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49ers’ Christian McCaffrey driven to redeem costly Super Bowl mistake

May 26, 2024 at 4:45 PM

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A segment of the San Francisco 49ers fanbase still blames running back Roger Craig for the team's failure to reach a third consecutive Super Bowl. Craig once called it the worst moment of his professional career.

"I've had a lot of highs and lows, but this is the lowest ever,'' Craig said at the time. "I never dreamed I would make a fumble in a spot like that. This is like a nightmare for a running back."

Craig was referring to his fumble in the closing minutes of the NFC Championship Game against the New York Giants, which unceremoniously ended San Francisco's 1990 season and crushed all hopes of the NFL's first-ever three-peat.

Christian McCaffrey, often likened to a modern-day Craig, is a versatile running back who can dominate both through the air and on the ground. He is the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year and is coming off a Super Bowl appearance in which he amassed 160 all-purpose yards and even found his way into the end zone.

However, what haunted him was a fumble that ended the 49ers' first offensive drive in that game. In an offseason filled with what-ifs, many wonder how the game might have unfolded had McCaffrey held onto the football. San Francisco went on to lose Super Bowl LVIII in overtime.

Speaking to reporters last week, running backs coach Bobby Turner was asked if he had to address the unfortunate play with McCaffrey.

"I talked to him about it the same time it happened, when he came off the football field, because you have to be able to let it go," Turner responded. "Yet, it's one of those things you take personally because it's very important to him. The ball is everything. He's carrying this whole organization, his family, my family, he's carrying that football—it's heavy.

"I always talk about how much it weighs, how long it is, and the nickname on it—'Duke.' You're carrying 'The Duke' around. Well, he takes a lot of pride in that. Every time he touches the ball, he's trying to protect it, and unfortunately, that happened."

McCaffrey has not been around for the start of organized team activities (OTAs), leading to speculation about the reason. When asked if it might be financially motivated, with McCaffrey potentially seeking a pay raise, head coach Kyle Shanahan stated, "I'm not sure if that is the case on any of those guys [who aren't here]. ... But it is all voluntary, so we'll see when it becomes mandatory."

Turner offered a more cryptic response when asked by NBC Sports Bay Area about McCaffrey's whereabouts, saying, "Physically, he's not here, but he's here in every other aspect. That's the business part, and I'm not getting into that."

There may be another reason for his absence. Everything is purely speculative at this point. Wherever McCaffrey is, there is no doubt he is taking his physical preparation for the upcoming season very seriously, determined to make amends for the costly mistake in the biggest game of his career.

Turner added, "Christian wants to get better every day. ... His standards are very high. And every day, we're looking for him to improve."
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