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Christian McCaffrey

Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, left, rushes for a first down against the Green Bay Packers during third quarter action on Dec. 17, 2017, at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. The Panthers won 31-24.

In early March, Christian McCaffrey was part of a group effort that helped save the life of a Colorado hiker.

Three months later, the incident remains on McCaffrey's mind, and the second-year Carolina Panthers running back said he has remained in touch with the family of the man who was injured during the recovery period.

The Panthers have invited Dan Smoker Sr. and his family to a game this season. "I can't wait to see them," McCaffrey said after Carolina finished a recent practice.

McCaffrey described what happened in March in more detail, calling it a "pretty traumatic incident" that has made him appreciate the fragility of life.

"We basically saw a man fall off a cliff," McCaffrey said.

Smoker, who was 72 years old at the time, was hiking at Castle Rock in Colorado with his 13-year-old grandson Eli.

McCaffrey and two of his brothers, along with a family friend, had decided to take the same hike.

The two families became inextricably linked when Dan Smoker slipped and fell off the side of a cliff onto a pathway below, causing multiple internal injuries and making Smoker appear to stop breathing at one point.

Said McCaffrey of Smoker: "He's living now, which is great. We didn't think he was going to make it. ... I think he's going to come out to a game this year, which will be a lot of fun. He's walking. I don't know how he's not paralyzed, but the guy's a fighter, man."

McCaffrey called "911" after seeing the fall while his friend Michael Mann began chest compressions on Smoker. One of McCaffrey's older brothers would later help maneuver Smoker's stretcher down the side of the mountain. Paramedics arrived 11 minutes after McCaffrey's phone call and were the ones most responsible for saving Smoker's life, McCaffrey said.

On the tape of the "911" call, which was published by TMZ, McCaffrey is asked by the operator what part of Smoker's body is injured.

"I'm assuming everything," an obviously shaken McCaffrey said then. The running back is later heard telling the group clustered around Smoker: "Everybody say a prayer."

McCaffrey, who led the Panthers with 80 receptions last season and is expected to play an even bigger role in the offense in 2018, said the incident helped him understand the importance of appreciating life.

"You never know what can happen," McCaffrey said. "You can't take anything for granted. So we had a little decompression time after that, where we kind of looked at life and realized it can kind of be done in a split second."

The Panthers have since sent both Dan Smoker Sr. and his grandson No. 22 Carolina jerseys signed by McCaffrey.

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