There are moments in life that, while watching them unfold, you realize years from now you’ll tell people, I was there.
Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey’s performance in the 2015 Pac-12 Championship Game is one such moment for me. McCaffrey’s night of 461 all-purpose yards – 472 if you include his 11-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Hogan – is the greatest individual performance I have seen live across any sport.
College football fans will talk of McCaffrey’s showing in the same mythological language invoked for Barry Sanders’ 1988 Holiday Bowl, Hail Flutie or Ernie Davis in the 1960 Cotton Bowl.
McCaffrey’s coach, David Shaw, refrained from campaigning for the Heisman Trophy on the sophomore’s behalf – until that night in Santa Clara, California.
“Here is the best player in the nation. I don’t know if there is any question,” Shaw said. “There is nobody in the nation doing what he’s doing.”
Indeed, McCaffrey made an indelible mark with his multifaceted skill in a way not seen since USC legend Reggie Bush in 2005. Bush’s impact on college football was so profound that the NCAA has literally deleted his existence from its record books, and he’s still mentioned among the game’s best, as evidenced by his selection to the Pac-12 Conference All-Century Team.
Fittingly, McCaffrey wears the No. 5 in honor of Bush, and emulates the former Trojan every time he touches the ball. McCaffrey shares another distinction with Bush in that neither are recognized as Heisman winners – though Bush got the votes necessary to hoist the hardware 10 years ago.
McCaffrey finished second to Alabama running Derrick Henry in this year’s voting, and the Crimson Tide junior was more than deserving of his recognition. But when the 2015 college football season is discussed a decade, a generation, a half-century from now, McCaffrey’s is the first name that will come up.
To that end, McCaffrey is a worthy honoree as the Today’s U College Football Sportsman of the Year for 2015.
He made an impact on that game that will last forever, punctuated with a moment that will become West Coast college football fans’ version of Woodstock: a spectacle many more claim to have seen in person than could have physical done so.
A title like Sportsman of the Year has implications surpassing mere athletic prowess, and McCaffrey embodies qualities that define an all-around standout.
He’s a consummate teammate, setting aside individual accolades for squad goals. His Heisman campaign might have gone over the top had he taken some of the 13 rushing touchdowns shared with fellow running back Remound Wright.
McCaffrey also lavishes praise on his teammates first and foremost.
“Christian will be the first person to tell you he was in New York because of the guys up front, the way Kevin Hogan was able to throw the ball and set up the pass for the run game, the way the coaches utilized his skill set,” offensive lineman Joshua Garnett said at Tuesday’s Rose Bowl media day in Los Angeles. “That’s what’s awesome about Christian, he’s such a humble guy. It would be so easy to not be humble and distance yourself, and just worry about yourself when you’re a Heisman guy.
“For him to really come together [with the team], to say he can’t wait to be back to play football with his guys, it’s a testament to his character,” Garnett added.
An All-American selection on the field, McCaffrey also earned CoSIDA Academic All-American honors. He upholds the lofty standard Stanford football has set under Shaw, without compromising the university’s high classroom standards.
2015 was truly a memorable year for Christian McCaffrey, a deserving honoree as Sportsman of the Year.
What does he have in store for 2016?
“He’s got a lot of tricks up his sleeve we still haven’t seen,” Garnett said.