McCaffrey is like a magnet for big hits, getting pulverized by defenses that treat him like some kind of fan who has run out onto the field. And then he pops up, the ball in his hands and everyone goes crazy--so crazy that he earned a trip to Hawaii this year for the Pro Bowl, looking just like you and me, the every-man football player who will probably have to talk his way into the AFC locker room.
"I like the image of being a tough football player," says McCaffrey, who caught 64 passes for 1,053 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. "But I don't like the image of getting hit all the time. Getting hit is not one of my favorite things to do."
Four years ago, Dan Reeves floored him. Reeves, coach of the New York Giants at the time, told McCaffrey he was keeping Omar Douglas, Arthur Marshall, Thomas Lewis, Chris Calloway, Mike Sherrard and Mark Jackson and releasing him.
"I don't think I've ever made a mistake that bad," Reeves says now. "If a guy is that talented you ought to be able to see it."
Steve Watson, the original Ed McCaffrey in a Bronco uniform, was almost overlooked by Reeves too, and set a team record that still stands with 1,244 yards receiving after Rick Upchurch went down with a knee injury in 1981.
"It's the anomaly of being a white receiver who supposedly can't run fast," Watson says. "That's what Eddie's had to overcome too. But you look at Eddie, and he's the total package. Not since the legendary Charlie Taylor has there been a receiver who passes out more punishment than this guy."
Fortunately, he's not fast enough to chase down those who suggest anyone could play his position.
"Eddie's really touchy about things like that, especially if you're saying you're faster than he is," Watson says.
After being released by the Giants, McCaffrey went to San Francisco, and for a smart guy that seemed pretty dumb, playing behind Jerry Rice and John Taylor. But besides winning a Super Bowl ring, he ran practice routes every day against a pair of Pro Bowl cornerbacks, Eric Davis and Deion Sanders.
And Mike Shanahan, the 49ers' offensive coordinator, took note.
"There were a good number of days when he was beating them," says Shanahan, who brought McCaffrey with him to Denver, and the rest, they would say, is mustard history.
OK, so maybe not everyone can play wide receiver for the Broncos. Maybe you have to impress Shanahan, and obviously a Stanford degree helps to cozy up to Elway, which makes it tough on anyone who went to Northern Illinois.
There's also this thing he does with his uniform. He trims the lining in his football pants, and wears fewer pads for protection, reducing the weight he has to carry to make himself feel faster.
"I think if it were up to Ed," defensive end Harald Hasselbach says, "he'd play naked."
You have to be crazy to play this game, and you know where that leaves me.
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Ed McCaffrey's Statistics
Year, Team Rec Yds Avg TD 1991, Giants 16 146 9.1 0 1992, Giants 49 610 12.4 5 1993, Giants 27 335 12.4 2 1994, 49ers 11 131 11.9 2 1995, Broncos 39 477 12.2 2 1996, Broncos 48 553 11.5 7 1997, Broncos 45 590 13.1 8 1998, Broncos 64 1,053 16.5 10