He was largely unknown, riding into Candlestick on Saturday night with the world watching to take on the pesky Midwesterners, the Green Bay Packers. A huge task ahead of the 25 year-old. You know, just defeat a team that was a year removed from winning the Super Bowl. A team with the former MVP, Aaron Rodgers as their signal caller. A team looking to avenge a surprise loss to eventual Super Bowl Champion, New York Giants. But this gunslinger, this masked savior of a franchise, had more to prove.
"Who is this tall lengthy man?" "Can he take them further than the man he was a subordinate to?" "What in the blue hell was Jim Harbaugh thinking?", all questions that were muttered by the media, by the fans, and sometimes even by myself. These questions were amplified after Kaepernick's second pass of the game, an ill-advised pass thrown across his body and taken for a T.A.I.N.T. (Touchdown After Interception) by Packers defender Sam Shields. Kaepernick answered all these questions and left no follow-ups after his 49ers defeated those Midwesterners 45-24, on the legs and arm of Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick only put up 263 yards passing while running for a record 181 yards and scoring 4 touchdowns. That's all. Kaepernick was setting records in his first career playoff start and only his 9th start ever in the NFL. He has taken over the national media with one of the greatest single game performances in playoff history. He's got the laser rocket arm, the gazelle like legs, and he has inspired a touchdown celebration on par with the amazing "Tebowing", with "Kaepernicking". He is now the hero of the tale for San Francisco 49er fans that have been deprived of any heroes before last year.
After the benching of Alex "The Phoenix" Smith a lot of people have questioned me about the Quarterback change in SF and I would always respond, "In Jim Harbaugh We Trust". Maybe this was my way of trying to convince myself that it was a brilliant idea to bench a guy that had the third highest QB rating in the NFL, the top completion percentage and only threw one incompletion in his last start before getting a concussion and effectively losing his job. Maybe I was crazy, but I know Jim Harbaugh is. And if I've learned anything these past two years from my man crush, my hero, my 2nd father (j/k Lyle), it's that "In Jim Harbaugh We Trust".
But for me, at least, each Sunday (or Saturday in this case) a little bit of doubt always creeps into your head. Have they finally figured the 49ers out? After Kaepernick's T.A.I.N.T. it all felt like a bad dream, like Leonardo DiCaprio and Bane were Inceptioning me for a whole season to be ruined this early. But no! Kaepernick rises! The hero always does.
He pushed me from 99% to 100% and the media to 1,000%, at least for the next week. And this next week, can the heroes legend grow? He's already put up historic numbers in his first start, now he must travel in to Atlanta and battle the Dirty Birds.
Atlanta is coming off a game that they are lucky to say they won. Up 20 in the second half, but down 2 with half a minute left in the game. Matt Ryan tries to write his own legend with a dramatic win and his first in his five year career. The Falcons rediscovered their running game and have two of the best receivers in the league. On defense, they have struggled with mobile QBs like Cam Newton and Russell Wilson and their best pass rusher is nursing a badly sprained ankle.
On paper, it's a favorable matchup for the San Francisco 49ers, but unless they changed the rules and no one told me they don't play this game on paper and the Georgia Dome will be rocking for the NFC Championship on Sunday at Noon.
The 49ers hope their protagonist, their masked man, their gunslinger on his gazelle like legs gallops into Georgia to avenge a heartbreaking loss in last years NFC Championship game to take them to their sixth Super Bowl. Something they haven't seen since Steve Young was trottin' around.
K-A-E-P-E-R-N-I-C-K, the "E" is silent. But his coming out party was anything but.
- Lance Cartelli
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