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We’ll talk about this later: Christian McCaffrey, The Replacements and when ‘next man up’ takes on a new meeting

Your dose of lighthearted takes from this week’s happenings.

NFC Championship - San Francisco 49ers v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

Each week, we’ll break down something that happened during the Ohio State game (and occasionally other games and events) that we’ll be talking about for a while—you know, the silly sideline interactions, the awful announcing and the weird storylines that stick with us for years to come. We’ll also compare each of these happenings to memorable moments in pop culture, because who doesn’t love a good Office reference?

Sunday’s NFC Championship Game between the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers was out of hand by the second half when the Eagles held a two-score lead. While the 49ers’ defense kept Philadelphia in check through most of the first half, we all knew the game was over when Brock Purdy, the Mr. Irrelevant-turned-rookie-phenom from Iowa State, got hurt during San Francisco’s first offensive drive.

For those counting, Purdy was the 49ers third-string quarterback at the start of the season. He only began his phenomenal run after injuries to both Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo. The last eight games have been wild as we celebrated that the last pick of the draft, as a rookie, had led his team to an NFC Championship game.

But it was not to be. And the fourth-string quarterback, Josh Johnson — the 36-year old quarterback on his 14th team in his 15th NFL season — was called into action for the first time this season.

Then, the unthinkable happened, and Johnson himself took a big hit, went into concussion protocol and was ruled out for the remainder of the game. With Purdy still questionable, a hurried scramble ensued on the San Francisco sidelines — because the fifth-string quarterback was none other than star running back Christian McCaffrey, and the staff had to change McCaffrey’s helmet as the on-field signal caller.

I myself was keen to see McCaffrey line up at quarterback. He’s already a running back who can line up at receiver. As one of the most dynamic athletes in the league, it would have been exciting to see him lineup at quarterback for his team which was down a lot just to see what he could do.

Alas, it was not to be, because Purdy ended up coming back in for what ended up being a brutal, sloppy, penalty-filled second half for the 49ers.

However, the possibility of a fifth-string McCaffrey coming in for a real life version of The Replacements recalled some of the other times unlikely heroes stepped up for their teams:

  • When 36-year old accountant Scott Foster played a single game as an emergency goalie for the Chicago Blackhawks in 2018 after all the Blackhawks’ starting and reserve goalies were injured.
  • D’Ernest Johnson’s performance for the Cleveland Browns in 2021. Johnson went undrafted in 2018 and was working on a fishing boat in Key West before finding his way to Cleveland. He got his first start after Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt were ruled out, and capitalized with a 146-yard, one-touchdown performance in a 17-14 Cleveland victory over the Denver Broncos on Thursday Night Football.
  • Linsanity, when undrafted Harvard grad Jeremy Lin came out of nowhere in 2012 to lead the New York Knicks to a playoff appearance.
  • Eric Weddle, who came out of retirement from a 13-year NFL career to play with the L.A. Rams during their 2021 Super Bowl run. Weddle, a safety, signed with the Rams’ practice squad in January 2021 after injury issues mounted in the the defensive secondary. He promptly retired after the Super Bowl.
  • The actual origin story of the replacements, the 1987 NFL strike when Washington’s players were on strike and replacement players won three early-season games. Washington would go on to win the Super Bowl that year.
  • The replacement refs who, after a 2012 labor dispute kept the normal NFL refs off the field for the first three weeks of the regular season, made us appreciate the refs we had.

McCaffrey, sadly, didn’t make this list, but we can still talk about these other replacements after all this time, which is the whole point, right?