I knew my Dad would be devastated—yes, devastated— by the 49ers loss to the Eagles in the NFC Championship. The talent of the Philadelphia playbook was too much. I gave him some time and space to cool off and called him the day after the game. I have but one silver lining to him. That silver lining is Christian McCaffrey.This is what I said: Dad, are you okay? I know you're disappointed. Hey, I don't know if you heard. On the charter flight home last night—the pilot wasn't feeling well. Turns out they had Christian McCaffrey step in for him. Of course he helped bring the team home safely.
For but a moment, my Dad believed me. I think all of San Francisco could too. He is the one player who scored a touchdown. He carried the ball 15 times for 84 yards, added four catches for 22 yards and threw an incomplete pass on a trick play. When Josh Johnson, the Niners fourth string quarterback went down, a friend asked Siri "who is 49ers fifth string QB." Siri actually paused. My friend responded for Siri. "#23, Christian McCaffrey." Good answer.
Christian McCaffrey is one very important example of what went right this season for the Niners. Most would argue the best story features "Mr. Irrelevant, QB3 who became QB1 Brock Purdy" and they would be right. Furthermore, Purdy serves as yet another example of just how often the NFL draft gets it wrong. Noted. Or maybe we should talk about Coach DeMeco Ryans, Niners' defensive coordinator. He navigated the terrain for one of the best defenses in the country—even if they didn't play that way on NFC gameday. The 49er Faithful should thank Coach Ryan and wish him well, as he accepted the position as the head coach of the Houston Texans. But, I would like to focus on #23 because there is so much to recognize and celebrate in this running back. With Ayook, Kittle, Samuels, it's already fun to watch the Niners run the ball. McCaffrey made it that much more electric and electric. Thank you, Kyle and John!
Given Stanford football's schedule, my first memory of Christian McCaffrey should have been the damage he did to Notre Dame football. Lucky for the Irish however, in his three years with the Cardinal, he only played in one game. Instead, believe it or not, McCaffrey came into my radar because of the remarks from Stephen A Smith.
Stephen A says a lot. Loudly. Proudly. Time and again he has called for higher praise for the running back.“How many times do I have to say it,” Smith ranted Thursday on First Take. “I’ve said this about Christian McCaffrey before and I’m gonna say it again. Ladies and gentleman – it’s damn near reverse discrimination! If this brother were Black, we’d be talking about him more. I mean this dude is SPECIAL!”
In his first game as a Forty Niner, McCaffrey became the first player since 2005 to rush, throw and threw for a touchdown in the same game. No doubt, special is one way to describe him. His coaches agree.
McCaffrey turned pro after his junior year at Stanford. Rather than talk more about the Niner loss, I asked my colleague—who was on the coaching staff at Stanford for five years what it was like to be around a player like him.He said, "I actually talked to my freshman about Christian before the Niners picked him up. I asked them Why it's important to do the small things well? Then I reframed the question, Is it important? I said I think it is—because how we do the small things add up. They determine everything." He added, "I've never seen anyone do the small things like I did in Christian McCaffrey. He paid attention to everything. That pays dividends when it comes to the big things. He made the entire program better. Truly, he raised the bar. It was awesome to be a part of all that. And I want my students to know they can learn from that example. They took can care about the small things...it's a place to start, right?" Right!
As a coach, I have had the gift of witnessing the impact a gifted and determined athlete can have on a team. When they make everyone around them better, the result is joy, delight, inspiration, and more often than not success and/or victory.
The NFC Championship wasn't a fun game to watch. It wasn't a victory nor did it play out to the billing it got. But, it did give sports fans and opportunity to think about the role of players and coaches, the talents we have and how we use them. How we respond when things don't go our way and when they do what we should not take for granted. There are more than a few silver linings in those playbooks. Pay attention to the small ones....