Scott Fowler

After 'traumatic' hiking incident in Colorado, Christian McCaffrey counts his blessings

Carolina Panthers’ Christian McCaffrey recounts witnessing traumatic incident in offseason

Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey talks about helping to save a hiker who fell from a trail in Colorado during the offseason.
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Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey talks about helping to save a hiker who fell from a trail in Colorado during the offseason.

In early March, Christian McCaffrey was part of a group effort that helped save the life of a Colorado hiker.

Three months later, the incident remains on McCaffrey’s mind — and the second-year Panthers running back said Monday he has remained in touch with the family of the man who was injured during the recovery period.

The Panthers have invited Dan Smoker Sr. and his family to a game this season. “I can’t wait to see them,” McCaffrey said Monday after Carolina finished a practice.

McCaffrey described what happened in March in more detail Monday, calling it a “pretty traumatic incident” that has made him appreciate the fragility of life.

“We basically saw a man fall off a cliff,” McCaffrey said.

Smoker, who was 72 years old at the time, was hiking at Castle Rock in Colorado with his 13-year-old grandson Eli.

McCaffrey and two of his brothers, along with a family friend, had decided to take the same hike.

The two families became inextricably linked when Dan Smoker slipped and fell off the side of a cliff onto a pathway below, which caused multiple internal injuries and also made Smoker appear to stop breathing at one point.

Said McCaffrey of Smoker Monday: “He’s living now, which is great. We didn’t think he was going to make it…. I think he’s going to come out to a game this year, which will be a lot of fun. He’s walking. I don’t know how he’s not paralyzed, but the guy’s a fighter, man.”

McCaffrey called “911” after seeing the fall while his friend Michael Mann began chest compressions on Smoker. One of McCaffrey's older brothers would later help maneuver Smoker’s stretcher down the side of the mountain. Paramedics arrived 11 minutes after McCaffrey's phone call and were the ones most responsible for saving Smoker's life, McCaffrey said.

On the tape of the “911” call, which was published by TMZ, McCaffrey is asked by the operator what part of Smoker’s body is injured.

“I’m assuming everything,” an obviously shaken McCaffrey said then. The running back is later heard telling the group clustered around Smoker: “Everybody say a prayer.”

Dan Smoker’s son, Dan Jr., posted a video on Twitter last week where his father was outside working in the yard. “Dad was supposed to be in the hospital for another month and a half,” the caption read. “Today he did yard work.”

McCaffrey, who led the Panthers with 80 receptions last season and is expected to play an even bigger role in the offense in 2018, said the incident helped him understand the importance of appreciating life.

“You never know what can happen,” McCaffrey said. “You can’t take anything for granted. So we had a little decompression time after that, where we kind of looked at life and realized it can kind of be done in a split second.”

The Panthers have since sent both Dan Smoker Sr. and his grandson No. 22 Carolina jerseys signed by McCaffrey.

Carolina Panthers Chrisitan McCaffrey talks about being ready to play anywhere he's asked and looking forward to the upcoming season.