includes general manager Ryan Poles, who is supporting "Beyond the Baby Blues," an organization that helps women experiencing postpartum depression and related mood disorders; and coach Matt Eberflus, who is supporting the Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center, a rape crisis center in Gurnee.
Players appearing in Sunday's game against the Packers can wear their custom-designed cleats before and/or during the contest.
Here's a list of the other Bears and their causes:
Angelo Blackson, Angelo Blackson Foundation
Josh Blackwell, Dementia Society of America
Khari Blasingame, Turners Heroes
Justin Fields, American Brain Foundation
Trenton Gill, Duke Cancer Center
Trevis Gipson, Bears Care
Ryan Griffin, National Multiple Sclerosis Society
Eddie Jackson, Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital's Perinatal Support Services
Jaylon Johnson, Kevvys Vision Project
Velus Jones Jr., Breast Cancer Research Foundation
Alex Leatherwood, Surfrider Foundation
David Montgomery, Bright Star Community Outreach
Nicholas Morrow, Simple Room
Al-Quadin Muhammad, Boys & Girls Clubs
Lucas Patrick, First Priority
Byron Pringle, The Ross K. MacNeill Foundation
Riley Reiff, Warrior Rising
Cairo Santos, The Ross K. MacNeill Foundation
Patrick Scales, Navy Seals Foundation
Michael Schofield III, Schofield Family Foundation
Carla Suber, HEROH Foundation
Alan Williams, Fellowship of Christian Athletes
Several Bears players and coaches rocked special footwear for the team's My Cause My Cleats game December 4th against the Packers. Take an exclusive look at each person's custom spikes, which were created to support a charitable organization of their choice.