Long before Carolina Panthers Pro Bowl running back Christian McCaffrey shredded defenses, his father Ed did the same thing as a wide receiver for the Denver Broncos.
Experts thought Ed McCaffrey was too frail and slow at the beginning of his 13-year NFL career. They thought he’d amount to nothing.
They couldn’t have been more wrong.
The 6’5″, 215-lb. McCaffrey became one of the NFL’s best blocking wide receivers in his prime. He also became one of legendary quarterback John Elway’s favorite targets.
With McCaffrey and Rod Smith becoming a formidable wide receiver tandem, the Broncos won back-to-back Super Bowl titles in 1998 and 1999.
To nobody’s surprise, the unheralded McCaffrey became a household name in the Mile High City.
Make no mistake about it: Ed McCaffrey was one of the best wide receivers in Denver Broncos franchise history.
Edward Thomas “Ed” McCaffrey, Jr. was born in Waynesboro, PA on August 17, 1968.
Ed is the oldest of five siblings. He has two sisters Monica and Meghan and two brothers Billy and Michael.
Monica McCaffrey suited up for the Georgetown Hoyas women’s basketball team in college.
On the other hand, Billy McCaffrey played basketball for the Duke Blue Devils and Vanderbilt Commodores in the NCAA.
Because of Billy’s basketball background, everyone thought he was faster than Ed.
However, Billy himself said his older brother always beat him when they raced as kids.
From the time Ed McCaffrey was eight years old, he always excelled in sports. He began playing football, basketball, and baseball at that age.
Ed McCaffrey attended Allentown Central Catholic High School.
He admitted he was a reclusive dork back then.
“I was pretty dorky in high school,” McCaffrey told SI.com’s Michael Silver in November 1998. “I was pretty much of a recluse.”
However, he was far from being a dork on the hardwood and gridiron.
Here's Greenville Record-Argus from the next day. Love how the photo is from "AP Laserphoto."
In story below, Ed McCaffrey, the future great NFL receiver, scored 29 points for Allentown C.C. against Aliquippa. pic.twitter.com/DksTgDRMak
— Ryan Briggs (@professorbriggs) March 21, 2020
McCaffrey led the Allentown Central Vikings to state titles in basketball in 1984 and 1986.
He told GoMightyCard.com’s Hank Waddles in 2015 he started receiving letters from Division I schools in his sophomore year of high school.
He also attended the football camps of the Penn State Nittany Lions, Michigan Wolverines, and Syracuse Orange that year.
Consequently, big-name football programs started paying more attention to Ed McCaffrey.
McCaffrey would eventually make a name for himself at Stanford University during his college football career.
College Days With The Stanford Cardinal
Ed McCaffrey attended Stanford University from 1987 to 1990. He was a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.
He whittled down his college choices to the Stanford Cardinal, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, and Michigan Wolverines.
McCaffrey ultimately chose Stanford because of its sterling reputation in academics and athletics. The beautiful Northern California weather and invigorating feel of the Stanford campus were factors he also considered.
Stanford recruiter Tom Beckett introduced McCaffrey to the university’s professors, alumni, and football coaches.
McCaffrey suited up for Cardinal head football coach Jack Elway – the father of his future Denver Broncos teammate John Elway.
McCaffrey admired the older Elway for his intelligence, work ethic, and ability to relate well with his players.
His new teammates such as Carl Morris, Henry Green, Spencer Cotten, Thomas Henley, and Jeff James welcomed him with open arms.
He told Waddles in 2015 he thought he’d play both football and basketball for the Cardinal.
However, he realized his future was on the football field after the Cardinal made it to the Gator Bowl against the Clemson Tigers in his true freshman season in 1986.
McCaffrey hardly made an impact as a true freshman. He had just 31 receiving yards on four receptions in twelve games.
He made strides in his sophomore season in 1987. He had 533 receiving yards and two touchdowns on 30 receptions that year.
Unfortunately, the Cardinal regressed with a sub-par 5-6 win-loss record.
McCaffrey’s quad injury forced him to redshirt the entire 1988 NCAA season.
Stanford was an abysmal 3-6 in Jack Elway’s final season as head football coach.
Former San Francisco 49ers wide receivers coach Dennis Green replaced him in 1989.
McCaffrey forged lifelong friendships with some of Green’s recruits who went on to play in the National Football League.
Some of these recruits include Bob Whitfield, Glyn Milburn, and Darien Gordon, who became his teammate with the Denver Broncos.
McCaffrey made up for lost time with 871 receiving yards and four touchdowns on 53 receptions in his redshirt junior season.
Regrettably, the Cardinal were a bad team in Green’s first year at the helm. Stanford won a paltry three games in 1989.
McCaffrey had his best season in a Cardinal uniform as a redshirt senior in 1990. He had 917 receiving yards and eight touchdowns on 61 receptions that year.
Despite Stanford winning just five games and missing on a postseason bowl berth for the fourth straight year, Ed McCaffrey earned First-Team All-American and First-Team All-Pac 10 honors in 1990.
He finished his college football career with 2,352 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns on 148 receptions.
— Ed McCaffrey (@87ed) April 4, 2021
The turn of the decade was also a memorable one for McCaffrey. That was when he met Stanford Cardinal women’s soccer player Lisa Sime.
They hit it off at a friend’s birthday party at Max’s Opera Cafe in Palo Alto, CA.
The restaurant’s name inspired them to name their first-born son Max several years later.
When Lisa first laid eyes on Ed, she thought he looked hot.
Unfortunately, his dorky hairstyle was a sight for sore eyes.
Sime never forgot McCaffrey’s ’70s mullet and bowl cut that resembled Moe’s of The Three Stooges.
Sime even volunteered to cut his hair the next time they met. It took her under two hours to get rid of McCaffrey’s atrocious mop of hair, per Silver.
Not only did Ed McCaffrey break into the pro football ranks with a better haircut, but this late bloomer also enjoyed a memorable 13-year NFL career punctuated by three Super Bowl rings.
Pro Football Career
The New York Giants made Ed McCaffrey the 83rd overall selection of the 1991 NFL Draft.
When McCaffrey arrived in the Big Apple, Giants quarterback Phil Simms noticed their rookie wide receiver’s gaunt physique right away.
“He was skin and bones back then, but he’s been working on those arms in the weight room for eight years,” Simms told SI.com in 1998.
McCaffrey was so scrawny that team bus drivers denied him access thinking he wasn’t part of the Giants.
Simms and linebacker Lawrence Taylor would play along – they’d tell the drivers they didn’t know McCaffrey so he stood outside and waited for five minutes.
McCaffrey was also the last Giants player to leave the training camp locker room. One time, an enraged janitor approached him and told him to pick up the towels scattered on the floor.
He was too shocked to answer. The janitor eventually kicked him out of the locker room, per Silver.
— Andy Collins ⚾️ (@AndyNY2) September 5, 2020
The thin Giants wide receiver began to take his game to new heights.
McCaffrey led New York receivers in catches with 49 in his second pro season in 1992.
Still, the Giants were a mediocre team that won an average of just seven games in 1991 and 1992.
When new head coach Dan Reeves took over prior to the 1993 NFL season, McCaffrey’s days in the Big Apple were numbered.
According to Silver, Reeves called him just two days before training camp in 1994. He informed McCaffrey the Giants were letting him go because they had enough wide receivers.
It was a massive gut punch for McCaffrey.
His release from the Giants couldn’t have come at a worse time – he and his wife Lisa just moved into a new apartment. They also welcomed their first son Max just two months before.
“That was the most devastating point in my career,” McCaffrey told Silver four years later.
For his part, Reeves, who coached the Atlanta Falcons several years later, told SI.com waiving Ed McCaffrey was one of his biggest career mistakes.
It took some time before McCaffrey peaked at 6’5″ and 215 pounds in the pro ranks.
Before long, McCaffrey would become one of the best blocking receivers in the National Football League.
By the time McCaffrey was in his fourth pro season in 1994, some of the league’s best defensive backs took notice.
“The guy can run,” future Hall of Fame defensive back Deion Sanders, McCaffrey’s teammate with the San Francisco 49ers, told SI.com. “He’s one of my favorites. He finds a way to get open.”
#49ers WR Ed McCaffrey (1994) had 11 receptions, 131 yards and 2 TD in his only season with San Francisco.
— #Random49ers (@Random49ers) July 11, 2020
McCaffrey had an unusual way of making himself light on his feet.
Prior to every game, McCaffrey cut his uniform’s lining, belt buckle, and pant pockets. He also tore holes in his jersey and sliced off a good portion of the band above his jock strap.
Just about the only padding McCaffrey typically relied on was his Wilson 77-I Aggressor shoulder pads.
It was so obsolete, Broncos equipment manager Doug West told Silver even high school football players shouldn’t wear them.
Ed McCaffrey was the only exception.
He admitted to SI.com that cutting off a good portion of his game day uniform made him endure more pain as his NFL career progressed.
However, getting lighter gave him a psychological edge he sorely needed on the gridiron.
The Denver Broncos signed McCaffrey as a free agent in 1995. He had just earned the first of his three Super Bowl rings with the San Francisco 49ers several months earlier.
Legendary head coach Bill Walsh, who was the 49ers’ offensive coordinator in 1995, told SI.com that the team balked at his annual $350,000 salary.
Former 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan brought McCaffrey with him to the Mile High City when he became the Broncos head coach in 1995.
Shanahan thought McCaffrey’s exceptional blocking skills would help the Broncos, who averaged eight wins per year from 1992 to 1994, to reach the next level.
The new Broncos mentor told Silver in November 1998 that McCaffrey was the “best, most consistent blocker of any receiver I’ve seen.”
Shanahan noted McCaffrey had an uncanny ability to throw defenders off balance when they came out of a break. He could turn their body in such a way they can’t even get to the ball.
It’s a far cry from McCaffrey’s skin and bones days as a rookie with the New York Giants in 1991. His evolution into a physical wide receiver over the years was something to behold.
“People underestimate him,” legendary Broncos quarterback John Elway told SI.com. “They’ll bump him, but he’s so strong that he’ll just toss the corner and blow by him.”
McCaffrey thrived as a slot receiver in his first four years in the National Football League. When he arrived in Denver, he became one of Elway’s favorite targets.
Not only that, but McCaffrey became an adopted son of The Centennial State when he set foot in Denver in 1995.
McCaffrey started in just five games that year. However, he went on to start seventy-six consecutive games over the next five seasons.
McCaffrey enjoyed an impressive two-year stretch in 1996 and 1997. He had 1,143 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns on 93 receptions during that span.
He burned Seattle Seahawks cornerback Shawn Springs for eight catches and two touchdowns in the 1997 NFL season.
To add insult to injury, officials penalized Springs three times while he was trying to put the clamps on McCaffrey.
Springs didn’t know how good McCaffrey was until they squared off on the gridiron. He may have underestimated him while trying to watch film of the Broncos wide receiving threat.
McCaffrey and Rod Smith became a formidable wide receiver tandem for the Broncos. The duo helped the Broncos win consecutive Super Bowl titles in 1998 and 1999.
McCaffrey led all Broncos receivers with 45 yards in Denver’s 31-24 win over Brett Favre’s Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII.
My favorite SB Memory: SB XXXII, Victory Formation and seeing @JohnElway turn around with the ball in his hand crying, laughing, and screaming all at once. @Broncos Fans waited a long time for this one. Get in here @TheREALrodSmith! pic.twitter.com/SRjQJeFT4x
— Ed McCaffrey (@87ed) February 13, 2022
To McCaffrey’s astonishment, he received a Rolex from Super Bowl XXXII MVP Terrell Davis.
It turned out Davis gave the expensive watches to all of his blockers – including the wideouts – per Silver.
“When people talk about big-time receivers, Ed doesn’t get mentioned,” Davis told Silver nine months after winning Super Bowl MVP honors. “That’s unfair.”
In the aftermath of Denver’s first Vince Lombardi title and McCaffrey’s first and only Pro Bowl stint (he had 1,053 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns on 64 receptions), he became a household name in The Mile High City.
His name was plastered prominently on cereal boxes and condiments such as “Ed McCaffrey’s Rocky Mountain Mustard.”
It’s glorious! pic.twitter.com/NM2DWdqUfp
— Ed McCaffrey (@87ed) June 27, 2021
McCaffrey admitted to Silver that the adulation had made him uncomfortable.
He credited his newfound success to Shanahan and his teammates who displayed unselfishness and fostered an incredible sense of camaraderie.
While McCaffrey’s fame and popularity began to spread wide in the state of Colorado, his Broncos teammates continued giving him flak for his fashion sense – or lack of it.
While most of the Denver players reported to the stadium wearing brand-name threads such as Armani, Versace, and Gucci, McCaffrey showed up garbed in mismatched Polo sweats, sneakers, and a DirecTV cap.
No less than Broncos backup wide receiver Justin Armour testified to McCaffrey’s regular game day wardrobe, per SI.com.
Denver had several up-and-down campaigns following the great John Elway’s retirement after the 1998 NFL season.
The Broncos averaged nine wins per season in McCaffrey’s final five seasons with the team from 1999 to 2003.
Brian Griese and Jake Plummer took over quarterbacking duties for the Broncos during that critical juncture in franchise history.
They made the postseason twice during that stretch but never made it past the AFC Wild Card Game.
McCaffrey sustained a fractured leg in the Monday Night Football opener against his former team, the New York Giants, in 2001.
He missed the rest of the 2001 NFL campaign.
Prior to his injury, he had three consecutive seasons with at least 1,018 receiving yards. He also averaged almost nine touchdown receptions per season from 1998 to 2000.
McCaffrey also had one reception in sixty-eight straight games for the Broncos from 1997 to 2003.
The streak currently ranks third in team history, per DenverBroncos.com.
McCaffrey played in twenty-eight more games for the Broncos. He had a combined 1,098 receiving yards and two touchdowns on 88 receptions in 2002 and 2003.
Ed McCaffrey retired from the National Football League after the 2003 NFL season.
He had 7,422 receiving yards and 55 touchdowns on 565 receptions in his 13-year NFL career.
McCaffrey is currently fifth in Broncos franchise history in career catches and receiving yards. He’s also fourth in career receiving touchdowns.
McCaffrey, a Second-Team All-Pro selection in 1998, earned more than $18.5 million in the NFL, per The Denver Post’s Kyle Fredrickson.
— Ed McCaffrey (@87ed) June 13, 2020
Broncos owner Pat Bowlen told the team’s official website he’ll remember Ed McCaffrey “as the bravest and most courageous player to play for the team.”
Ed McCaffrey’s wife, the former Lisa Sime, was a former Stanford Cardinal women’s soccer player.
Lisa’s father David Sime, a former sprinter, graced the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1956.
“That’s why Ed and I got together – so we could breed fast white guys,” she told Silver in 1998.
She and Ed have four sons: Max, Christian, Dylan, and Luke. All of them have followed in their father’s footsteps on the gridiron.
Happy Mother’s Day! Thanks for all you do for our boys Lisa. These four guys are blessed! 🙏❤️ pic.twitter.com/nbJO5HY6Nq
— Ed McCaffrey (@87ed) May 13, 2018
Christian is the most famous among the McCaffrey brothers. He was a Consensus All-American at Stanford who became a Pro Bowl running back of the Carolina Panthers in the NFL.
Max suited up for the Duke Blue Devils and played for several teams in the NFL. He is currently on his father’s coaching staff as the offensive coordinator of the Northern Colorado Bears.
Dylan is currently the quarterback of the Bears. His youngest brother Luke is the signal caller of the Rice Owls.
Ed McCaffrey became a member of the Denver Broncos 50th Anniversary Team on September 15, 2009.
Ed and Lisa McCaffrey established the McCaffrey Family Foundation to assist children in Colorado through its educational enrichment and medical assistance programs.
The foundation has collaborated with the Ronald McDonald House, Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, and Denver Children’s Hospital over the years.
McCaffrey has also hosted his annual EdMcCaffrey Football Camp in Colorado since his retirement.
— Ed McCaffrey (@87ed) June 28, 2019
He hosts his “Dare to Play” football camp and “Dare to Cheer” cheerleading camp in collaboration with the Global Down Syndrome Foundation.
McCaffrey has become a prominent sports media personality in Colorado. He hosted the weekly “Tuesdays With Eddie Mac” radio show during the NFL football season.
He was also a part of the “Altitude Sports Summit: Pro Football Edition” panel on Altitude Sports & Entertainment.
McCaffrey took over as the color analyst of 850 KOA, the flagship station of the Denver Broncos Radio Network, on July 30, 2012.
He served in that capacity for five years before stepping down to become the head football coach of the Valor Christian Eagles in 2017.
McCaffrey led the Eagles to an outstanding 24-2 win-loss record during his two-year tenure. Under his leadership, Valor Christian High School won the 5A state title in 2018.
He became the commissioner of the Pacific Pro Football League on January 7, 2019.
— Ed McCaffrey (@87ed) February 15, 2022
McCaffrey became the 16th head coach in Northern Colorado Bears football history eleven months later.
According to the Denver Post, McCaffrey’s five-year deal with Northern Colorado pays him an annual base salary of $190,000.
McCaffrey could bump up his pay by as much as $72,500 depending on fan attendance, academics, and football success.
McCaffrey has also ventured into the condiments business. A gourmet mustard and horseradish brand bearing his name has made its way into Colorado and Nebraska supermarkets in recent years.
The Colorado Sports Hall of Fame inducted Ed McCaffrey on October 13, 2021.
According to Silver, the McCaffrey family has developed a close relationship with Ed’s former San Francisco 49ers teammate, offensive lineman Harris Barton through the years.