Contact CU Independent sports staff writer Olivia Butrymovich at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eric McCready is not your typical financial advisor. For McCready, who lives in Boulder and coaches football at Fairview High School on the side, you wouldn’t expect a lot more from a guy living in the suburbs.
But for five years now, McCready has worked the sidelines for the Denver Broncos as a ball boy.
McCready was an All-American wide receiver for Cherry Creek High School in Englewood, Colorado. When it came time to choose a college, he made the decision to stay close to home and pursue his football dreams at the University of Colorado. Colorado beat out other schools for his choice, including Colorado State, Washington State, Michigan (the school Tom Brady called home at the time) and Missouri.
McCready, along with Cherry Creek teammate Tom Ashworth, made the decision to sign with the Buffs. The two roomed with each other during their freshman year. Ashworth would go on to play in the NFL as an offensive tackle and win two Super Bowls with the New England Patriots in 2003 and 2004.
During his college career, McCready lettered four times for CU from 1997-2000, registering 38 receptions and two touchdowns in a black and gold uniform. After his four years in Boulder, he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles where he suffered a career-ending knee injury during training camp.
“From there I moved to California for a bit, I moved to Atlanta; I just wanted to get totally away from football all together,” McCready said.
However, Eric didn’t stay away from the game for too long. In 2004, he was hired as a graduate assistant coach with the Buffs. There, he worked as a quarterbacks coach and built up his friendship with the equipment staff, a move that would provide him with an excellent opportunity down the road.
“When I was at CU, our equipment managers at the time are now the equipment managers at the Broncos, so they kind of moved themselves up, and I’ve always stayed in touch with them; we play hockey in the summer time.”
Eric took a position as a Broncos ball boy five years ago. He worked intermittently for two years before joining the staff full time. He has been there though some of the team’s best years. From the years of Tim Tebow at quarterback to the addition of Peyton Manning, he has gotten to experience it all from the sideline.
Every game at Mile High, Eric spends eight to nine hours at the stadium with the team warming up, hanging out and catching balls at the back of the end zone during game time.
“Before the games is truly the best part for me. I get to warm up with the backup quarterbacks so I run routes and do all this stuff and kind of get an idea of what they’re doing.”
Footballs thrown from the likes of Brock Osweiler, Tebow and even one or two by the great Peyton Manning — McCready has been on the receiving end for all of them.
“Peyton is very, very particular about who catches his football. It’s very interesting to see the way he works as a professional, which is probably why he has played for 18 or 19 years,” said McCready. “He keeps everything at a professional level instead of coming down to a fat 38-year-old’s level catching balls.”
It was not until the NFL divisional round in January against the Pittsburgh Steelers that Eric started to gain some attention for his work as a ball boy. Denver struggled early on in their fourth quarter comeback win against the Steelers, dropping seven passes that virtually fell out of the receivers’ hands. Eric, on the other hand, was a star in the back of the end zone making punt return and kickoff catches look easy as he drew the attention of television cameras and announcers for his work.
Since his display at the Pittsburgh game, McCready has been interviewed by the Denver Post, Sports Illustrated and multiple other media outlets.
“I’ve been doing it for like five years, nobody’s ever said a thing. My friends and family have always known I’ve done it, but you’re like totally forgotten about. So unless I booted one off my face in the middle of the game, nobody would ever pay attention,” said McCready on his position as a ball boy. “It’s been really funny to me, but I’ve never taken it all that serious, so it was a little shocking to see that anybody paid attention.”
Eric has worked many games as ball boy, but his last came just a few weeks ago. He concluded his time on the sidelines at the AFC Championship game, against the Patriots, where the balls were guarded a little more heavily in order to avoid a second “deflategate.” But his decision to end his run as a ball boy comes with good reason.
Eric and his wife, former CU soccer player Ellen Falender, are welcoming their first child at the end of February. Eric will be unable to attend Super Bowl 50 for that reason.
From the Broncos’ defeat in the Super Bowl two years ago, to Peyton Manning’s historic NFL record-setting 509th touchdown pass, McCready has gotten to experience football in a way that most people could only dream of. He has appreciated every opportunity he has been given, and although he is happy to not be attending Sunday’s big game, he wishes the Broncos the best of luck, now and in the future.