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Niners RB Christian McCaffrey appreciates MVP attention, but Super Bowl triumph is 'biggest thing on the planet'

HENDERSON, Nev. -- Christian McCaffrey's first Super Bowl experience will also include a moment of suspense roughly 67 hours before the game even kicks off.

He's up for AP NFL Most Valuable Player, the top award in the land, thanks to a 2023 season in which he led the NFL in touches, scrimmage yards, and scrimmage touchdowns, and posted a career-high 1,459 rushing yards. He'll learn whether the voters deemed him worthy Thursday night at NFL Honors.

At this point, there's no telling whether McCaffrey will best Lamar Jackson (or the rest of the field) for MVP, but he's already learned what is most important to him among his choices of hardware: The Lombardi Trophy.

"One thing this week has taught me is, the individual awards and all the individual accolades that you get are great, but there's nothing bigger than the Super Bowl, and that's very true," McCaffrey said Wednesday. "I think I realized that when they announced the All-Pro and the Pro Bowl and all those things.

"I'm extremely grateful for those, and I don't take them lightly, and I don't take them for granted, but to have an opportunity to play in the Super Bowl is the biggest thing on the planet, and I think it's what this whole game is about. So I think that's what's really special."

A strong case for McCaffrey certainly exists. As the numbers suggest, he was undoubtedly San Francisco's most valuable offensive player in 2023, winning the NFL's scrimmage triple crown for the second time in his career and becoming just the second player in NFL history to do so multiple times (the other is legendary Hall of Famer Jim Brown). If one needs further proof of his importance, just look at the 49ers' Week 6 loss to Cleveland, a game in which McCaffrey exited with an oblique injury and was forced to watch San Francisco's offense grind to a halt without him.

He's also been among the most consistent producers in the NFL, racking up a streak of 17 consecutive games in which he scored a touchdown.

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McCaffrey knows, though, that the MVP award skews heavily toward quarterbacks. And any running back typically needs some luck to go their way in order to usurp the league's top passers.

"To be an MVP as a running back, I think you gotta rush for, you gotta have 2,000 yards or 1,000-1,000 (rushing and receiving yards), maybe, and a bunch of touchdowns," he said. "And I think to be MVP, you gotta have quarterbacks that have some down years."

2023 was shaping up to be one of those down years at quarterback. None of the candidates had separated themselves until the final month of the season when Jackson compiled an incredible stretch of performances to push to the front of the pack.

It's likely the award will go to Jackson, not McCaffrey. But that doesn't diminish the fact McCaffrey is a bona fide superstar who might have a chance to author a signature moment in Sunday's Super Bowl LVIII matchup. 

If that comes true -- and propels the 49ers to a title -- he'll be happier than he'd ever be with an MVP award.

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