McCaffrey, along with two of his football-playing brothers and two other friends, were going for a hike on a beautiful day at Castle Rock, a butte located just south of Denver. That was where they witnessed 72-year-old Dan Smoker Sr. take a fall of about 20 feet and land on a rock.
“It felt like he was in the air for 10 seconds,” McCaffrey told the Panthers’ website. “ … We were in shock.”
The 21-year-old and his companions, plus another group that was nearby, sprang into action. McCaffrey called 911 while another hiker stabilized the man’s neck, and when Smoker Sr. appeared to stop breathing, one of McCaffrey’s friends, Michael Mann, performed chest compressions.
The elderly man’s grandson, 13-year-old Eli Smoker, had accompanied him to Castle Rock, and the youngster got in touch with his parents, who were celebrating their 15th wedding anniversary in San Diego. Dan Smoker was shown the scene through the FaceTime app, and he told the Denver Post that when he saw the image of his father lying on the rock, he thought, “Oh, my gosh. He’s dead.”
“My dad is laying there and there is nothing I can do for him. And my son is there freaking out, and there’s nothing I can do for him,” Smoker told the team site. “It was the worst experience, both as a father and as a son.”
McCaffrey said that, at the time, “it felt like an eternity” before his 911 call brought help, but when he looked later at his call log, he realized that paramedics arrived in just 11 minutes. “Amazing what those guys did,” he added.
After being taken to a hospital, Smoker Sr. was reportedly found to have suffered injuries including a broken neck, a broken pelvis, a broken femur, nine fractured ribs and bleeding on the brain. However, he is expected to make a recovery, and even if that process is a lengthy one, his son expressed few doubts that the efforts of his rescuers prevented the worst possible outcome.
“I truly believe they saved my dad’s life,” Smoker said. “My dad has a very, very long road ahead of him, but the doctors at this point have shifted from ‘if he recovers’ to ‘when he recovers.’ But without them, we would have never been here right now.”
Smoker credited McCaffrey and his companions with not only providing his grandfather and son with much-needed help and comfort, but with subsequently visiting them at the hospital.
Smoker said that when McCaffrey and Co. showed up at the hospital he didn’t realize he was in the presence of Colorado football royalty. McCaffrey’s father Ed, who also came to visit the Smokers with his wife, was a longtime wide receiver for the Denver Broncos who helped the team win a Super Bowl, and his four sons have all become highly accomplished football players while growing up in the town of the same name that surrounds Castle Rock.
McCaffrey was the runner-up for the 2015 Heisman Trophy while at Stanford before becoming the eighth overall pick in last year’s NFL draft and enjoying a productive rookie season with the Panthers. His oldest brother Max is a wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers. Younger brother Dylan was a five-star recruit at quarterback who completed a redshirt freshman season at the University of Michigan, and youngest brother Luke has received interest from the Wolverines and other Division I football programs while still a sophomore at the Denver-area high school, Valor Christian, where his father is the head coach.
“They introduced themselves and I still hadn’t pieced it together,” Smoker said of the McCaffrey’s hospital visit. “I can’t say I’d recognize Christian without his football gear on.”
Smoker said that when his guests mentioned that they had attended Valor, he noted that he and his wife “were looking there because our son loves football as well.” Ed McCaffrey’s wife Lisa then explained that her husband was the coach at the school, to Smoker’s astonishment.
“One of the things that amazed me the most was just the humility,” he said. “It was not about, ‘Look at who I am.’ They just wanted to make sure we were okay. That was it. They wanted to see how my son was doing.”
Christian McCaffrey has reportedly continued to exchange text messages with Eli Smoker, getting updates on his grandfather and extending invitations to visit the McCaffreys’ home. “We all took it upon ourselves to check up on that kid,” the running back explained. “It could be a lifelong bond between us. He experienced a lot in those five minutes.”
“Looking back on this whole picture, I’m very confident that this group of folks saved my dad’s life,” Smoker said. “We’re indebted to all of those folks.”