With the exception of a brief bump on the road of his football career, life has been one big ride on the carousel since Denver's Ed McCaffrey came out of Allentown, Pa., in 1987.
The lanky receiver with the Forrest Gump running style was voted to the Pro Bowl this season. Sunday he will try for his third Super Bowl ring. He has caught passes from three of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, and now he's a big man on Colorado grocery shelves.
Flutie Flakes? In the Rockies, the cereal of choice for football fans is "Ed's Endzone O's." A few aisles away you'll find "Ed McCaffrey's Rocky Mountain Mustard," creamy Dijon or spicy brown. At holiday time there was a horseradish sauce.
"I had dreams of playing in the NFL," McCaffrey said, "not of having my face on a bottle of mustard. But I don't think Paul Newman has anything to worry about."
Newman isn't concerned, but Atlanta's cornerbacks are. At 6-foot-5, McCaffrey represents the classic mismatch against the Falcon corners, who are 5-10 or shorter. He is John Elway's biggest target.
Height isn't McCaffrey's sole asset. He runs precise routes, finds the open areas, has reliable hands and has OK speed. In Denver's Super Bowl victory over Green Bay last year, he contributed a spectacular block on the Broncos' tying touchdown in the fourth quarter.
McCaffrey has improved his speed, thanks in part to advice from his father-in-law, ophthalmologist Dave Sime. Before he earned his medical degree, Sime was one of the fastest sprinters in the world.
McCaffrey also has benefited from playing with those great quarterbacks -- first Phil Simms of the Giants, then Steve Young of the 49ers and now John Elway of the Broncos.
"They all had different styles," says McCaffrey. "Simms was an unbelievable talent, very smart. Young is left-handed, so there is an adjustment in catching the ball because it is delivered so differently. Steve is extremely quick, an exceptional talent who will get you the ball somehow.
"Elway has unbelievable arm strength. My first experience with him was in my first training camp in Denver. I ran a route of about 60 yards, then slowed down because I didn't think he would throw it to me. All of a sudden it was 10 yards past me. I tried to accelerate but I couldn't catch up. From then on I never slowed down running a deep route with John at quarterback. As long as the ball is in his hands, there's always time."
McCaffrey, a high-school All-America at Central Catholic in Allentown, was coached by Elway's father, Jack, when he began his college career at Stanford. He finished college under Dennis Green, now coach of the Minnesota Vikings. At San Francisco, he didn't play a lot under George Seifert, but he caught the fancy of the 49ers' offensive coordinator, Mike Shanahan. When Shanahan replaced Wade Phillips as Denver's head coach, McCaffrey signed with the Broncos. The bump in his road? Dan Reeves, whose Atlanta team McCaffrey faces inSuper Bowl XXXIII.
The year before Reeves became coach of the Giants, McCaffrey caught 49 passes, five for touchdowns.
"I thought I'd spend the rest of my career playing in New York," he says.
In Reeves' first year, McCaffrey's role was reduced. In Reeves' second training camp, the young receiver was released. That's when he was signed by San Francisco.
"I don't think I've ever made a mistake that bad," Reeves now says of cutting McCaffrey. "I've had guys go play somewhere else but not go on to a level where they could be an All-Pro and a major contributor on a Super Bowl team."
McCaffrey, an easy-going sort, said there never has been any hard feelings. "I care what people think," he said. "I started reading that I was too slow, that I couldn't get open, that I didn't have a good work ethic.
"It means a lot to me what Coach Reeves said about cutting me. No one ever has to admit his mistake."