B/R Exclusive: Christian McCaffrey Talks Super Bowl, 2021 Goals, Lowe's and More

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistFebruary 4, 2021

Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey runs with the ball during an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

If Christian McCaffrey could get his way, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs would both walk away empty-handed from Sunday's Super Bowl. 

"I hope they both lose in a way, being a competitor," he said while laughing during an exclusive interview with Bleacher Report.

While he didn't have a prediction, the Carolina Panthers running back believes "it's going to be an amazing game. There's a reason these two teams are in the Super Bowl, and that's because they've earned it. It's tough to bet against Tom Brady, and it's tough to bet against Pat Mahomes."

McCaffrey won't be on the field Sunday, but that hasn't stopped him from making quite the impact off of it.

He and Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson were named co-captains of the Lowe's Home Team that featured one player from each of the NFL's 32 squads supporting their local communities in various ways. Players such as Calvin Ridley, James Conner, Robert Woods, Kevin Byard, Chris Godwin and Terry McLaurin were also part of the team.

"I think one thing that's cool, is it's not just me," McCaffrey said. "One player from each of the league's 32 teams is also represented on the Lowe's Home Team, and I think it's just a good reminder to everybody watching football this season that we all are on the home team and home is a driving force that hits us all. Proud to be a part of it."

McCaffrey partnered with Lowe's to help military members and their families by transforming the Charlotte Veterans Bridge Home (VBH) into a lounge and event space.

VBH helps veterans transition back into civilian life with a network of partners that helps with employment, creating social connections and adjusting to new communities. The work from McCaffrey and Lowe's provides another space where veterans can access the necessary resources and networks of those who support them.

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

Giving back to his community and especially veterans is nothing new for the Panthers running back.

The Christian McCaffrey Foundation raises money and provides support for military members and their families, and he consistently donates tickets to military members as well.

"Growing up in Colorado, my parents always valued the military and the importance of the military and respecting the military," he said. "Being close to the Air Force base and having buddies in the military, it just hit home. For me, I'm so thankful that I get to play football, and part of the reason I'm able to do that is because we have a lot of selfless people who are giving us the opportunity to do that. I think it's my duty to help them and to make sure that they're taken care of. Not just active duty military members but also veterans."

In addition to the work that's already been done by McCaffrey and others, Lowe's will work with the nonprofit Rebuilding Together to do home repairs in up to all 32 NFL markets for every time the word "home" is mentioned during a Super Bowl commercial.

"Being part of the Lowe's Home Team is an honor," the Stanford product said. "They're doing so many amazing things … Any time you can be a part of something with a positive impact I jump right to it. I'm definitely proud to be on the Lowe's Home Team."

Unfortunately for McCaffrey, he was largely unable to lead his other team on the field this past season as he dealt with ankle, shoulder and quad injuries.

He played just three games in 2020 for the Panthers, which marked the first time since he entered the league as the No. 8 overall pick of the 2017 draft that he missed any time at all. It also prevented him from building on 2019's spectacular showing when he tallied 1,387 rushing yards, 1,005 receiving yards and 19 total touchdowns as arguably the best offensive weapon in the entire league.

Carolina fans will be thrilled to hear McCaffrey's said "it's going well, I feel really good" when asked about the rehab process as he works his way back for 2021. He also thinks what he learned while he was sidelined will help him in the long run:

"I was obviously frustrated all year, it was a tough year for me. It was a year that I wasn't used to, I haven't missed a game in my life up until this year. I've said it before, but sometimes when it rains, it pours. For me, it was tough being sidelined and feeling like you're not part of the team, but I quickly learned to shape it into a positive. I think I learned so much this year, not just about myself but about the game. I've gotten a chance to step back and look from the outside in, which holds a lot of value. I think because I learned a lot, the only thing I'm going to do now is get better. When something's taken from you, you realize how much you love it. I think that happened to me this year with football. If anything, I think that hunger and that motivation will allow me to hopefully play another three, four, five years at the end of my career."

There is no reason to think McCaffrey will be anything but his typically dominant self in 2021, especially since he said he won't need any major surgeries this offseason.

The 24-year-old is also doing everything he can to make sure the health concerns are a thing of the past.

"I think the first thing is to really take pride in my health," he said of his focus as the 2021 campaign approaches. "Do everything I can, whether it's the way I eat, the way I sleep, the way I train, to continue to be healthy and grow and get bigger, faster, stronger. That's really what I'm focused on right now. And I'll address the in-season goals as we get there. ... Right now, that's my goal to get bigger, faster, stronger. And go into next season working my butt off so I can stay on the field."

The return of McCaffrey may not be the only change for a Panthers organization that is looking at a busy offseason.

Carolina already hired former Seattle Seahawks VP of Football Operations Scott Fitterer as its new general manager in January. Fitterer was with the Seahawks in various roles since 2001, and the NFC West team made 14 playoff appearances and three Super Bowls, winning one, during that span.

By comparison, the Panthers missed the playoffs the last three seasons and were 5-11 the past two. There are surely changes to come this offseason with the No. 8 overall pick in the draft and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater's future up in the air, and the team has already been connected to multiple other signal-callers.

Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated reported the Panthers offered more than just their first-round pick for Matthew Stafford before he was traded to the Los Angeles Rams, and NFL Network's Ian Rapoport called the team a "dark-horse" contender to land Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson in a trade.

Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

While rumors can bring some uncertainty, McCaffrey is looking forward to the stability and growth opportunities that a more traditional offseason can bring after 2020.

"I'm really excited to see just the growth of our team," he said. "We were so young, and we didn't have a lot of opportunities to be with each other before training camp last year. With COVID, you can't really meet together, everything's virtual and it's hard to get to know your teammates that way. I think we did a great job regardless, but for me, I'm excited to get together with all the guys in the offseason and train together. I think it's important for everybody to be with each other and around the locker room so we can grow that way."

The Panthers will need that growth to make up the gap on the Buccaneers and others in the NFC South.

For now, they will be stuck watching their division rivals in the Super Bowl on Sunday, but even that presents an opportunity in McCaffrey's eyes.

"I'm just hoping for a good game, and watching this stuff is such motivation," he said. "I think a lot of us are ready to stop the trend of not playing in January and February."