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Niners RB Christian McCaffrey reflects on trade, remains thankful to play under Kyle Shanahan

HENDERSON, Nev. -- Christian McCaffrey spoke Wednesday of needing to clear a rare statistical milestone to have a serious shot at MVP.

The landmark in mind: A 1,000-1,000 season. He's done it once during his days in Carolina, but by the time the 2022 trade deadline approached, he knew his days as a Panther were numbered. No one was celebrating his achievements in Charlotte. Instead, they were bracing for his departure.

Fast-forward to February 2024, where McCaffrey finds himself as a leading figure for the 49ers, preparing to play in his first Super Bowl. It's a place he likely wouldn't have reached had his services been acquired by a team other than San Francisco. And with the trade now behind him, he couldn't be more grateful for how it all played out.

"I didn't envision anything, I'm telling you I was just mindless and I was like whenever I get the call, I get the call," McCaffrey explained Wednesday. "My agent called me and said, 'You're going to San Fran.' I was like all right, let's go.

"Got on a plane Friday morning, this is like 11:30 at night, got on a plane Friday morning, landed, did my physical and I practiced Friday for the San Francisco 49ers. And I played Sunday, ironically against the Kansas City Chiefs."

Kansas City is once again McCaffrey's opponent in a significant moment in his career. This time, though, the stakes are much higher. And with a year and a half spent playing under Kyle Shanahan, he feels he's in a great spot.

Part of this is because he had history with the Shanahan family. His father, Ed, had played for Kyle's father, Mike, in both San Francisco and Denver, winning three Super Bowls along the way.

The younger McCaffrey and Shanahan have known each other for decades. And in just their first full season together, they've ascended to the game's greatest stage, giving San Francisco its first opportunity to win a Lombardi Trophy since the 2019 season.

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This time around, instead of scheming up lanes for Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert, Matt Breida and Jeff Wilson, Shanahan has the luxury of an elite weapon in his backfield. McCaffrey finished the 2023 regular season as the NFL leader in touches, scrimmage yards and scrimmage touchdowns, proving himself as a three-down back more capable of extracting maximum value out of each touch than any other runner in the league. If everything goes according to plan, he'll be poised to make a significant impact in Super Bowl LVIII.

It's an opportunity he's been working toward since the moment he learned he was heading west to join the 49ers.

"I think going in, there was obviously a lot of talk about the Shanahan-McCaffrey connection, but I just tried to be as professional as possible," McCaffrey said. "When I got there, I wanted to learn the plays as quick as possible. You know, I understand it's a business, and I think everyone does, too. No matter how close your families are, if you don't perform, you're not gonna last.

"I'd just gotten traded, so I was clawing to just be the best running back I could possibly be. I think we started out having a very professional relationship and just let the relationship grow naturally. But, tell you what, I've been so fortunate to learn in that room from him. He's the smartest mind I've ever been around when it comes to football. I think anyone who gets to sit in those meetings with Kyle is lucky."

Shanahan expressed similar appreciation for McCaffrey earlier this week, noting how similar Christian is to his father. The two have a rare opportunity to carry on the Super Bowl-winning tradition Sunday.

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