'It's about just being a good person.' Panthers' Christian McCaffrey reflects on saving man's life

'It's about just being a good person.' Panthers' Christian McCaffrey reflects on saving man's life
Credit: Screen shot of Dan Smoker's tweet
Credit: Screen shot of Dan Smoker's tweet

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - What was supposed to be a normal hiking adventure in Colorado for Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey and his family, turned out to be a rescue mission. Unbeknownst to McCaffrey, it would soon turn into a day that would change the young football's star life forever.

Earlier this year, Christian McCaffrey and his brothers were in the right place at the right time to help save a man in Colorado.

Dan Smoker Sr. was hiking with his grandson in Castle Rock, Colorado when he fell nearly 20 feet. The half-mile hike leads to a rock where you are able to climb to the top.

To his rescue was a group of seven including Panthers' Christian McCaffrey.

The Panthers put together two videos, talking to McCaffrey and his brother, as well as the Dan Smoker Sr. and his family. The videos also contain a portion of McCaffrey's 911 call.

The Panthers tweeted the videos around shortly after midnight Thursday morning.

In the video, McCaffrey says he and his family members decided last minute that they wanted to go hiking because his brother was returning home from college. "It was not even in our schedule for the day. It was really kind of a spur of the moment decision for all of us," McCaffrey said.

Dan Smoker Sr. and his grandson, Eli Smoker, took a selfie together once they reached the top of the mountain. "It's not a hard hike but it's not easy when you have to start bouldering," Eli said.

A short time later, things would take a turn for the worst.

The rising football star remembers the moment he saw Dan Smoker Sr. and Eli Smoker after the fall and says that memory sticks with him "pretty heavy."

"I heard what sounded like a slip of a shoe and I turned around to see my grandpa falling to the ground," Eli Smoker said. "I rushed to the ground. I got out my phone and I called my parents."  That's when Eli FaceTimed his father to show him where his grandfather had fell.

McCaffrey and his brothers jumped into action after witnessing the fall. The group secured Dan Smoker's neck, provided chest compressions when they could no longer detect a pulse and provided emotional support to Eli who was understandably traumatized by the incident.

"I didn't know if he survived or not cause he hit a rock then kind of rolled into a crevasse between the rock and kind of a boulder," the football player said. "I mean you think you know what to do in a situation like that but you don't and so I immediately didn't know what to do."

Even though McCaffrey said it felt like eternity before rescuers arrived, he says it took rescuers only 11 minutes to reach Dan Smoker Sr. "It was pretty incredible that they got on top of cliff that quickly."

The family didn't realize until the next day just who helped rescue Dan Smoker Sr. The Smoker family was praying together in the waiting room when their unlucky hero waltzed into their midst.

"They were very respectful and didn't say a word until we were done praying," Sarah Smoker, Eli's mother, said. The family didn't recognize the famous football family until they mentioned Ed McCaffrey's name.

"It wasn't about, 'Hey we're the McCaffreys.' We just wanted to be there for him and it was kind of cool to have an interaction like that before they knew too and just to see that they're just a genuinely amazing family who is very caring, very loving," the Panthers' player said. "It never matters who you are unless your a good person and we saw that in the Smokers. While they were shocked that we were who we were they treated us just like normal people."

Eli's mother said McCaffrey quickly turned the praise around on her son for staying calm during the whole ordeal.

"And right away he was like he didn't want any recognition. He's like 'we're just there - your son was the one who was amazing.' He consistently turned the praise around to Eli," Sarah Smoker said.

Dan Smoker Sr. said it's been a long recovery but he's doing better.

Once McCaffrey and the Panthers organization learned that Dan Smoker Sr. had been released from the hospital in good condition they knew they wanted to surprise the family.

The Panthers sent the family a care package and the family was then invited to attend a home game this fall in Charlotte.

"It's about just being a good person and being there for someone when they're struggling," McCaffrey said.

"You become close with people and you want to do stuff for them," McCaffrey said. "You know they touched our hearts for sure that day."

Dan Smoker Jr. chokes about his father's recovery. "The thought of him getting to an NFL stadium, getting to watch one of the people who saved his life, getting to be there with Eli and just experience all of that is really a accumulation of all of this and kind of the goodness that went into all of this," he said.

Eli wants to follow in McCaffrey's footsteps and play football.

"To see the way that family has responded made me cherish the little things like being with my family," the football player said. "Just being present in the now, you know - life. You don't know what's going to happen and that's part of the beauty of it is that all you can control is your attitude and how well you live it."

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