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White Lightning
Michael Silver
November 30, 1998
With no pomp and precious little padding, the Broncos' deceptively fast Ed McCaffrey has become the NFL's unlikeliest star wide receiver
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November 30, 1998

White Lightning

With no pomp and precious little padding, the Broncos' deceptively fast Ed McCaffrey has become the NFL's unlikeliest star wide receiver

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After Ed signed a free-agent contract with the Broncos before the '95 season, Lisa brought an uncomfortable halt to a luncheon to welcome the wives of the team's newcomers that was hosted by Annabel Bowlen, wife of Broncos owner Pat Bowlen. Following several excruciatingly stiff remarks by various attendees—My husband is Dan So-and-So, we have two kids, and we're really excited to be here—Lisa deadpanned, "I'm married to that tall, lanky receiver. We have one kid, and now I'm knocked up again." Several seconds passed before Shanahan's wife, Peggy, bailed her out by bursting into laughter.

When Ed and Lisa aren't breeding fast white guys—they're expecting their third son in April—they amuse themselves by making prank calls. In one of their favorites, Ed pretends he's with the water company and tells his victim he wants to check the neighborhood's water pressure. "I tell him to turn on all the faucets and flush the toilets," Ed says. "If that works, I ask him to do it again. [Colorado Avalanche right wing] Claude Lemieux flushed three times before he caught on. The Romanowskis [Broncos linebacker Bill and his wife, Julie] are a five-or six-flush family."

The McCaffreys met in 1990 at Stanford, where Ed was finishing a stellar career. A three-sport star from Allentown, Pa., he chose Stanford largely because coaches there fancied him as a wideout rather than as a tight end. "I was pretty dorky in high school," McCaffrey says. "I was pretty much of a recluse. Meeting Lisa lightened me up."

Ed clicked with Lisa, then a Stanford soccer player, at a mutual friend's birthday party at Max's Opera Cafe, a Palo Alto restaurant that would serve as the inspiration for their first son's name. "I thought he was pretty hot," Lisa recalls. "But he had this terrible '70s 'do—long in the back, and bangs straight across the middle like Moe from the Three Stooges." Ed doesn't have bad-hair days, he has bad-hair decades. The next time the two went out, Lisa slipped into the conversation, "You know, I'm really good at cutting hair."

An hour later they were back at Ed's off-campus apartment, where Lisa gave her first-ever haircut. "She was using these little thread scissors," Ed says, "and it took her an hour and 45 minutes."

When the Broncos aren't goofing on McCaffrey's 'do, they're making fun of his wardrobe. One teammate says McCaffrey looks as if he "dresses in airline blankets." His game-day attire is particularly unpretentious. "Guys are wearing Versace, Armani, Gucci," says Justin Armour, a Denver backup receiver, "and homeboy will show up in unmatching Polo sweats, old running shoes and a DirecTV hat."

But what truly sets McCaffrey apart is what he wears—or doesn't wear—once he takes the field. To rid himself of unnecessary weight, he defaces his uniform. He cuts out the lining, belt buckle and pockets of his pants, punches holes in his jersey, even slices off all but a half inch of the band above his athletic supporter, creating what amounts to a G-string jockstrap.

The only padding McCaffrey wears is a discontinued model of shoulder pads (Wilson's 77-I Aggressor) that, according to Broncos equipment manager Doug West, "you wouldn't even put on a junior high kid. I've tried to take his pads from him, because they're right on the borderline of safety, but he won't let me."

This decrease in padding leads to an increase in pain, but McCaffrey says it's tolerable. "Getting lighter probably gives me more of a psychological edge than a physical one," he says, "but I guess I had a complex about being slow, because so many things have been written."

Ah, the speed trap: The stigma of slowness is tougher to escape than any defensive back. Yet it's not applied to all white guys. No one accuses Ed's younger brother, Billy, of lacking quickness. Billy, who played on Duke's '91 national championship team and was an All-America point guard at Vanderbilt in '93 and '94, avoided that rap by keeping up with future NBA studs such as Kenny Anderson and Allan Houston. "Growing up, everyone used to assume I was faster than Ed," says Billy, who has played abroad the past several seasons. "But every time we'd race, he'd win."

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